Sunday, May 12, 2013

Camera Obscura: Struggles with an SLR

I've always loved photography. It's a perfect blend of art, technology and commentary; equal parts science and magic. My own first attempts at making pictures were with a Kodak Instamatic, bought with carefully hoarded 20c per week deposits from my primary school bank account. That little camera was with me on the boat when we emigrated from England when I was 8. 

I'm told I wasted a lot of film; but there was so much fun in the routine of fitting the special sealed film cartridge, the solid clunk and click of the camera, the special fizzing flash cubes and even the ritual trip to the chemist to wait for the results, ordinary as they were:
Achille Lauro, Naples - Mount Vesuvius,1968
On special weekends my father would turn the bathroom into a darkroom to develop black and white films. I would sit in the red lamplight watching the images magically appearing. On extra special occasions, I was allowed to take charge of the stop watch. There was such a feeling of power, conjuring the floating pictures around. 

Dad particularly loved his cine camera, an 8mm Bolex movie camera:
My role in movie making was to sit at the side of the projector and make sure that the film didn't spool onto the floor in a tangle... it often did.

But even with such an early start, I've always been a  hit and miss photographer. I've read handbook after handbook on cameras and photographic theory. Pored over works by inspirational photographers - Adams, Avedon, Curtis, Dombrovskis, Snowdon... I always diligently read camera manuals  - cover to cover. At the time, it all seems straight forward; ISO - check!, Aperture - check!, f stops - check! But get the camera in my hands and all that goodly wisdom bolts out of the window.

I've thought long and hard about this and decided it's not a lack of patience, more like anxiety over missing a special shot, combined with a lack of discipline. And I think the anxiety also has something to do with the way that different people perceive things. Typically, when John and I are photographing a scene he will carefully set up landscapes and panoramic views:

Sundalsora, Norway
Hobitton Film Set, New Zealand

whereas I tend to see smaller details and vignettes out of corner of my eye:
The Green Dragon Pub taken by John:
John in the doorway of the Green Dragon (taken by me):
It's a bit like looking at a Brueghel; John tends to see the whole painting, I'm drawn to faces in the crowd.

A CAE photography tutor once told me that I needed to completely let go of the auto camera functions and be prepared to get a lot worse at taking pictures, before I could get any better. She was also strongly against "wasting time in post processing". For a while, I tried to be more disciplined, still guiltily flipping back and forth between auto and manual, feeling bad about the amount of time I spent tinkering with images. No more. I've decided to keep on taking pictures using whichever way (or camera) suits the situation or my mood. Without the pressure of always trying to "do it properly" I've started to take more photos, learn by experience and guess what, the fun is back!

After this minor epiphany I took a 3 day workshop with Phil Fogle. ('The Image' Introduction to Photography, Lighting and Presentation). A thoroughly enjoyable workshop, concentrating on photographing flat and 3D artwork, texture and surface. I learned a lot (and was inspired to buy a new camera!), but as the workshop wore on I found myself wandering away from the set exercises on lighting and depth of field: 

and compelled to capture a record of the what was going on around me:
Patient? yes. Disciplined? Perhaps not!

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