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.


 

 

 

 

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.

The Way to Art is through Craft

The way to art is through craft; not around craft – Ansel Adams

I was reminded of this cryptic comment whilst attending the recent Iris Awards held in Wellington New Zealand by the NZ Institute of Professional Photography.

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Piper and Posers; © Ian Poole, 2016 (IRIS Silver Award)

With over 1,200 photographs judged in various categories over three days by local and overseas photographers, this was an event of resounding success.  Some great images were viewed, discussed and awarded.  With this access to vast riches of both imagery and photographic knowledge, all gathered together in a couple of small rooms, it was an opportunity to absorb creativity beyond compare.

It was not the fact that there was an audience – it was the composition of that audience that surprised me.

The judging of the wedding and portrait categories were unsurprisingly a case of a full house at every session.  Hardly to be marveled at when the photographic industry is largely constructed on the business of domestic image making.  My surprise was that these people disappeared from the rooms when other apparently unrelated categories were being considered.

This is the age where few domestic photographers maintain a formal studio, preferring to work from a home environment, with resulting wedding and portrait images being taken in informal outdoor surroundings.  For example the family group in a park setting, or the wedding couple being dwarfed by a large factory wall.   These good uses of the natural and urban landscape are part and parcel of the 21st century portrait or wedding photographic experience.

So, I wondered, where were all the wedding and portrait photographers when the Landscape Category was being judged?

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Hong Kong; © Ian Poole, 2016 (IRIS Silver Award)

Where did they go? There were many entrants in the room but nowhere near the number of practitioners in evidence when the domestic genres were being assessed.  Many a time I have observed the plaintive cries of wedding photographers on social media agonising over an upcoming wet weekend and seeking fresh ideas and secret locations to use while documenting their brides and grooms.  It occurred to me,  wouldn’t observing the locations chosen by landscape workers be potentially useful for placing your bridal couples within their context?  Or a factory, or some city hall steps, or a strange dark and moody alleyway?  These are all locations where I have seen portraits produced for bridal couples working under a photographer’s direction.

A further cause for concern for me was the surprising comment by some audience members during the judging of the Documentary Category that men were assessing birth photographs!  This ironic observation would have had the potential for humour in times other than the politically correct ones we live in today, but the strength of such comments was a little daunting.  The category quite reasonably embraces the idea of the camera as a means of recording (documenting) the human endeavour.

A broad ethos at best.

The criticism was two pronged.  Firstly that male judges had no understanding of the birth process and that they were unaware of the degree of difficulty involved in this area of photography.  This seemed a somewhat sexist approach.

However, putting that aside, my first response would be that the judges (male and female) were briefed to find the best photographs showing a documentation of the human condition.  Note the requirement to arrive at a winning photograph.  All the judges came from different areas of the industry but carried with them skills and abilities to assess and arrive at a conclusion.  Some were skilled practitioners in documentary photography, and all possessed that necessary ability to assess, analyse and score a photograph within the constraints of a well-documented and rigorously maintained process.

The degree of difficulty argument is not new in the awards system.

The wedding photographer working in the pouring rain, the newborn photographer with the wailing baby, the architectural photographer without a cloud in the sky, the commercial photographer with a rubbish skip in front of a building at 5am, the medical photographer with surgeons and anaesthetists in front of their view –  these and many other obstacles are part and parcel of a professional photographer’s daily life.  To imagine that judges are unaware or unable to acknowledge these challenges is misguided and a sad slight on the skills and experience of the judges who worked tirelessly to ensure that high standards ensued.

Fortunately with some long hours, some diligent consideration, some robust discussion and eventual collegiate agreement, the 2016 NZIPP Iris Awards were a resounding success – congratulations to the Institute and their many workers on a job well done.

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Nagano; © Ian Poole, 2016 (IRIS Silver Award)


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 56 :: July, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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.

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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.


 

Previsualisation

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera…’ – Dorothea Lange

How could an early twentieth-century photographer be so aware and conscious of the power of photography without possessing any of the knowledge we now have at our fingertips, in our case thanks largely to the information age of the internet?

Lange was from that famous school of American documentary photographers during the early twentieth century which included, amongst many others, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith, Nan Goldin and Mary Ellen Mark.

Seeing without a camera is also described as pre-visualisation. Ansel Adams was a great proponent of getting the image clear in his head before exposing a sheet of film.  There might have been monetary constraints behind such a process, but I like to think it was then, and still is now, all about searching and finding the photograph before letting the camera perform its very mechanical and technical thing, the job of making an exposure.

At this time of the year when the photography calendar has started with the WPPI convention in Las Vegas now completed, the various Australian state professional awards commenced, nominations for entries into the New Zealand professional awards having been called, and mumblings already starting about the Australian awards later in the year; discussion is rife about creativity, and the creation of great photographs.

Whilst some photographers maintain that a good photograph can be created via careful post-production of an image (either digitally or in the darkroom) I am strongly of the opinion that great images have their genesis in a process involving careful thought.  That superb reaction shot taken by a wedding or documentary photographer is more than just the tangible evidence of good reflexes, it is the sum total of years of experience, of getting into the right position, of thinking about new angles or approaches and having the presence of mind to be ready for the unexpected.  Luck plays very little part in it.

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Migrant Mother; © Dorothea Lange, 1936

The power of Lange’s photographs is as strong and compelling today as they were when she worked for the US Farm Security Administration and created the iconic photograph, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936).  This image has little to do with technique and a lot to do with the gentle but determined desire of the photographer to observe and then capture a scene that she felt needed to be seen by a wider audience.

The focal length of her lens, her choice of film type, or the length of time it spent in the developer are rendered irrelevant by the choice of angle, the humanity contained in the eyes of the subject, a poverty-stricken mother, and the fact that her children, huddled in their tent do not make face contact with the camera.  Their eyes are unseen.  The power of the back story to this photo is compelling but it is the photo that takes you to that place in an unwavering way.

Whilst I now own up to looking for more books about photographs than I do for books of photographs, it was through my early career period spent studying photographs that I started preparing my eyes for seeing without a camera.  This was a difficult period because I was hooked on the mechanical process of creating photographs.

A period of time we all must pass through in order to reach the other side, I hasten to add!

But it slowly dawned on me (cheerfully admitting to being one of the world’s tardiest learners) that the content, the construction, and the creation of the photograph was more important than the delivery of the image.

This applies equally to the commercial image sold for money, and the fine art print created for aesthetic and stylish reasons.

The brain behind the eye behind the viewfinder is more powerful than any of the metrics we use to measure the calibre, quality or resolving power of the lens.

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Outside Portrait Gallery; © Ian Poole, London, 2016.


Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 6.10.45 pmThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp156, issue 53 :: April, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 


 

School of Hard Knocks

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Robbie and Margaret Bruce; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 24 June 1967.

It is not commonly known that I had a reasonably extensive background in wedding photography prior to moving through to the commercial and advertising genres.  With hindsight I was probably not the greatest exponent of the craft at that time.  But I do look back with a little fondness at the skills that I learnt during those development years.

The late 1960s, in yet to come of age sub-tropical Brisbane, Australia, was not a hotbed of creative energy.  Powerful flash units semi-permanently fixed to medium format cameras and driven by the equivalent of a motor cycle battery draped over one’s shoulder were the norm.  It was a time of cameras manufactured by Rollei and Mamiya and Yashica, and flash guns by Metz and Braun. We had moved past flash bulbs, although I did for a while work for a photographer who supplied me with a 2×3 Century Graphic – the roll film version of the Speed Graphic.  I was then able to get my New York press photographer fantasies out of my system.  (Wow, you must be very old… – ED)

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Catholic Leader-Birth Control; © Ian Poole, c1966.

No it wasn’t the equipment that was paramount in my early training but the people skills I observed and learnt from clients and other photographers.  Remember I was the classic back-yarder.  No formal training, no tertiary education; just a man with a Nikon F and the desire to earn some extra money.

The Nikon was the first mistake!  No photographer employer was interested in 35mm. It was far too small a film size, ignoring the convenience of a smaller camera.  After investing in the Nikon all I had money for was a second-hand Yashica 635 twin lens camera using the 6x6cm 120 format film.

But the real training came in having to interact with clients who had not booked my services.  It was a time when following a reading of the Saturday morning wedding column in the daily newspaper, I made a list of weddings and times and locations and passed them out to a small group of ‘Spec’ (speculative) photographers who would set off with rolls of film (but not many) and business cards (lots).  Our job was to garner photographs of the wedding guests, and one or two of the bridal party.  Our sales came from family groups dressed in their Sunday best, hair combed and faces cleaned attending a formal gathering, possibly for the first time in a while.  As well as taking photographs, our job was to sprinkle the wedding guests with business cards encouraging them to visit the Studio in the following week.

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Gay Walker, Miss Australia 1972 (Woman’s Day Magazine); © Ian Poole, Brisbane.

My job was to create photographs that sold.

This most basic of all marketing business premises was hammered into me.  Family groups lined up in an aesthetic, but well lit, group were only successful if all faces were towards camera and had NO blinks.  Finding a grandmother with a cute grandchild was like striking gold.  These moments had to be exploited (in the nicest most professional photographic way) and turned into ‘must have’ photographs.  Remember I only got 10% commission on SOLD photographs.

This later translated into a formulae that was useful when covering more hectic and fast moving events like the foyer of the theatre holding a Saturday afternoon ballet matinee or in the crowded foyer outside the university graduations.  The Grandmother Formula was a pure gold mine at ballet performances.  Smooth talking little old ladies became my stock in trade.  A sharp, but polite and respectful, repartee was developed.

 

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Sterling Studio Staff (author far left), University of Queensland Graduation, Brisbane City Hall; c1966. (note ties, sombre suits and respectful haircuts)

I was working with one or two older photographers who became my mentors – and such was their silver-tongued monologue delivered in the space of 3 metres and 10 seconds.

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Mrs Poole and #2 Son, Her Majesty’s Theatre; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, c1967.

Lighting was always easy – blast at f11 with flash.  But posing had to be controlled and arranged and done in moments.

Working the graduating crowds as the completion of the awards ceremony was a short timed photographic feeding frenzy that required similar, but slightly different skills.  The robed and mortar-boarded graduate had to feature prominently, but the cluster of family needed to be respected and appropriately arranged.  Groups of graduate friends could not be ignored, but family groups must come first.  This was all in a time well before such institutions stepped in and arranged a single entity to do this documentation and usually well away from the hurly burly of the public entrance.

The skills gained were many and varied.  Recognising a saleable shot from 20 metres was a requirement.  Using the right language to greet, slow down, stop and interact with a prospective subject was critical.

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Carol Stratford at the Theatre; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, c1966.

Posing, rearranging, grouping, checking for bra straps, fly-away hair etc – all of this done on the run and with great respect, was as critical as getting the correct exposure.

Any wonder I regard this 5-6 year period of my life with fondness and a gratitude to those unnamed fellow photographers who shared a few of their secrets.  What they didn’t tell me I learnt from the School of Hard Knocks and Dreadful Mistakes, I’m sure you’re familiar with it?

That period, that school, those learnings would be enduring components later to combine with an understanding of aesthetics gained through post-graduate study.  Together they prepared me for new and exciting opportunities within the photographic profession.


 

NB: all these photographs will be part of the Ian Poole Archive shortly to be accessible at the John Oxley Library within the State Library of Queensland.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.14.49 pmThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp156, issue 51 :: February, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Blasts of the Past

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Cycling Advertisement #1; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1975.

Recently I showed a set of photographs taken for a commercial client some forty years ago.  These were mostly Ektachrome colour transparencies, processed properly in Kodak approved chemistry and then stored in conditions appropriate for the extremes of sub-tropical Brisbane.  They had fared well over the decades.

In the course of laying out the blog I had cause to wonder whether my photographic style had changed over the years.  The assignment was to illustrate a range of bicycles and an equivalent range of riders showing diversity in age and gender. It was interesting to note that I had shot a good mix of close-up and long shots, utilising my wide and telephoto lenses.  What did surprise me was the fact that the framing of the shots was not dissimilar to work that I have done recently.  I guess that our craft is a moving feast, and that stylistic treatments will roll in and out of use over time so is this mere coincidence or a constant?

One would assume that a lifetime of experience, the influence of all those lecturers at conventions, and the comments of judges about my images in competitions, might result in a gradual change in style, if not technique.

Having spent vast amounts of money stocking a library with photographic books by people such as Sam Haskins, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Jeanloup Sieff, and Guy Bourdin; and only replicating their influences in my private work, not my commercial output, there surely must have been other influences along the way.

A mid life crisis driven foray into academic study left me with a visual arts postgraduate degree.  Probably the most life changing point in my photographic career.  Good lecturers had pointed me to other genres of fine art as well as towards obscure photographic practitioners.  I was reading books about photography that did NOT contain photographs, and the photographers mentioned above became slightly less relevant to me.  My ability to assess, evaluate, appraise and critique became more finely honed with the discipline of academic research.  These are traits that I hope stand me in good stead today.

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Politically Incorrect Xennox Advertisement; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1980.

But back to the transparencies of bicycles from the seventies.  They were not of a quality that would demand an immediate assignment commission from a high flying New York advertising agency – but nor was the product from Australia’s highest selling cycle manufacturer.  These were shots taken early in my career and at the time they were the distillation of self taught technique and the early results of skills passed on by practitioners of the professional Institute which I had recently joined.  The years I had spent buying, and trawling through, vast quantities of magazines represented visual research, today that would take place online.  I was working with a young and ambitious art director who was as keen as I was to explore a good idea using our mutual client’s products.  Team work usually enhances creativity and close collaboration does tend to prevent unpleasant surprises later on in the process.

Would I approach this same assignment differently today?  I would ask for more money – I deserve it!  I would still shoot the same variety of images.  I would be forced to pay for access to the same botanic gardens.  Probably I would direct some model expressions differently, but then I am still surprised that a couple of the poses still hold up – even if the clothes indicate historic images.  I would direct the models to wear helmets – but that is a bureaucratic imposition.  While I feel that my skill-sets and techniques have dramatically improved over the years, my instincts tell me that when it comes to directing talent, setting a scene and then recording what takes place, nothing very much has changed.  I used the best materials, and the best processing laboratory available at the time – as is evidenced by the fact that I was able to scan the results easily today.  My data asset management (DAM) is good, as I can identify, date and retrieve the assignment.

Questioning one’s own style is a difficult proposition, but probably should be done on a regular basis if we are to stay ahead of the photographic pack.  Revisiting work from days gone by can, at first, be excruciating with props, clothing and hairstyles immediately dating the images and shortly thereafter calling their instructive usefulness into question.

However, looking beyond this, looking a layer or two below the surface can deliver a revelation or two – so I recommend it.


Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 8.35.45 amThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and  AFICIONADOSp150, issue 48, October 2015.

The 2015 APPAs

With the sad story of the 2014 Canon AIPP Professional Photography Awards now behind me – well almost!!!  That was the year that the Judges turned their backs on my entries and threw them all into a shredder; but I did front up again for the 2015 event.  For a moment it looked like a repeat of last year with an outrageous non-award “bronze” for the sweet and cute Kewpie Dolls.

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Istanbul Kewpie Dolls; © Ian Poole, Istanbul, 2015 (no award Landscape Category)

Storm Over Constantinople was one of those magic moments that you see shaping up in front of you and you make snap decisions on the fly; and then run like crazy to get out of the rain and the hail.  No raincoats of course!

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Storm Over Constantinople; © Ian Poole, Istanbul, 2015 (Silver Award – Landscape Category)

Le Marais Self-Portrait was the result of sadly looking through the doorway of the Parisian apartment that we were departing after a few glorious days in the city of light.  The passageway that I wanted to photograph could only be seen by using my reflection to mask it – this is how easy it is to find masterstrokes.

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Le Marais Self-Portrait; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2015 (Silver Award – Illustrative Category)

Barbès-Rochechouart was the result of looking for a shot like this at several Parisian stations.  I started to see the theatre of the occasion forming in front of me and so I stayed and shot and shot and shot.  Not being able to art-direct was frustrating, but eventually this tableaux dropped into place.  Speaking French and using a megaphone may have lessened my blood pressure, but patience is essential.

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Barbès-Rochechouart; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2015 (Silver + Distinction – Illustrative Category)

Whilst I did judge in the Illustrative Category it must be declared that I did NOT judge my own work.  The rules are stringent in that regard.   But the judging process that I have enjoyed for so long is just that little bit better by having a few of your own images being considered by my judging peers.  Frustrating sometimes, but still a nice feeling.

And of course John Ansell must be congratulated for his stunning set of tintypes that won him the title of 2015 Canon AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year.


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