Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What is Photography? By Preston Capes

My method of photography has always been driven by strong pre-visualisation, coupled with the use of large format transparency and monochrome film often means the choices made before capture are ‘baked in’ to the final image.

A photograph is a singular event, a slice of time presented though the eyes of the photographer.
Where people get confused is when images are post processed; how that relates to ‘the photographers eye’ those choices made in the final presentation of a negative or file are sometimes muddied by the increased options open to them; the subsequent lack of direction often leading to playing with an image in an editor until it looks good.

If we consider the long history of photography we find post processing manipulation were quite common. Early photographers were hampered by using blue only sensitive plates; making it difficult to record clouds so they would often add them in later.
The methods they used were to correct deficiencies in their materials rather than doing it for the sake of it, and the disappearance of ‘cloud plates’ from the market after the invention of Panchromatic film proves that.

But isn’t B&W itself a form of manipulation? Mono images must be a pre-visual decision, an obvious point being in the days of film you needed to pick a B&W film to give a mono end result.
This too has been muddied by being able to decide in post, I have often heard ‘do you think this shot would be better in mono?” The photographer needed to make a decision before the exposure, tones in the image might not suit a monochrome conversion.

We seem to have a group of people who are deeply confused by the changes that have been brought about by a massive degree of control in post processing. Those very changes have moved the singularity of the photographic event into a realm where some final images have become derivative artworks of several individual events.

The singular is often diluted in this way, producing a lack of direction because of a set of wider choices, working without prevision means accidental brilliance is the only way to record that instant of time– which failing that will have to be created in post.

Those issues are not to be confused with tthe artists who wish to mix different images and make fantastic images from many captures some of which look wonderful as finished artworks; to those people the final image aesthetic is all that counts and pretty much justifies images that have no real world existence.

These people aren’t photographers though, more digital artists who just use a camera. Many artists have made such images but the final artwork is a fantastical invention; the genesis of the work might be photographic but it is art and not a photograph.
That doesn't make me a purist, just that the digital artists are skilled in their own discipline which is wholly separate from the singular event which is a photograph.

I have read an article where an artist (who calls himself a photographer) describes himself as a 'data gatherer' who assembles his data in  order to make computer generated composites to for a single work–I struggle to see how that is a photograph, I would call it collage.

That is not to say there is no right or wrong in the creation of an image that you find pleasing, putting the pyramids in Antarctica or making composites of a scene from several taken at different times of the day to light your landscape from more angles are not photography because they represent the impossible.

For me the photograph is a singular event.

—Preston Capes July 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Photographers that inspire: Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan was one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. His images were diverse in subject but showed a very developed sense of relationships of objects within the frame, angles people (normally his wife and child) added for scale and shapes both colour and tone.

It is exceptionally hard to show a body of his work in a blog post, so if you like these images seek out one of the many excellent books.

As a body of work Harry's is astounding, from the simple shapes and almost graphic quality of his monochromes to the complex colour double exposures. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Phone box Museum

Deep in the heart of Rural England lies the village of Farthingstone which has a old British red phone box that is the village museum.

Rolleiflex, Kodak Ektar, May 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

One Roll: Rumburgh Morris dancers

Morris dancing is an old English tradition dating from the 15th Century. No one really knows its origin exactly but it is likely to have come from outside the UK. It is mentioned in several texts and it has been recorded that Will Kempe danced from London to Norwich in the year 1600.

This is the Rumbough Morris from Suffolk, taken in May on a Rolleiflex T with Fujifilm NPH 400.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

One roll: Minsmere RSPB Reserve.

 Minsmere was established in 1947 by the RSPB. It was created by flooding farm land during the war in order to make the coast easier to defend. This encouraged many wading birds (including Avocets) to colonise the areas of reed beds and lowland wet grassland. The nature reserve is recognised for its high diversity of bird species and other wildlife and is used as a demonstration of successful reed bed management. It is visited by thousands of bird watchers each year hoping to see Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and other wetland birds.
Minsmere Sluice

Cable reel in drainage ditch


Birdwatchers follow incoming geese


Tree in North marsh

View across north marsh

Pond at South Belt cross road

View over the west scrape

All of the images were taken on a Rolleiflex 3,5F with Kodak Portra 400 film on a single day in March 2015

Found Film Kodak Vericolor 120

Every so often I'm given old films, mostly from old cameras and this is one of those films. I have no idea who shot these or where they were shot the guess is in the early 1990's timeframe.
The film itself is a Kodak Vericolor which was Kodak's professional emulsion before the introduction of the Portra range.

These images were quite faded and needed a little cleaning up, but aren't too bad having spent a quarter of a century in the back of a camera, ghosts from the past...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Forgotten Pioneers of colour photography

Ask most photographers about early colour photography and they'll probably mention Kodachrome, some might point to the Autochrome process from the early part of the 20th Century but most will be un-aware of the work of one of the colour pioneers Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron.

Ducos du Hauron worked on the theory of colour photography in the early 1860's writing papers and publishing a book Les couleurs en photographie, solution du problème in 1869.
To start with most of his work was purely theroretical because the photographic emulsions of the time were blue sensitive only and Ducos du Hauron's process required three exposures with different colour filters placed over the camera lens; one green one orange and one violet.
So for the moment the process was purely theory as the materials needed (film sensitive to green and yellow/red) didn't exist.

Then in 1873 a German scientist called Herman Willhelm Vogel made a discovery that would change photography forever. He discovered that the addition of a dye called Corallin when mixed with a standard emulsion extended the sensitivity into the green and yellow regions of the spectrum.

This had a massive impact, for the first time photographers could record clouds and images that differentiated between blue and yellow, this also meant that that now we could record a wide colour spectrum in B&W they could create negatives of differing density with colour filters; the possibility of tripack colour was born.

So now with his process a practical reality he published a paper detailing the process called:
Traite Pratique de Photographie des Couleurs (Paris, Gauthier-Villars, 1878)

A colour image from 1877

 In it  Ducos du Hauron details exactly how the image above was created.
He found that eosin, a new dye announced in 1876, sensitized to green, orange and blue. A very small amount of the dye was added to collodion and cadmium bromide. This was  then poured over the clean glass plate, which, while still damp, was plunged into a solution of silver nitrate and acidified with a few drops of nitric acid; albumen and glycerine were used as preservatives.

The resulting negatives were exposed with three different filters over the lens giving three B&W negatives representing the scene; each negative then had a colour positive made which was then dyed in the complementary colour of the filter used i.e the orange filtered B&W was dyed blue, the green red and the violet yellow.
The resulting images being sandwiched between glass and viewed with a light behind, rather like slide films of today.

Much of Ducos du Hauron's process is used today although gelatin panchromatic plates are used instead of collodion and  RGB filters are used instead of green orange and violet.
Most modern processes owe a lot to the colour innovation of Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron a man who shot colour images thirty years before the first colour process became available and over 50 years earlier than Kodachrome.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Colour perception and the role in making photographs three dimensional.

Take a look at the image above a reddish circle on a grey background. After a while the red will start to stand out with a 3D like effect you might even imagine the circle border is lighter on the left and darker on the right.
Now take the image and de-saturate it

 The circle has become invisible because the red had the same luminance value as the grey surround, that was one of the reasons it stood out from the background  in an almost three dimensional way.

So what practical use has an optical illusion in photography? How can the trick be utilised.
Take a look at the image below.

Notice how the rocks in the foreground seems to stand out from the sea? Normally you might achieve this by point of focus blurring elements in order to make the focus point stand out.

 Not really possible here as the foreground and background are beyond the infinity focus of the lens.
Instead colour can come to the rescue, briefly the yellow sun has fallen on the rocks and contrasted against the blue sea.
Blue and yellow are opposites, and have a special role in our visual perception look out for this as it often occurs in landscape photography.