Monday, February 28, 2011

Despite all the doom and gloom ......

We've just had our election and as predicted Fine Gael ran away with the votes which, by the way, was a massive 70% of the electorate.  I sometimes wonder about statistics when you consider I had two polling cards delivered to my house - neither of which had my name correct. Oddly, the local politicians' pollution machine that pukes out blurb about the candidates went into overdrive and sent me two of everything.  Again, the names were incorrect.  Oh well, the excitement is over, the posters will eventually come down either by design or by encouragement of time and weather, the government will form with compomises made, the public will turn on them as they renege on their implied promises to solve everything without cost and we will continue where we left off several months ago.
However, the doom and gloom hasn't affected me too much.  I've been busy.  My memory is so bad I can't tell you what I did yesterday but I do have a few landmark moments I can recall that brighten up my day.

Photographically I've done well.  The Dublin Camera Club hold a Winter league competition every year that runs from October to February.  There are 3 categories - Colour print, Mono print and projected image (colour or mono) for each of the levels - Novice, Intermediate and Advanced.  There are overall winners in each of the sections and a number of pictures are retained by the club for a "best of the best" final in March.

I'm not an overly competitive person.  I'm probably my own worst critic but I do enjoy seeing a reaction to my pictures and to hearing a judge's opinion on them.  There is friendly rivalry and discussions about the judge's expertise and whether we can do a job on his tyres before he can get to his car.  The club also puts the pictures on display in the Council room so that we can all get a closer look at them and also get a chance to talk to the photographers who took them and maybe get some knowledge as a result.

This year, there were a few front runners in each section and the final outcomes (besides the March final) were not forgone conclusions and all depended on the judge on the night.  And so comes one of my highlights.  I won 1st place in the Advanced sections for colour and mono prints.  I'll be putting up the photos I entered later on next month so keep checking.

A bonus that happened during the competition was that the IPF were holding print and projected image competitions.  These were regional competitions that culminated in a national final in Athlone during February.  I entered a few prints into the competition when the regional competition was being held in the Dublin Camera Club.  It was there I helped a woman and her child with her buggy.  I showed her where to go to enter her prints and we started chatting.  We all had to leave the premises until the judging was being done so we ended up having a few coffees in the nearby Insomnia where I learned she was from Riga in Latvia (where I had visited once) and she not only took photographs but was an artist and a horse whisperer.  I had seen the pictures she had entered for the competition and was already impressed so the additional skills were causing a slight overload.  She showed me some self-portraits that were equally impressive and that was when I asked if she would pose for me and she agreed.

Nadina's work can be seen on her website and on her blog.

We went back to the club for the judging where she won two places - a first for this shot below called "TWO"

 .......and a third place for this shot called "THE GAME"

Sadly, Nadina didn't win in the finals in Athlone but I got the good news that my entry in the mono section was awarded a judge's silver medal.  There are the regular gold, silver and bronze medals with others receiving "highly commended" certificates.  Apart from these the judges are allowed to give a medal to and individual print and I got one for "IVETA".

So three happy landmarks.
On top of this I got to have a photo session with Nadina in the studio.  Below are two pictures from that shoot.  An exceptional photographer and a gem to photograph.  More shots will follow.

I also did a photoshoot in a country manor house with two friends from the Dublin Camera Club.  We had been planning this for some time.  It is difficult to coordinate three photographers, two models, a makeup artist and availability of the location.  However, we managed it.  The original idea was for a collaboration between us so that we could learn from each other and also share setups - we had a mixture of Bowens monoblocs and speedlites of various types along with softboxes, brollies, snoots and the like.  We had also decided on a mixture of shots from art nude to 18th century costume.  I had hired an 18th century costume from Clown Around and bought a wig on eBay.  I also made a visit to one of the models to choose clothes for the shoot.  A lot of planning and yet we ran over time and, in my case, I felt the pictures were not as good as they could have been because I was rushing.  But I learned lessons from the day more about management than photography

Instead of a collaboration, what actually happened was we did three shoots.  That's not a fault of the day, just what happened  and suited all of us.  It also cemented new relationships that would be mutually beneficial in the future.  Three of my photos from that day did well for me in the Winter League competition I mentioned earlier and here they are:

Yes, there were a few other significant happenings but they'll have to wait until the next update ....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From the shiny side of the lens .....

Monday, the 7th of February, I had my portrait taken.  "Big deal!" is probably the words going through your head - hundreds of thousands of people have their photograph taken every single day.  Of that number there would be a much smaller percentage who would be posing for a photograph that might be used in a company brochure or as a record of an event to be published in a local newspaper.  Or maybe headshots for theatre progammes.

And then there's the scary kind......

The kind where your character is captured - the essential you - frozen in time and on display for people to pore over.

For me it was a big deal.  I have always avoided having my photo taken even in group shots.  I was never a photogenic person but would have had my fair share of 'snaps' taken of me by friends when we were engaged in fun and frolics - nights out and the like.  I've even had two portrait sessions in my lifetime.  One was where I was the guinea pig for a friend who was trying to perfect his lighting techniques and the second was when I actually instigated the event and went to a professional photographer's studio.  This was because of a visit to a professional photographer in the mid 70s where I had bought a Mamiya RB67 from him.  At the time there were (I was told) only 12 of these cameras in the country so I was well chuffed.  While I was there, waiting for the guy to finish off his paperwork and find the bits and pieces to go with the camera I was looking at his work.  It was magnificent.  All low key portraits.  Moody but not dark.  He had portraits of university graduates in their black gowns against black backgrounds that were beautiful.  He could photograph a black cat in a coal hole!
In later years I went back to that studio to have my portrait done but he had passed on the business to his son and he was not the artist his father was so the results went in the bin.

So, in the last few weeks, when two friends of mine asked me to pose for them my initial reaction was to
run.  But lately I have been challenging my own reactions, and I chose to consider their requests and say "yes".  I thought it would be interesting for a photographer to be on the other side of the lens and wondered what effect that might have on the person photographing me knowing that I would observing their techniques - hopefully not in a negative critical way.  And yes, there may be a few more puns to come!

So the day arrived.  The photographer was a girl (any female younger than me is a 'girl') called Sinead McDonald who is in her third year of a degree course in the Institue of Technology in Tallaght.  She has a wonderful portfolio of work, an amazing colection of film cameras and is passionate about photography.  Recently she embarked on a continuing photo documentary of a veterinary practice where she photographed everything from the mundane to the gory.  The style is all her own and required not only a knowledge of the technical side of photography, an artistic eye but also an empathy for the work that the vets do.

As I drove to the place, I was increasingly aware of what I was letting myself in for.  Maybe Sinead considered this because she almost immediately showed me the style of photograph she had in mind and it immediately reminded me of the low key portrait images I had so wanted years ago.  She did tell me that I didn't have a 'smiley' face!  I knew what she meant.  I have a reputation for appearing sullen and grumpy.  I have been told numerous times in the past that it takes less muscles to smile than to frown.  On that basis there are no muslces (probably) used if you're not smiling OR frowning.  THAT is my face.
We went to the studio, got out the equipment and chatted as everything was set up.  One Bowens 1500 on me with a beauty dish with the 'baffle' removed to give it a bit more contrast and another unit with a snoot on the black background paper to lift me from the backgound.  The camera was a 5" x 4" view camera - oh boy!

Being aware that I was now the model I was very conscious that this was a very formal portrait where attention is paid to the smallest detail.  This is not just because of the cost - 5" x 4" negatives are not cheap - but also because it will be one pose and slight tweaks to that pose rather than the quickfire change of pose we have become so used to seeing on TV and movies.  A small movement of my head or even an eyebrow made the difference of having a catchlight in my eye or not.

In this kind of atmosphere there is also an awareness that you are exposing (pun!) your character and putting some trust into the other person to capture that essence without abusing it.  There are other mundane aspects that I keept drilling into photographers at studio workshops I give about treating the model as a human being and not an object.  Holding a pose for a long period of time can be sore and make you stiff.  Sinead, and her tutor who appeared now and again, gave me the opportunity to relax and move if I needed to and kept up a dialogue with me all through the session.  I have to say that there were moments when I became an 'object' and was spoken about as difficulties to overcome rather than a person.  I was amused.  Other' mightn't be.  I know that when I am photographing low key nudes I am guilty if treating my models the same way and must strive to be different - lesson learned.

The big moment arrived.  All the readings had been taken.  All the settings had been set.  It was now time to take a photograph.  In the days before digital there was a method of checking that your lighting, levels and pose was correct before you exposed the film - it was polaroid.  Very hard to come by these days but not impossible.  But you don't want to waste them.  Shutter cocked, lens closed off, polaroid back loaded and 'click!'.  The first shot was good.  Pretty much how it was envisaged.  I suggested changing my light coloured jacket for my dark coat and we set up again.  "Click!".  Second shot.  I was slightly impatient to see the result and when I did see it I wasn't disappointed.  It was the photograph I had wanted thirty odd years ago.  As was mentioned before I'm not a smiley sort of person and the picture, to an extent, looks melancholy.  That may be another's view but I'm a person who 'ponders' and whose mind is constantly whirring away even when I'm doing other things.  I think that picture captures that.  Because of that I am now (sort of) looking forward to my next photoshoot with another 'girl'.

Thanks Sinead.