top of page

Thoughts on Photography



Photography finds itself in a very strange place at this stage of the 21st century. It is a bewildering time for any photography enthusiast, and I have to say, particularly as a professional. I'm not prone to worrying about any particular medium that I happen to be working in. But it seems many people do. However, every so often I like to have a review of where I'm at creatively and assess whether or not the kit I'm using is right for me. With the advent of AI technology, I often feel as though I should be shooting solely on film, as if this new tech is somehow undermining the skills required for any digital medium. Of course, there are many purists, ardent analogue photographers who will attempt to proselytise the digital heathens! I do not consider myself to be one of those, thankfully.


Let's step back and really compare digital and film photography, their worth and creative merits. We could choose to shoot solely on film because, quite simply, it is an enjoyable process and we appreciate the aesthetic of the medium, despite its shortcomings. I'm shooting my North Sea project on Kodak Portra (160, 400 & 800 ISO). This choice of film works beautifully for the grey and moody days that I want to evoke with that particular series. It doesn't matter how skilled or experienced any photographer likes to think they are; at some point, you will get a roll of film that may get jammed or not fully wound in at the end due to a myriad reasons and occurrences, especially when working in challenging conditions (which has happened to me with frozen fingers). I've lost a few shots that I know would have been keepers. Admittedly and unfortunately, the camera that I fell in love with, a Bronica RF645, has an achilles heel, its film transfer mechanism. It is perfect in every other way. But the fact that it could jam at any point always leaves me with an air of anxiety. I could replace it with something more reliable, but that would be like ditching one's partner because they aren't 'perfect'. I like to print all of my own work. With film, I use a lab to process my negatives and they send me high-res TIFFs to work with. I'll make very minor tweaks to these TIFFs in Photoshop - levels, contrast and saturation etc. I'll then print them with my Canon Pro-1000 and I'm always extremely happy to see how wonderful this series looks in print. Paper choice is essential of course and for my Portra shot images I'll use a nice white semi-gloss such as Hahnemuhle's Baryta or Pearl, both of which are excellent all-rounders for any medium of photography. These bright, smooth papers allow the fine grain of Portra to shine through. For the North Sea project, film is enough. I don't need the huge resolution available with current digital cameras. The long term plan is for a photobook of the series. My approach to each project is determined by the desired outcome. Book, zine, Fine Art print, exhibition, all must be considered.


The aesthetic for each of my projects is defined by the restrictions I place upon each series. As said above, for the North Sea images, Portra clearly defines the aesthetic. For 'Where Ravens Soar', the conditions (wind, rain, fleeting light) and post-processing define the style; similarly for 'Beyond the Cairn'. Most of my work is quite understated. Social media is a very poor platform for me. The subtlety and tactile nature of a lovingly crafted print can't be displayed effectively on any screen.


Let us ignore the film purists and consider digital photography. Firstly, digital photography evolved very quickly and most professionals adopted the medium for its stunning dynamic range, particularly as sensor and lens technology progressed to where we now find ourselves. 'Grain' or 'noise' became something to be eliminated in the search for the flawless photograph. If you're shooting with a modern mirrorless camera, noise is a thing of the past, even up to 400 ISO. But does that make for a better photograph? Of course not. For professional commercial photography, 150 megapixels is amazing. Products can be shot to the very highest quality, and this is more than likely where the latest sensors come into their own. For the vast majority of us, we simply don't need such levels of detail, most of the time. As a 'Fine Art Printer' my 47 megapixel Panasonic Lumix is enough. I mentioned that most of my work is subtle, low-fi. Occasionally however, I may be somewhere and think, WOW! This vista before me is so incredibly epic that I want to capture every little detail. It would be rude not to, right? The image below is one such example. The level of detail in the full-res file of this image is incredible. I can zoom into this scene and examine every little tree. At some point I will print it huge and see if I can spot any bears! This photograph is a great example of when all of the latest sensor and lens capabilities can be fully utilised. I'm certainly not going to achieve something like this with the Bronica RF645.




On the subject of print, here's another subject in which the analogue purists like to think they are superior. Behold the wonderful finish of a silver gelatin print! Yes, they are of course beautiful. But so is a finely crafted pigment print, when using the highest quality materials. There is as much love, care, skill and attention goes into my pigment prints as any silver gelatin print. I pretty much grew up in a darkroom, so I say this from my own experience. I am not suggesting that either are superior, merely stating that very often the analogue process can be viewed through rose-tinted nostalgia goggles.


Does the fact that shooting digital is easier undermine its worth? This is something that I often find myself pondering. Thankfully, very quickly I snap myself out of it! I can recall many instances where I've taught people with no experience of shooting long exposures to use filters in a single afternoon. Add to this a little tuition on composition, followed by Lightroom or Photoshop knowledge and almost anybody can produce work in the style of Michael Kenna, for example. I adore Kenna's work and he has honed his craft over decades (shooting film). The fact that thousands of people can now produce similar just means that more people are enjoying image-making. Nothing is being undermined in reality.


Let's consider the photograph at the top of this blog post, the cover image. It's been shot with my Lumix SR1, then converted to black + white using Silverefex Pro. I've then added this mysterious red circle, digitally, in photoshop. I cannot deny that initially there was some resistance in my pre-conditioned state that it wasn't authentic because I'd produced this effect in the digital realm. This is the purists' point of view messing with our minds again! I'd sat with this image a long time before I released it into the wild. The thing is, it's our ideas and narrative which are most important, not the medium. I was struggling to evoke the power of this place, its primeval, raw, wild qualities. Had I been a wildlife photographer, even that wouldn't have been enough. The red sphere is simply an abstract symbol, pertaining to my deepest feelings and probably subconsciously influenced by the tantra work of Franck André Jamme. The sphere is a motif which I have used previously; added digitally if it feels right. To suggest that it isn't authentic would be unfair. Nobody has, by the way, only myself! The fact is that I travelled to this place, I hiked to the viewpoint, I felt the wildness within me. This image evokes as best I can at this time the feelings I encountered on that particular day. We also saw red-crowned cranes at this location. Maybe that's where the red seeped in? When this image is printed it will have come full circle, all of those miles and experiences alive on the paper. The scene will begin another life, it will breathe again, and that is the power of photography.


If you're wondering where the hell you're at, remember the most important thing to realise is that your voice, your story, are of utmost importance. The medium in which it's shot or indeed processed is irrelevant. Authenticity is achieved by practice and patience, but always following our own unique inner voice.


I'll finish this post with a mention of the Photography Show which begins tomorrow. I won't be there, sadly. You can however view my work on display at the Hahnemuhle and Benro stands. Have a great time if you're heading over there!



































142 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page