Heide Smith Photography Catalogue

One of Australia’s great portrait photographers has been honoured by one of Australia’s great photography and works on paper galleries – Josef Lebovic Gallery.  Heide Smith should be well known to anyone following quality Australian photography over the past 40+ years.

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Dupain and Poole; © Heide Smith, 1985

Just being featured in the catalogue (Collectors’ List No. 188, 2017) was indeed a pleasure, but to find myself side-by-side with the late, great Max Dupain was equally exciting.  I am unworthy of such a comparison!

The Lebovic catalogues are legendary in their recording of Australian works on paper and photography.  As a reference point for costings and valuations it is the “go-to” document for anyone trying to place a dollar figure on photographs.  The photos of Dupain and myself is part of a much larger body of work that was sponsored by Ilford Australia recording photographers from around Australia and subsequently as an exhibition which toured Australia-wide in the mid 1980s.

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Mal Meninga; © Heide Smith, 1991.

The variety of subjects photographed by Smith places her in the company of many great Australians.  As I have only photographed Mal Meninga from the sidelines of some State of Origin matches, it is intriguing to see him “buffed” up in a hand coloured dressing room shot.

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Robert Hawke AC GCL; © Heide Smith

And just to prove the depth of Smith’s portrait collection is one of the many images she took of Australian Prime Ministers.  A privilege that comes from living for such a long period in Canberra.

Reference to the catalogue will give details of her extensive work with the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands and the results of being resident photographer for the Canberra Press Club from 1984 to 1996.

The catalogue also showcases some early work in Germany (her birth place) from 1956 onwards as Smith formalised her photographic training and skills.


 

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Contemporary Poole; © Gary Cranitch, Brisbane Mater Hospital, 2017.

 

Determination or Selfishness?

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“Depth of Field”; © Ian Poole, Vancouver 2016

At a time of the year when considered wisdom would be to produce an opinion piece about planning, goal setting and collation of ideas, it was a chance encounter at a great photographic exhibition that generated alternate thought processes.

The Vancouver Art Gallery presented Walker Evans – Depth of Field.   Co-organised by the Josef Albers Museum Quaddrat in Germany and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; in collaboration with the Vancouver Art Gallery, the exhibition featured more than 200 black and white and colour prints.  The photographs had been curated from many worldwide sources and was a comprehensive survey of Evans’ output.  Exhilarating to view on every level, including the contemporary digital prints hanging happily side by side with vintage gelatin photographs.

But it was whilst digging deeper into Evans’ background that his determination was clearly on show.  His troubled relationship with Roy Stryker, head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration, (FSA)  was a case of two determined men butting heads.  In a sense, the FSA gave Evans the opportunity to create some of his best images and Evans gave the FSA some of their best images.  His ex-wife Isabelle Storey describes him as shallow, selfish and heartless.  Evans described Edward Steichen’s major work The Family of Man as overrated sentimental rubbish.

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Robert Frank’s Stove; © Walker Evans, 1971

Yet one of the gentle lyrical photographs from the Vancouver exhibition was titled Robert Frank’s Stove, which would indicate that Evans and Frank were close friends late in Evan’s life.

Pablo Picasso’s seven female muses were but the tip of the iceberg of a self-indulgent lifestyle that he required to maintain his artistic output.  Picasso is famous for telling one of his mistresses, Françoise Gilot in 1943, that ‘…for me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats’.

This politically incorrect behaviour is not uncommon in the art world.

The photographer Tina Modotti managed to, eventually, reverse the male sexist treatment of female partners.  But it was only after a six year relationship with Edward Weston that Modotti was able to pursue a similar life style.  Although she made no attempt to describe her male partners as her muses.

Edward Weston managed to come close to the Picasso style with his string of models and muses whilst married to Flora May Chandler.  His four sons with Flora, included Brett, who would go on to become both his father’s assistant and eventually the protector of the Edward Weston legacy.  Brett went on to marry and divorce four times.

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Charis Wilson; © Edward Weston

Other than Modotti, Edward Weston’s most famous mistress/muse/model was Charis Wilson, eventually marrying her in 1939 and then divorcing in 1946.  The relationship produced some of Weston’s most recognised photographs.  Creatively the process worked for Weston but there is little documentation to say whether the relationship was as productive or rewarding for Wilson.

Garry Winogrand, despite being married twice, was not so much a womaniser as a driven photographer.  His photographic legacy on death was 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, 6,500 rolls of developed but not proofed exposures, and about 3,000 rolls only realised as far as contact sheets being made.  His feeling was that photography was all about creating (exposing) the image and the post-production was of little interest to him.  Winogrand taught briefly at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in the early 1970s, but this period in academia was driven more by financial necessity than a desire to mentor students.  His clear aim was to continue to create photographs.

It is this mission that drives many artists, in every art form and therefore including photography, and delineates the character mores of these people.  For some of them it is a dogged determination to succeed, but it is at all times tinged with more than a touch of selfishness.

Dare we call that apparent selfishness the mark of a great artist?

Or is that too long a bow to draw?


Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 3.09.22 PMThis essay first appeared in
February 2017 edition of
f11::for photographers and aficionados,
page 160.

Matters of Gravity

To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of universal gravitation before going for a walk”  –  Edward Weston

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Pepper; © Edward Weston, 1930

For the commercial photographer it sometimes appears pedantic to overly consider aesthetics when seeking the commensurate financial compensation for work performed in the current business environment.

For the amateur photographer chasing awards and citations within their club environment it sometimes seems essential to work the rule of thirds to its predictable and very likely dire death.

Should the rules of composition be considered prior to making a photograph?

Well of course they should.  But wouldn’t it be better if this, and many other rules, were ingrained via education and consistent repetitive practice?  After all, the best musicians practice every day.  Great artists are constantly working at their easel.  Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle produced a solid 3,000 words per day, whilst Ernest Hemingway produced a more miserly 500 words per day – but they, and many others, kept up this rate day after day.  When questioned about his daily output, Doyle was recorded as saying “anything is better than stagnation”.

In this day and age, where the combination of simple photographic fixes with apparently bullet proof cameras producing exposures approaching perfection, the need for formal education has never been more apparent.  Learning the rules might seem a little on the tedious side, but a solid grounding with this knowledge makes the subsequent artistic breaking of them a matter of course.

Doing so with the confidence of gut instinct is far better than consulting a tedious check list of “rules” set out in bullet points on a crumpled piece of card in your back pocket.  A little like those cheat sheet cards containing illustrations that were once favoured for posing portrait subjects.

Equally destructive is the often absolute reliance on formulaic rules of photography favoured by some camera club judges.  This usually comes about from a desire to enforce a certain standard upon judges who come from many and varied backgrounds and experiences.  This approach to standardisation is as damaging as having a couple of rogue judges rampaging through a photography society.  This lowering of standards to that of the perceived average photographer is as counter-productive as the commercial photographer who attempts to bring a veneer of creativity to their output via a forced reliance on contemporary aesthetics.

There are no simple fixes to this age-old photographic conundrum.  Although often overlooked in current times, one simple answer is grounded in a formal course of study (either photographic or artistic) followed by a period of time working in the shadow of an established practitioner, prior to embarking into the world of commercial image making. Instead, today many choose the quick fix money making alternative of purchasing a sophisticated camera capable of producing sharp and well exposed images, printing a few business cards and hanging the virtual open-for-business sign that a simple website now represents.

It is at this point that aesthetics fly out of the window, lost perhaps forever to the commercial imperative.  The end result?  A slow decline in professional standards, and less effective, less persuasive visual communication.

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Pablo Picasso; © David Douglas Duncan

The downside of this unsophisticated approach is that an unskilled photographer with the gift of the gab and some slick presentation skills is sometimes able to take work away from a practicing professional with years of solid experience, often by providing a cheaper solution.

 

The words, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”, were attributed to Pablo Picasso, and it is difficult to argue with the master.


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p156, issue 61 :: December/January, 2017.

 

Walker Evans – “Depth of Field”

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Vancouver Art Gallery #1; © Ian Poole, Canada, 2017.

In my thought processes, the photographic output of Walker Evans (1903-75) was over-shadowed by the mid twentieth century photographers Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander;  the Farm Security Administration (FSA) members like Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, and Gordon Parks.  Whilst Australian heroes in Dr Michael Coyne and Tim Page piqued my visual interest.  The paucity of names on this list is a clear indication of my lack of knowledge of the genre.

Today I expanded that knowledge by a quantum of 100%!  Whilst others in my travel group were heading to Whistler for skiing – I was aiming to catch the final days of this block buster exhibition Walker Evans – Depth of Field at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I was not disappointed.  Gathered with the skill that only a good curator possesses, from a multitude of sources, this exhibition documented some of Evans earliest work right through to his late output using Polaroid materials.  Colour even!

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Road Side Stand near Birmingham Alabama, 1936; © Walker Evans

I got to see personal favourites (the old reliable house mover) and discovered many new and ironic photographs (damaged).

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Truck and Sign; © Walker Evans, 1929-30.

These further fed my interest.  Of the monochrome photographs, there was a delightful mix of gelatin silver prints (both vintage and later printed) and ink jet.  The difference of printing techniques was never a consideration, such was the quality of both old and new.  The viewer concentrated on content not on technique.  I suspect even Evans would have approved.

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Robert Frank’s Stove, Cape Breton Island; © Walker Evans, 1971

Another intriguing find was a photograph of Robert Frank’s stove.  Such a personal insight into Frank’s personal space seems to indicate that the two great photographers had a knowledge of each other (albeit late in Evan’s life).

Evans trip to Cuba produced some delightful photographs including another of my personal favourites.  It was a joy to see three variants, including a large inkjet print, all side by side for the viewer’s pleasure.

Such curatorship is wonderful when it is carefully crafted to seduce and educate the viewer.

 

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Citizen of Downtown Havana; © Walker Evans, 1933

A pleasant gallery interlude and totally worth a trip around the world to view.  Thank you Vancouver Art Gallery.

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Vancouver Art Gallery #2; © Ian Poole, Canada, 2017.

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Vancouver Art Gallery #3; © Ian Poole, Canada 2017.


 

 

 

 

Glittering Prizes

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Wakatipu Sky; © Ian Poole, 2011.

The southern hemispheric professional photography awards season has finished and we will shortly see the start of a similar set of competitions in the northern one.

One of the outcomes from these award results was the proliferation of images rated at the higher end of the scorecard that contained, or were dependent on, both graphic design and large amounts of post-production.  Noticing these trends caused some disquiet to newcomers to the awards as well as to the more experienced traditional exponents of the photographic craft.

The distance travelled between the point we have now reached and Louis Daguerre’s 1837 invention in creating a Daguerreotype or the creation of the dry plate by Richard Leach Maddox in 1871 was undoubtedly a cause of debate amongst practitioners.  While doing away with the very dangerous life threatening use of mercury with a Daguerreotype process was the primary driver, the resulting then newfound ability to create more than one copy from each exposure opened up vast possibilities.  In a sense, those birds are still nesting.

Similarly, the transition from film to digital opened up possibilities not previously seen nor imagined.  The blurring of previously clear demarcation lines between image creators (photographers) and image manipulators (for the sake of the argument lets call them graphic designers) has now become very obvious.

The awards criticism comes from two quite diverse sectors.

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Whakatane Sky; © Ian Poole, 2011.

Amongst the critics are traditionalists who came from an era based on those clearly defined demarcation lines.  ‘A photograph is a photograph is a photograph’.  This is an argument along the lines of ‘a landscape photograph contains only natural environment elements, is created with a large format camera and should be in monochrome’.  That argument disallows the use of colour, the recording of the urban or man-made environment and ascribes a mystery to a particular type of camera.  A flawed argument on every level.

Another camp, mainly newcomers to the photographic industry who are quite successfully making money from a commercial product sold to clients, are seeking applause from their peers for producing a saleable professional product.  Some are upset when that their product was not deemed sufficiently creative for an award.

One of the definitions of the word award is ‘a prize or other mark of recognition given in honour of an achievement.’  Simply achieving a level of production beyond that which is normal, everyday or even professional is not sufficient for recognition in these awards.

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Possum Protection; © Ian Poole, 2010.

Over time, any increase in the value and status of our professional recognition awards systems must surely rely on flexibility of outlook and much more than the reluctant acceptance of change.  The intoxicating blurring of boundaries, extending and challenging everyday norms and creating new concepts and techniques within photography are surely powerful future proofing.  Handing out loads of prizes for delivering salable commercial product simply won’t do, today or tomorrow.

Another concern relates to the frequently occurring relatively simple visual replication of what has been done before.  This is an anathema to progress.  Not to progress is, frankly, to go backwards!

New ‘personal versions’ of iconic and very easily attributable images which achieved success in previous, but still very recent awards, are cropping up in almost every category. But is demonstrating simple duplication, right down to lens choice, perspective and cropping, a road to achieving either instant recognition or long term reputation? You be the judge.

The good health and future prospects of productive and challenging awards and competitions to some degree relies on open boundaries allowing participants to create new styles of work and vary the presentation of this work to include new methods.

There are competitions that are entirely shackled, rule bound with old concepts and techniques – let them be.  The awards that encourage and promote better, newer, more innovative skills are the ones with a place in the future of photography.

So let’s reach for the rulebook less often, let’s keep debating vigorously but remember to celebrate and encourage those pushing at the outer limits of our own boundaries.

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Lindis; © Ian Poole, 2010.

Above all, let’s never compromise on professional standards for the sake of inclusiveness.

Where would that end?


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 59 :: October, 2016.

 

Amateur or Professional?

‘I am a professional photographer by trade and an amateur photographer by vocation.’   –  Elliot Erwitt

Two moments over the past week or so brought this Elliot Erwitt quote into sharp focus for me.

My current major working task is to unbundle my life’s output of negatives into the local library.  In doing so I was struck by the sheer banality of some of the jobs that I have completed over the years.  Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer Then I reviewed, with some delight, the portfolio of photographs that this worthy journal published in the last edition showcasing some of my far more recent images.

The concept of professional work versus amateur output was starting to take shape in my head.

Whilst there are many descriptors to illustrate the concept of professional photography, they mostly revolve around the concept of creating images in return for money.  There are great professional photographers who are not necessarily great photographers; and there are great photographers who are not necessarily great professionals.

Good professional photographers are often expert at orchestrating a large number of different skilled operations towards the required goal of photographically illustrating a product or concept to the satisfaction of a fee-paying client.  This was the description behind some of the negative files that I was putting into the library’s database last week.  Photographs that had, in their day, totally satisfied the demands and requirements of a client who had then happily paid for that service.  Looking at the images with the 20/20 wisdom of hindsight, they will never be used again in any creative sense, despite totally satisfying the client’s brief when they were created.

On the other hand, surveying my portfolio of photographs in last month’s issue of this magazine, I was just as happy with their publication as I was when I created many of the images.  So using Erwitt’s formula, had I become an amateur photographer?  An amateur photographer is typically seen as someone who takes photos for fun and passion.  The subject, constraint or motivation of money is not a factor.

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Tate Modern; © Ian Poole, London 2016.

We are straying into a discussion which parallels an age old question, that being, what is the main distinction between a chef and a cook?  The chef, being the trained and practising professional (there’s that word again), is someone who prepares food in return for monetary recompense.  On the other hand, the cook, often an amateur, usually prepares food simply for the love of working with good ingredients and enjoying the compliments of satisfied diners, usually family and friends – rather than paying patrons of their kitchen.

Since my earliest days as a working photographer (dare I say professional) I have always had a grudging admiration for the self-proclaimed amateur.  Someone who chooses to embark on a journey to create photographs without the constraints of client demands and direction, cost, budget or time commitment.  One or more of these parameters has always been attached to my professional assignments.  The wedding that is being held on a pre-determined date; the portrait that is to be given as a birthday present; the ship that will enter harbour with the next high tide; the visit by the Governor to open the next sitting of parliament – these definite and precise directions can not be ignored by a professional photographer.  Whereas an amateur may choose to attend and document, or not attend at all, at their whim.

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© Elliott Erwitt

Elliot Erwitt commented that he did not set out to photograph a book of dog photographs – it just so happened that one day he had finally created such a volume of images that Phaidon offered to publish his book DogDogs.  Calling Erwitt an amateur would be misinterpreting, maybe even misrepresenting, a lengthy career as an image maker.  In an interview with Erwitt when he was last in Australia he recalled that his ‘hobby’ of photographing dogs had become a job – suggesting that his keen canine interest was interfering with his ‘real’ job.

That line, the one separating amateur from professional is tenuous at best, and poorly defined most of the time. Sometimes it’s pretty hard to even see where the line is.

Personally, I am more than happy to continue to blur the already soft line between my trade and my vocation. It’s a movable barrier, so why not?


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 58 :: September, 2016.

 

August 2016 was a great month

For different but related reasons August 2016 was a great month for me.

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In Good Company

Firstly I had a comprehensive portfolio of my photographs published in the online magazine f11::for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS.

Secondly I gained my Master of Photography (M.Photog) status with the (AIPP)

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In Equally Good Company.

The first achievement was the result of over nine months of submission and collaboration with the f11 Publisher and Creative Director, Tim Steele.

With some gentle (and often times not so subtle) prodding, Tim was able to move me away from a grab-bag of retrospective images culled from a lifetime of photography into displaying a targeted and curated array of complimentary shots.  For this I will be eternally grateful.  Whilst I have a fair record in curating photographic shows for other people this was proof positive that the artist should rely on the input of a dispassionate party in such an exercise.

As a long time exponent of the black and white process and genre, it was an eyeopener to me that not a single monochrome image was included.

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Istanbul Dolls; © Ian Poole, 2015

The wonder of colour was never more evident than in this portfolio.

Issue 57 commencing at page 98 gave a comprehensive survey of my more contemporary photographs.  The supporting essay alluded to a voyeuristic photographic eye – a statement that I don’t shy away from, albeit not in the wide angle, camera in the face documentary style that is employed by some practitioners of so-called street photography.  I am no Vivian Maier!

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Observations; © Ian Poole, 2015.

What this project did do for me was to isolate a not strongly held view that I was attracted to people and place.  Having been fortunate to travel a few times over the past few years it was obvious that I would document those moments.  But it was the urban landscape (with its attendant population) that attracted my lens more than “the landscape”.  It took an analysis of various submissions for Tim to make this point so strongly – a fact with which I am pleased.

The second part of the bookending of the month of August was my gaining my M.Photog.  The road to this achievement has been paved with many challenges (I Earned a 73 ……. and a few other scores) and (Failure) and (The 2015 APPAs).  In this 40th year of the APPAs (Australian Professional Photography Award), it was a nice co-incidence for me.

I had attended the “test run” of the APPAs 41 years ago at the HYPO Convention at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, and entered the second APPA and earned a Silver Merit.  Having decided early in my membership of the AIPP that I was a better Judge than an Entrant I chose for a long period to restrict my involvement to the judging table – UNTIL!   Some six years ago a few of my Institute “Friends” took me aside at an Awards Dinner and monstered me.  “Put Up or Shut Up” was the demand.  Thank you Mike Langford APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP,  Jackie Ranken, Peter Eastway APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP FNZIPP Hon. FAIPP Hon. FNZIPP, Ian van der Wolde APP.L M.Photog III Hon. FAIPP, Andrew Campbell APP.L GM.Photog and David Oliver AAP.L GM.Photog.  So, with the exception of the disastrous 2014 Year of the Bronzes, I steadily worked my way through gaining my Associateship and then Masters.

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Birmingham Gallery Cafe; © Ian Poole, 2016.

This year’s Award images also contributed to my gaining a Master of Photography within the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography Iris Award system.

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Tallin, Estonia; © Ian Poole, 2016.

Huge thanks need to go to Living Image Print and Andrew Merefield (and Darren Jew who was away swimming with whales) for the care and professionalism given to putting these pixels onto paper.  A skilled job for a pair of skilled professionals.

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Opposite The Ritz; © Ian Poole, 2016.

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Edinburgh; © Ian Poole, 2016.

……and a final comment must be made to my talented mentor Adam Finch M.Photog.  Adam has continually challenged, critiqued and encouraged my photographic output.  No good photographer can exist without a mentor (or an Editor).  Thanks.


 

 

 

 

Portfolio Published in f11

It was with some pleasure when I read the current issue of f11 :: for photographers and aficionados.    With a substantial number of contemporary photographs to view it was a joy to see them presented with such care by Creative Director Tim Steele.

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The process of arriving at this point was both interesting and laborious.  My initial idea of submitting a grab bag of images from a checkered commercial career was ruthlessly rejected  (fortunately) by the editorial board.   I was forced to regroup and reassess the work to be presented and be also constrained by the publishing needs of a journal that is produced eleven times a year.

I am in good company with Stephen Robinson’s delightful memories of vintage New Zealand architecture, the NZIPP Iris Award winners and of course the essay by Tony Bridge and equipment review by Gary Baildon.   I am almost embarrassed to mention a column by yours truly amping up the debate about whether photography award entries should (or should not) be the sole work of the entrant.

www.f11magazine.com
f11 Magazine has a social media presence on Twitter: @f11magazine; and
Facebook: Facebook.com/f11Magazine

……and one of the photos that didn’t make the cut –

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New Otani; © Ian Poole, 2015.

Decisions

My long ‘to-do’ list of photographic chores has been a subject of great contemplation and some inner turmoil.  There are entries to be finalised for a couple of professional awards programs which I am keen to enter; several folders of work created on a month-long trip away from home still to refine; a portfolio of personal work for a submission

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Vintage Negative Collection; © Ian Poole, State Library Queensland, 2016.

and a vast archive of my life’s work of negatives that I am slowly archiving into the Queensland State Library data-base.  In spite of my well-documented history of procrastination I felt that it was time to take a more positive and proactive approach to this lethargy and work towards some quick but nonetheless worthwhile solutions.

The competition award entries were tackled first.  I am more than aware that my role in both of these events is clearly defined within the role of an assessor and as one of the judges.

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Hong Kong Monsoon; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 2016.

But in that role it is equally important that I am seen to be entering and supporting the organisations involved.  Besides which, like many creative sorts, I also have an ego that needs to be stroked and maintained!

Some years ago I was given a format that I have now adopted.  This is based on the firm premise that I am not in competition with any of the other entrants.  Instead, I endeavor to compete against my own performance from last year.  The peer assessment manner in which these awards are judged ensures that my standard is not limited by my own inadequacies.  It meant of course, that when I failed to achieve silver awards with any my entries a couple of years ago I had a period of serious soul searching to endure. I soon realised that my best for that year was just not up to scratch.  It was of a professional standard, but it was clearly not award worthy.  Whilst I am comfortable with the strong and consistent possibility that I may never stand at the podium receiving trophies and accolades, I am also conscious that I want my entries to be of a standard that enables me to confidently and comfortably feel able to construcively criticise the work of other entrants.  For the record, and as is the case for all judges, I am never in the position of judging my own work, this does not happen with well organised and scrupulously managed awards programs.

So the first edit has been made and some test prints nailed to the wall so that I can live with them for a little while.  This is a great way to assess if I am bored with my own work – a sure sign that other judges may come to that conclusion much faster than me.

Several folders of a couple of thousand files have now been sorted in a rough edit to find a collection of photographs that may be useful as award entries, or suitable for the personal project I am working on.  This is followed by a longer period agonising over those thus sorted.  Doing this over several sessions means that I have time to contemplate my choices.  I also have access to one or two trusted and highly valuable mentors with whom I can share a few of the more difficult choices.

The personal project continues with a similar approach to that of finding award images.  A steady process of post-production followed by either elimination or acceptance of photographs worthy of the presentation I wish to make in the next few months.

Then comes the sorting of my entire professional life’s output of negatives and transparencies.  This is a job that has a certain amount of tedium that comes from peering at the results of some fairly banal commercial assignments, then followed by happy trips down memory lane as I re-discover other, long forgotten but far more interesting assignments.  Of course the recurring theme of rampant sexism in some of the photographs was just a by-product of the ‘anything goes’ 1970s.

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612 ABC Radio; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1976. (courtesy of John Oxley Library historical collection)

I do now wonder why it seemed necessary to have so many girls in bikinis draped over washing machines or gas stoves.  In my defence, all I can say is that, at the time, it was entirely at the direction of various art directors at whose pleasure I served.

It is possible that your own ‘to-do’ list could be similarly reduced or tackled with a clear cut analysis of what needs to be done, and a rational approach to sorting the tasks slowly and steadily.  My list, made a couple of weeks ago, is now under control.

Though I must admit that it did take a few sleepless nights to work out precisely how to achieve all of this within a tight time frame.


Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.51.51 AMThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p154, issue 55 :: June, 2016.

 

 

In Defence of the Cliché

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Louvre Sunrise; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2016

Avoid imitating a cliché – is the oft loudly exclaimed cry from art teachers, creativity lecturers and judges at photographic competitions.  So why should I buck the combined wisdom of teachers and mentors with far greater stature than me?

It was a reluctant first-time visit to the Musée Rodin in Paris that did it for me.  I certainly have no difficulty in recognising that Auguste Rodin was an artist held in the highest regard, but my reluctance to visit it was based on the anticipation of feelings of intense déjà vu.

How could I not be impressed with the image of sculptures as well known as The Thinker or The Kiss?

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Rodin’s Thinker; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2016

When I realised I was comparing the shape of my hand with that of Rodin’s sculptured artwork, I knew that I was hooked and engaged with the artist’s masterpiece.  No catalogue, no wikipedia entry, no poster, was ever going to illustrate the power and emotion that he had crafted into each piece.  And whilst I had never sculpted in my life, I realised that I had photographically mimicked the poses and hand gestures from both pieces without much regard from whence these concepts had come.

After looking first hand at examples of photographs by Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon I started to understand the power contained within the images.  I had always thought that the landscapes of Adams were a case of hard hiking and early mornings, but to my horror I found a conscious thought process underlying his many images.

In the case of Avedon, my cavalier response had been that anyone with a few lucky breaks and access to ‘big’ names as subjects could produce great shots.  How wrong was I?  Avedon had a wonderful knack of reproducing and inserting the soul of his sitter into a photograph. Neither photographer had lucked onto a quick fix.  They had learnt their craft, worked hard within their genre, and consequently produced images that appeared to be effortless when viewed.

Clichéd – almost!

In case there is a misconception out there in reader-land that a rush trip to Paris or New York is required to look at cliché driven images to promote one’s own creativity, examples are happening all around.

Tony-Bridge-NZ-Photographer

The Wanaka Tree; © Tony Bridge, New Zealand, 2016.

My respected fellow f11 correspondent Tony Bridge has been leading a workshop at the prestigious 27th Wanaka Autumn Art School in New Zealand and he was goaded by some of his friends to lead his group of students to that well-known location, The Wanaka Tree.  Tony’s response was to give his students a master class in landscape creation with a totally new interpretation.  I trust they were impressed, because I certainly was.

A further opportunity exists for some Australian readers to visit the National Gallery of Victoria and view James McNeill Whistler’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871  (more commonly referred to as Whistler’s Mother).  This work is currently on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris.  The portrait painted in a stoic palette of grey and black, portrays a character vastly different to that of the artist – who was noted for his flamboyant dress and outgoing social personality.  The painting, having been mocked and parodied for decades, is still a powerful depiction of personality and emotional representation.

Having viewed photographic interpretations of these (and many other art works) frequently in my career, I am now of the opinion that a greater knowledge of so-called clichéd images is valuable in the extension of one’s creative development.  Studying why such pieces have become so hackneyed, even banal, is a step further in creating a personal style.

Maybe the clichéd road is the road to creativity.