All our own work

An earnest debate amongst Australian professional photographers is currently ensuing online regarding the legitimacy of using second and third party professionals to prepare entries for photography awards.

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Story Bridge + Bird; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1995.

In this instance specifically, whether professional retouchers should be able to work on an awards entry and whether the resulting modified photograph still remains within the original photographer’s integrity of ownership.

The debate resonates on many levels.

Firstly, the Australian professional institute has encouraged its members to enter the awards with a view to improving professional standards across the broad range of the industry.  Comparing current entries with those of 30+ years ago, this has been achieved well beyond the imagination of the two or three Australian photography industry founding fathers’ fondest thoughts, wishes or hopes.

Secondly, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of first time professional photographers practising their craft without any degree of formal training.

And thirdly, many of these new industry members are trying their hand at entering professional awards for the first time using photographic images that were commercially sound enough for sale to clients – but then fail to attract high assessments from the panel of judges.  The antipodean professional awards of New Zealand and Australia present some of the highest standards in photography, as evidenced by the success of some of their participants on a world stage, so where does the disconnect occur, and why?

That third point is the basis on which many photographers are now questioning their own poor results and looking for answers in places other than deep introspection. Some are rooting suspicion from their discovery that some entered photographs have received post-production treatment that might not all have been the work of the entrant.  A lack of formal training in photography means that some fundamental knowledge of the history of the art is absent, missing in action, from their perspective.  This colours their judgment, hiding the real issue.

Right from the earliest days of photography there was a dependence on skilled third party assistance for the photographer to be able to produce saleable portrait images.  From the late 19th century through the early 20th century the production methods were similar, albeit the materials used varied.  The photographer (usually a male) exposed sensitised material and worked with the clients in The Gallery and behind the scenes vast numbers of staff (mostly female) worked on the production of the finished product.  Some photos of these areas in very large studios indicate an almost Dickensian workhouse nature. In a very real sense however, both sides of the production process were equally harrowing as work places.

The widespread use of colour materials in the mid-twentieth century brought about a dramatic change to the business model.  A host of colour processing laboratories created a revolution where photographers concentrated on finding clients and taking photographs while relying on their finished print production being entirely done by laboratories.  The resulting images were really only packaged back at the studio for delivery to clients.

This reliance on laboratories by domestic photographers was echoed in the commercial world.  The difference being, that instead of processing negatives these laboratories worked with transparency film and offered additional skills for sale.  Compositing two or more transparencies into one, adding text to a transparency, blending several images to create one finished result – something that any half trained photography student could do today in minutes with Photoshop – had to be sent to an expert or experts (often in another city) for completion.

My personal experience of having seen most of the Australian professional awards judged was that this manner of production was always perfectly acceptable.  Whilst the viewer often marvelled at the technical skill required to achieve some of the effects, nevertheless it was the brilliance of the concept, or the execution of the original exposure, that was being assessed and attributed to the entrant.  Today, the common practice of having one’s award entries printed and finished by a master printer is not only accepted, but tacitly encouraged. Judges don’t expect entrants to be master printers, so why should they expect the same photographers to be master retouchers?

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Tokyo Opera House; © Ian Poole, 2012.

The disappointment some new entrants to the awards system face is the discovery that their ‘successful’ commercial output does not rate highly in a peer review competitive situation.  Money from clients (albeit the most important yardstick for a commercial enterprise) while essential, is also on a par with lavish praise from one’s own mother.  The success of the trans-Tasman competitions is that the quality bar has been raised to a very high level.  Something to be applauded, not dragged down to a lesser level by adding the criterion that if the image was adequate enough to sell, it is therefore good enough to be applauded and awarded by a jury of our peers.

Content, intent, story-telling, description, emotion, memory, originality, technique and many other signifiers are the harbingers of an award winning photograph.  Judges tend to wait and hope, looking for photographs that bring a special message and trusting that they will be able to recognise these images when revealed in the dance of assessment in those quiet rooms.

Long may that expectation reign.


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p148, issue 57 :: August, 2016.

My First APPA Silver Award c1977

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APPA Silver Award; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1977

Entering the second Photography Awards held by the Institute of Australian Photography (IAP) in 1977 was as nerve racking as it was entering the APPA held in Melbourne by the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) last year (2015).  The IAP was the precursor of the AIPP – Australia’s premier professional photography body.

My very first Silver Award came from an image taken during the following campaign shot at my Warren Street Studio (Brisbane).

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Harlequin Music Centre #5; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1976

Whilst this is a different frame from which the Award print was made, it is interesting to note the Hasselblad format Ektachrome transparency and the information contained therein.  I was still using Lowel Tota lights prior to investing in a commercial set of Bowens flash gear.  Very effective lighting but terribly hot in a Queensland Studio.  But it was an easy way to get a lot of lighting for little investment.

Harlequin Music (later to become Toombul Music Centre) and later still closing its doors in 2008, was the campaign client.  My client was good friend Gary Edgar, Art Director at Pemberton Advertising Agency.

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Harlequin Music #3; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1976

Whilst some of the shots were to be used in press advertisements, the primary reason for the shooting session was to create some strong, powerful images to be used as large wall decorations.  The Art Director and I were concerned that normal continuous tone photographs would not  have much impact.  I had been experimenting with a black and white technique called tone line drop out.  This high contrast technique (or line conversion) was more commonly used in commercial printing and produced a negative/positive that had little or no grey – just black and white.

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Harlequin Music #1; © Ian Poole, Brisbane c1976

The actual shoot was fairly big deal for me, as it involved gathering a large amount of stock and props as well as hiring a specialist model.  Judy Addis was a Jamaican born model who was working for a local model agency (June Dally Watkins) and had a secondary job as a jazz singer.

She was perfect for the processing technique we had in mind.  From the tests that we had done in the Studio darkroom I realised the number of conversions needed was going to stretch the time of my assistant (Cindy Limque) and Wayne Eeeles (who worked in the David McCarthy Studio) was drafted to assist.  The resultant shots from the session were then converted to prints via high contrast negatives for the client selection.  To enable a photographically inexperienced client to pick and choose, a huge volume of material had to be produced.

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Harlequin Music #2; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1977

Note the music cassettes and cartridges being placed into the toaster – Art Director sense of humour!

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Harlequin Music #4; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1977

The ease in which Photoshop has done away with these arcane is amazing.  Such skills were held by the most experienced of darkroom workers.

I am indebted to Wayne Eeles for not only assisting with the treatment in the first instance, but corroborating the details recently, as my memory fades – unlike the well processed black and white negatives from which these scans were made!

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Harlequin Music #5; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1977  (Oh to have had Photoshop to strip out the light stand waaay back in 1977!)

 

 

 


 

Raising the Bar

Whilst judging at the New Zealand professional photography awards (featured in the September issue of f11 Magazine), offering comments to potential entrants in the forthcoming Australian photography awards and doing portfolio reviews at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale – I’ve noticed a common thread.  Our professional development programs might require concerted effort but they absolutely reward diligence and persistence.

In an industry that frequently complains about competition, low prices and difficulty in finding clientele, thoughts to which I don’t necessarily subscribe, it is amazing how much assistance is made willingly and freely available to the truly dedicated, interested and inquiring photographer.

As one of many photographers gathered in Queenstown to find the New Zealand Photographer of the Year, it was a delight to be given such a privileged opportunity to assess fine quality work up close and personally.  The peer review system used requires photographs to be not only assessed by practitioners, but compared against similar genres of images.  The eclectic selection of rotating judges means that a photograph is given as broad an interpretation as is possible, and ensures that a variety of opinions are canvassed.  This entailed gathering a wide selection of photographers capable of judging from both sides of the Tasman Sea, and from many different photographic areas.  The education for both the entrant and the observer, comes from the very candid comments offered on most prints while ensuring that the creator of the work remains anonymous. A lifetime of experience is contained behind the opinions given, and a great deal of information is given freely.  All that remains is interpretation on the part of the viewers and watchers, regardless of whether they have any skin in the game in that session, or on that day.

This was also the case in the print critique evening I attended.  It was an opportunity for photographers considering entering the Australian awards equivalent program.  Photographers were invited to show works-in-progress to a collection of experienced judges with the intention of receiving an indication as to whether the image had real award potential.  Many images were shown, and some astute observations were made, in front of a large crowd.  This process then becomes educative with the comments being made for all to hear and note.

If all this sounds like a university tutorial – you are correct! Knowledge is freely available at these events if you are prepared to see and listen.  The result?  Organisers, judges and participants are steadily inching the bar higher on every such occasion.  It’s a collaborative effort.

The upcoming Australian Photographer of the Year Awards follow a similar style to those just experienced in New Zealand. There is no doubt that a similar vibe will exist in Melbourne this year. Value can be gained with the entrant receiving a ‘peer review’ assessment of their photographic submission, and an observer can gain from looking at, and listening to, experienced value judgments given by some of Australasia’s best photographers.

A different style of education was delivered at Ballarat.  The concept of portfolio review is less well known in the southern hemisphere, but it is a staple at photo festivals in Europe and America.  In fact the Ballarat winner’s prize is a trip to Houston, USA to attend the 2016 Foto Fest Biennale to show their portfolio to a potential panel of over 150 reviewers.

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Kerry Pryor; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

The review process involves a financial fee and bidding to spend limited available time with a small number of reviewers.  This has huge rewards for the organised photographer who has done their homework and identified people who may have skills relevant to their photography, and connections to aid their future direction.  The variety of reviewers available stretched from gallery owners to academics, from photographic agents to practicing photographic artists. These were people who were giving their time and skills freely and readily.

From where I sat the bar was raised a couple of times over the past few weeks with the NZ winner, and subsequently the announcement of the Guy Vinciguerra Fellowship at Ballarat.

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© Tracey Robinson (Gold Award + Distinction)

Congratulations to Tracey Robinson in NZ and Kerry Pryor in Melbourne, and to all those who experienced success, in all forms, great or small.

The process of a personal commitment to professional development and a mantra of ‘never stop learning’ certainly requires effort, enthusiasm and dedication from its seekers, and it absolutely bears fruit for those who stick with it, read the signs and follow the road markers.

The process works


Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.44.19 amThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp158, issue 47, September 2015.

A Day’s Portfolio Reviewing at Ballarat Biennale

As well as looking at Australia’s premier photography exhibition, my other reason for attending the 2015 Ballarat International Foto Biennale was to participate as a reviewer at the 2015 Portfolio Reviews.  I was in very good company, with a talented group of reviewers carrying many skills connected to photography.  This gave the applicants a great choice to match their strengths and weaknesses to solid critical opinion.

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Kerry Pryor; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

As well as seeking a review of their photographic portfolio, the Guy Vinciguerra Fellowship was to be given to the strongest portfolio.  This Fellowship awarded a return airfare, accommodation and meals allowance, and registration for a four day review session at the world’s oldest and biggest Portfolio Review, ‘The Meeting Place’, at FotoFest Houston in March 2016.

The 2015 Guy Vinciguerra Fellowship winner is Kerry Pryor from Melbourne.

I had the pleasure to review Kerry’s portfolio of documentary images taken in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.  Since graduating from RMIT in 2008, Kerry has worked as a commercial photographer whilst steadily building a CV of exhibitions and awards.

The portfolio review process does not have a strong history in Australia (although Ballarat is working hard to change that!), but the concept has a strong place in Europe and America.   The famous Rencontres d’Arles photography festival has facilitated portfolio reviews since 2006.

The Houston FotoFest will provide over 160 reviewers – a big jump from the 14 on offer at Ballarat.

Whilst I did not get to meet the almost 40 applicants, it was a delight to meet and chat to quite a number.  It is a privilege to be given the opportunity not only to view photographers’ work but to chat to them about their dreams, plans and aspirations.

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Morganna Magee; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

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Ben Liew; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015

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Neil Cash; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

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Sandra Chen Weinstein; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015

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Nigel Kenny; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

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Doc Ross Haka; © Ian Poole, Ballarat, 2015.

…..and of course amongst the talented group of reviewers, it was a joy to meet up with my old friend Doc Ross from Christchurch, New Zealand; seen here giving his own personal rendition of the Kiwi haka.

Seeking the spice and flavors of life

Apertures and shutter speeds are akin to the meat and potatoes of our photographic life, but where do you go to find out about aesthetics, variations, alternatives, adaptations, or new visual choices?  These are the techniques, the sauces, spices and gravies bringing subtleties, flavors and fragrances to lift a meal from basic sustenance to haute cuisine.

There comes a point in your photographic life where you should need to move past the functional production of images to a more nuanced approach to visual recording and documentation.  Whilst a more traditional way was, or still is, to have access to a vast library of books, monographs, texts and journals to peruse and study, this concept seems to have faded a little.  In my case some limitations were brought on by a downsizing of habitat, but these were more than replaced by easy access to vast amounts of content a click or three away on the world wide web.

Allow me to share some of my preferred online delicacies…

Obviously, it goes without saying that this esteemed digital journal is my first source of information and creative encouragement!  I personally reference my fellow correspondents for their alternative and occasionally confronting observations about this great industry.  Amongst others, Tony Bridge, I am looking at you.

Now at a point in my career where words about photography tend to feature more prominently in my research than photographs per se, the top of my go-to list is a former photographic magazine editor, teacher and now blogger – The Online Photographer.

Mike Johnston writes his blog with the dedication that only a seasoned journalist can bring to his craft.  Careful analysis, strong personal opinion and meticulously researched facts.  His appeal to me is that he drifts just as effortlessly across music, coffee, cars and billiards whilst allowing his biases to colour his opinion – all grist to the mill that is my wandering mind.

Stuck in Customs claims 8,401,440 followers and is listed as the #1 Travel Photography Blog on the Internet.  With a close association to Google, the site’s owner Trey Ratcliffe relocated to Queenstown, New Zealand and operates his blog with a world wide vision specialising in the bold colours of High Dynamic Range (HDR) travel photographs.It fulfills the promise of a new shot each day.

I came across Thom Hogan and his byThom blogs, he has several, when I was seeking Nikon information.  He is articulate and knowledgeable and puts forward a strong opinion not only about Nikon DSLR and film equipment, but now has good commentary about mirrorless equipment.

Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart’s Blog Wotwedid satisfies the inner academic in me, with references to photo books, aesthetic reviews of exhibitions and published articles, as well as carefully produced photographic research.

Petapixel is the first port of call for many photographers with articles, photographs, reviews and good worldwide gossip.  And Strobist also provides some of the aforementioned photographic meat and potatoes, with a strong focus on the area of techniques using portable electronic flash equipment.

Ryan Muirhead provides stimulus for people wanting to re-invent photography by using film.  He breaks my need to seek out photographic text by mostly providing photographs supported by captions or life’s observations.  I also follow him via his Instagram account. In the same genre is Film is Not Dead written exuberantly by Jonathan Canlas.  Canlas writes and lectures with a passion that has brought him a large and loyal following.

This tiny selection represents a small set of websites and blogs that get me thinking, all celebrating, arguing and debating photography and whilst in no way a definitive list, they are a choice as personal as some of the opinions expressed by the various authors.

You’ll have your own list, feel free to share these with me.

Seeking the spice and flavors of life

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.06.05 am This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp144, issue 45, July 2015.

The times they are a’changin’

Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam

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Julia Margaret Cameron by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, 1870.  The first in a long line of women photographers.

Bob Dylan may have released this legendary anthem in 1963, but in the world of professional photography this sentiment has never been more appropriate.

No, I am not referring to digital replacing analogue photography.  That battle has been fought, and almost all of us have moved on to the digital process of creating photographs. In this war, everyone was a winner.

I’ve already observed, commented here and reflected on the manner in which professional photography is performed.  The days of a photographic studio in the Main Street of every town and large suburb have gone; to be replaced by photographers working out of homes, or perhaps their car, at the beck and call of clients via their ubiquitous mobile phones.  For many, gone forever are the studio, the receptionist and the sales area.  No comfy sofas, no coffee machine…

This change of process and facility will also be driven by a revolution in the dynamics of the profession.  As an example, we are now seeing a dramatic re-balancing of the gender mix amongst photographic practitioners.  What has been a distinctly male domain for the first three quarters of photographic history has now moved positively towards a real gender equity in the profession, a long overdue and welcome development.

New entrants with new vision, and new ideas, influence established categories such as child portraiture, and create entirely new ones, such as the upsurge of new born or ‘birth photography’ businesses.  This segment has been pioneered by a mainly female group of practitioners and has been firmly evidenced by the dramatic increase of women in the membership ranks of our professional institutes.  Many of these people possessing academic skills other than photography, looking for job satisfaction that can be combined with raising a family and woven into a lifestyle choice.  Admirable and desirable traits, ones we can all learn from.

The challenge for both the photography industry and our professional bodies is how to maintain craft skills as opposed to simple recording skills.  Many of these new entrants to the industry are formally educated – but not necessarily in photography.  Clear progress that goes a long way to lift broad education standards in an industry that sometimes lacked them in many areas.

The methods and techniques used by our institutes to interact with their membership is now, more than ever, of vital importance if these bodies are to establish, and maintain control of, professional standards.  And our creative industry simply has to differentiate itself from sophisticated amateur users with access to relatively inexpensive methods of recording images.  Our professionalism must now align inseparably with our creativity to define exactly what we do, and precisely where we add tangible value.

It may well be said that the black magic skills of old time analogue photographers has been swept away by the digital tsunami, but if we fail to harness the opportunities that present themselves alongside the new faces in our membership, we will also be swept away.

The well founded desire of new entrant photographers to embrace a work/life balance while being an integral part of our industry is an opportunity that should not be lost by clinging to an outdated ideal based on a previous business model.

Changing business hours, changing business locations, changing and improving interaction with family members, changing methods of interacting with clients – these should all be connected to producing better, and more creative, photographs.

Maybe Dylan was ahead of the game!

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.19.46 AMThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp144, issue 44, June 2015.

Adam Finch

11116015_10205688159459223_2051332181_nIt was announced at the prestigious 2015 Schwarzkopf Professional Hair Expo Awards held in Sydney last night that Jules Tognini had won the Mens Hairdresser of the Year 2015.

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Adam Finch; © Simona Janek, 2014.

Of greater importance to the photographic world is that the competition is judged via photographs, and the winning portfolio was created by Brisbane based Adam Finch.  Finch, who has an extensive background as a wedding photographer, has now extended his skills into hair, fashion and commercial photography. Working with real clients as opposed to models, Finch’s portfolio featured edgy, structured and aggressive monochrome images that relied strongly on lighting and posing to illustrate Tognini’s cut and styling.  Working mostly with Ledgo LED continuous lighting supplied by PROtog, Finch was able to sculpt and shape his lighting to maximise the creative work of Tognini.  Close collaboration with PROtog’s Brisbane distributor, Tony Holden, enabled Finch to quickly adapt his lighting skills from more traditional electronic flash illustration. This black and white portfolio also took out the prize for the highest scoring Photographic Collection of the Year – a first ever, for a men’s category collection of photographs.

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© Adam Finch, Brisbane, 2015.

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© Adam Finch, Brisbane, 2015

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© Adam Finch, Brisbane, 2015

A BIG congratulations to Adam Finch, and Jules and his creative supporting team.

Adam Finch – Adam_Finch@bigpond.com

In memoriam

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Tony Whincup; © Mike Langford, New Zealand, 2014.

A photographic friend of mine died recently.  It was unexpected in a way that these things sometimes can be.  He lived in another country and whilst I desperately wanted to attend his funeral, it was not possible.

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A Teacher Teaching; © Inspire Photography, 2014.

What did happen was a series of photographs started to appear in that thing called social media.  Firstly, a shot of him working amongst photographers taken last year.  It was what he did best, imparting knowledge to others, and there he was doing it in a well-recorded photograph.

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Brett Whincup and His Father’s Portrait; © Mike Langford, 2015.

Then I heard that a magnificent portrait of him was on display at the funeral, taken by another talented mutual friend.  This was a portrait that he had not seen, but now we all have because of its importance on that day.  Her photographic portrait created discussion amongst his friends, the mourners.  Almost immediately, social media started to fill with images taken at the ceremony.  Photographs that took me to a place I could not attend, to recognise that he was indeed amongst friends at the end.  All of his friends that I recognised were photographic acquaintances shared, because I did not know his immediate family. Amongst the photographic tributes was a portfolio of shots taken on the day by one of his close friends who had earlier delivered a touching eulogy.  But the portfolio of black and white photographs spoke in emotional words that I fully understood despite my physical absence.

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Rhiarn Phillips singing Amazing Grace; © Mike Langford, 2015.

There was a poignant photograph of a young female mourner kneeling beside the coffin whilst singing Amazing Grace.  I was affected as if I had been there in person.

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A Final Solo; © Mike Langford, 2015

There was the photograph of a musician friend playing a last solo. There were the young girls from the endangered Pacific island that he had championed for so long doing a graceful dance in front of the mourners.  He had published such photographs in books as part of his academic research, and at the end it was part of his final story. And finally we see that it was a grey, wet, cloudy day.  A day fit for a funeral.  We know these things because a photographer shared his monochromatic documentation of an event I could not attend.

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A Day Fit for a Funeral; © Mike Langford, 2015

The story is this, photographs can bring tears to our eyes, can convey a message, explain an event or just quietly tell it precisely how it was.  Whilst some of what I write about today is a documentation of events, there is also another thought at play here.  Are we as photographers doing enough to document and record portraits of those who are important to us? We are photographers – it is what we do best, and surely the onus is upon us to go out and take significant photographs of people important to us and to our profession?  It can be part of our commercial practice or it can be part of what we do to repay our own community, and to society as a whole, with that special skill that we possess. Let’s pay it forward, knowing that one day these portraits will be important, valued, treasured. Who are you photographing tomorrow, and why?

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Tony Portrait; © Jackie Ranken, Queenstown NZ, 2014

This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp144, issue 43, May 2015.

Old Debates, New Players

Sitting hunched over a computer keyboard on Saint Valentine’s Day speaks volumes about my underlying fear of the dreaded publisher of this august journal (f11 :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS), a looming deadline interfering with any romantic notions I might have of proffering undying love to my nearest and dearest. 

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Tim Steele; Creative Director f11 Magazine

As a noted, experienced and well-documented procrastinator, I am frequently under the whip of the ringmaster of this magazine.  The dark lord, as we refer to him, has patiently explained to me time and again that the lash is entirely optional, and that if I submit copy on time I will never hear its crack again.  I am not the silver tongued writer who regularly gets double page spreads (with a photograph and text littered with literary gems), nor the teacher’s favourite who is consistently two articles ahead at any given time, nor even one of the other golden haired correspondents who file their copy on-time, typo-free and without the need for constant editorial harassment. (Who the hell are these people? – ED)

As visions of rose petals and champagne flutes floated in my head I was reminded of the passion that photographers have traditionally shown towards their cameras and equipment.

Sometimes blind beyond all reason.

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Poole in Warren Street Studio; Brisbane, c1985

Going back 40 or 50 years the bulk of professional photographers worked with medium format cameras.  I have personally owned both of the most preferred brands, being Hasselblad and Mamiya; with my bias leaning towards the Swedish camera.  Mind you, the 6x7cm format of the Mamiya RB outfit helped produce an uncropped 10×8” (25x20cm) print with great ease.  As small format 35mm cameras started to produce great results from lighter and less obtrusive equipment some of the most passionate debates were then staged.  I have strong memories of workshops and conventions dividing into Nikon and Canon camps with an intensity that was palpable. The idea of ignoring great manufacturers like Olympus, Minolta, Pentax or even Contax always intrigued and puzzled me.

As we moved into the digital age, we were left with the two great brands of Nikon and Canon to garner passionate interaction from photographers. Having very recently moved to one of the smaller competitors of these marques,  I am now in the middle of this very lively debate amongst my personal circle of photo friends.  Editing some files for possible award entries, I have been amazed at the detail being manifested from my insignificantly small Fujifilm X series cropped sensor camera.  (You’re a late arrival at this party… – ED)

The debate continues.

Balcar A2400

Balcar A2400

Other items of equipment have brought similar passions to the fore.  Let’s talk electronic flash for instance.  In my case, early passions were pragmatically driven by finance – hence an initial happy relationship with British Bowens equipment, but then I was seduced by the small size and huge output of the French Balcar.  Never mind the somewhat Gallic devil-may-care attitude to Australia’s considerably higher electric current compared to that of France.  Eventually I made a quantum leap to Swiss Broncolor – thanks to a kind and understanding bank manager.

You have probably noticed that I have completely skirted around marques like Leica and Sinar and Graflex and Toyoview; let alone Cambo and Arca-Swiss.  These all had, or still have, zealous devotees.

I’m about to run foul of the dark lord, this piece straying perilously close to pandering to ideas of brand zealotry and away from the process, brand and technology agnosticism this magazine has always stood for.

The winds of change are again redrawing the imaging technology landscape, making new, revived or outlier brands seductive and alluring, encouraging not only debate and comparison – but conversion, adoption and loyalties.

How much passion will be retained for the brands of old, and will these become generational rather than technological divides?

Old debates revived, but with new players holding new positions.

f11 issue 41  This essay first appeared in f11 :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 41, March 2015.

Available Enlightenment

I am now, and long have been, though not exclusively, an available light photographer

So this is an apt and accurate description of my current style of portrait photography.  A descriptor that I value and respect, as it embraces a lifetime of study and experimentation with the nuances of lighting portrait subjects.

But wait a moment, didn’t I spend a large period of that time working with the best and most powerful of studio electronic flash units that money could buy?  Well yes, I did, but as I did so, I worked very hard to replicate the light that I saw around me.  Daylight that is.

To claim to be a skilled photographic practitioner in available light requires either years of experience or a high degree of visual education – rather than reflecting either the lack of a studio or the requisite equipment!

My concern about the misuse of the term, ‘available light photographer’ is based on the proliferation of photographers claiming such miraculous abilities.

A more forensic research effort into their advertising shows that they live on a mobile telephone and communicate via an obscure website or a free email address service.

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Shepherd; © Tony Carter, New Zealand.

I accept the fact that the day of the photographic studio carefully placed in the high street of every major city is now all but over.  This misuse of the available light term often indicates a lack of facility and equipment.  More importantly to me, it indicates a lack of photographic knowledge.

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Bride; © Rob Heyman, Brisbane.

Adam-Finch-Brisbane-Photographer

Model and Containers; © Adam Finch, Brisbane, 2013

When I review the photographic output of master photographers like Kiwi Tony Carter and Australians Rob Heyman and Adam Finch, I observe the skills that a photographer with a deep and intimate knowledge of light brings to the topic of portrait photography.  It has nothing to do with the presence of either a studio or a raft of equipment.  It is more a way of life, and a desire to make their images look real and lifelike.  Carter in recent correspondence said ‘give me a window and sheet of polystyrene any day’.  This is neither affectation nor laziness – it represents the skill-set of a practitioner who is supremely comfortable with his ability to replicate a natural environment in order to record a sublime portrait.

I haven’t always been such a devotee of natural light – my first commercial photographic assignments were photographing weddings and functions with portable flash units.  The Mecablitz 502 and the Braun equivalents were chunky because of the wet cell battery, and very heavy to carry.  There were even photographers who strapped a motor cycle battery to their units to give an extended performance.  Until I learnt the refinement of bounce flash, this style of unnatural lighting was about as subtle as a virtual shotgun round full into the face.  Available light, of the canned variety.  Always on hand, seldom subtle.

Whilst I no longer possess large floor packs of electronic flash, nor own a 400 square meter studio, I am proud of my skill in working with, and seeing, light.

Yes, today I do work from a mobile phone and an email address, but I like to think that I do so with a degree of prowess that has taken a lifetime to finesse and an age to express.

f11 MagazineThis essay first appeared in f11 :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p144, issue 40, February 2015.