Monday 21 November 2011


This was taken two or three years back at a 'Celebrating Sanctuary' event, I think it was. Sometimes you snap away all afternoon at these things and nothing falls into place. The dynamic, close-up pictures you thought you had die as soon as you look at them: there's too much unresolved clutter in the frame, everything refuses to cohere into a pleasing, well-composed moment when things fall into place, never to be repeated -- at least, not quite as they were at that fraction of a second when you pressed the shutter.

This was one of the lucky moments. A good sky, beautiful buildings offering a fine background, lovely action in the foreground. Click.

(And in the spirit of the huge new book Magnum Contact Sheets, I've just been looking at the frames that led up to and away from this moment and they are....rubbish.)

Wednesday 2 November 2011


Another from this sequence. I really ought to get round to archiving larger scans from these negatives and maybe I will, but for the moment these relatively small ones will have to do.

John Loengard

The great thing that the internet has done for photography is to make it possible to stumble almost endlessly on names and work that is new to you.

That is also the worst thing it has done – opening the floodgates to billions of mediocre and uninteresting photographs, often posted (in fact all too frequently posted) on websites devoted to high-end photographic equipment. One might almost be tempted to explore whether some sort of inverse relationship exists between owners of the most expensive cameras and the interest of the pictures they take...

But put that aside. There is an interesting article here by photographer and picture editor for both Time and Life, John Loengard. A new name to me. Which I'm sure reflects my appalling ignorance rather than his obscurity.

I enjoyed it because he reduces what is often a grossly mystified subject – how to take good, interesting photographs – to the plainest of speaking. He says:

"It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting."

He also says:

"...I assumed that 'good photographers' took 'good pictures' because they had a special eye. What I found was that good photographers take good pictures because they take great pains to have good subjects in front of their cameras."

Those three sentences alone constitute a photography class...

Monday 10 October 2011

The message

What makes an 'urban landscape'? How much or how little is needed in the way of detail, action, scenery, whatever?

This picture is a sort of ongoing discussion I am having with myself about how to photograph landscape....

Friday 16 September 2011

Sometimes you get lucky...

This was one of earliest street photographs I took. I just found it again while reprocessing some old scans (that's one of the other things that happens -- you realise your early attempts at film scanning desperately need improvement).

Anyway, it's a picture I'm very fond of. One of those (very rare) instances when a fully-fledged composition just unfolds in front of you...

At the community centre

More rediscoveries from a few years ago. These men in the picture below are Poles and are waiting for lunch to be served at a Polish community centre -- in fact, the centre you can see in the second photograph.

These were taken some time apart. The one below on a Saturday during a bitterly cold winter's afternoon, not long before the light became too poor to carry on taking pictures. I was attracted by the Katyn memorial and so grabbed a shot as the young man with unmistakeably Slav features emerged. I didn't know then that I would go back there to photograph during one of the centre's events.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Dancing with light

The other day I came across a link to the website of a French darkroom printer -- a woman called Nathalie Lopparelli, and her printing business in the heart of Paris.

What an enviable set-up. The tall atelier windows look out on a courtyard of cobblestones and potted shrubs. But what really counts is what goes on in the darkroom -- and this woman has printed for Salgado, Haas, Stanley Greene, Doisneau and other greats.

Traditional darkroom printing is an arcane skill, but her website has a rather marvellous short film so you can see for yourself. Watch as her hands weave gracefully in the light from the enlarger -- she is burning and dodging to bring up or suppress particular areas of the print, but to me she dancing with light, and it is as choreographed as a secret ballet in the dark.

If you have ever wondered why -- or how -- the black and white photographs of the real masters look as luminous as they do, the answer is that behind them there is someone like this, dancing with light.

Saturday 30 July 2011

The deluge

Toin Adams' sculpture, the Deluge, and a shopfront James Bond poster in the Custard Factory's Zellig building.

Faces in the crowd

More pictures that come from the previous post -- faces in the crowd that caught my attention. I especially like the second one -- the pool of warm golden light in which the woman is standing as she talks animatedly, the elegant jawline of the young woman just visible in the top lefthand corner, the lush bluey-greys in the background...


Further to the previous post, here are some pictures taken at this year's Rathayatra festival.

A devotee prostrates herself before the chariot.

A woman moves amongst the crowd painting the tilaka on worshippers' foreheads -- shaped like a tuning fork, it represents the footprint of Krishna.

An elderly woman makes sure she has a prime place for when the time comes for worshippers to draw the huge chariot forward.

The chariot is pulled along. A devotee shelters Krishna from the sun while a woman showers holy water onto the crowd.

Friday 22 July 2011

Scent of lime and camphor

Rathayatra, the festival of chariots, is celebrated by devotees of Lord Krishna all over the world. In Birmingham it will be celebrated on Sunday 24th July from about noon.

This is a picture taken last year but I shall be photographing there again this year. In this picture Krishna worshippers are preparing to offer what I think is called arati -- a coconut, sometimes dyed with tumeric and I think filled with lime juice, is topped with camphor and lit. After chanting, the coconut is thrown to the ground, the shell shatters and a wonderful smell of camphor and lime fills the air. You can just see a lit coconut held aloft in the background.

Michaelgate, Lincoln

I loved the timeless beauty of this scene... And I waited and waited until I could catch it almost entirely free of people -- just the two women approaching in the distance to offer some scale, but for the rest, just a concentration on the gorgeous perspective. Not my usual kind of photograph but I do like this.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Machine that uses a 1000 years to shut itself down

It isn't often you can photograph a modern artwork, its title (apparently hovering in the air) and the chamber dedicated to its display all in one frame, but it was possible at theIkon gallery recently when Kristoffer Myskja's Machine that uses a 1000 years to shut itself down was exhibited.

To be quite honest, I thought the piece resembled a posh hamster wheel, and I didn't -- as the Ikon did -- find its "fragile beauty and thought provoking nature...antidotes in a world too informed by ideologies of functionalism."

But it made for a pleasing photograph.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Mysterious moment

Grainy black-and-white reinforces a sense of catastrophe, but in fact this was a perfectly ordinary moment at a children's mask-making session. The camera may not lie exactly, but it does tell a very selective truth. And it has the power to render the ordinary mysterious, which to me is one of the most curious qualities of photography.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Slow Photography

I get so tired of reading the endless diatribes on camera user forums about the latest firmware, the best post-processing routines, the advantages of this four thousand quid aspherical lens over that two thousand quid non-aspherical lens, that sometimes I despair of photography. These technical matters are assumed to hold the key to 'IQ' (image quality), whereas in fact they have nothing to do with quality, the mysterious characteristics of photography that make us return again and again to a picture as it gradually gives up its secrets...

As the Slow Food movement was a fight against the values and domination of fast food and junk meals, I think we need a Slow Photography movement to help us reassert the simple pleasures of taking pictures more meditatively, relishing every step of the process including the wait as film is processed and scanned and we work gradually through the images, assessing the merits of each one carefully, selecting, rejecting, revisiting, rejecting....

I look almost constantly at the Magnum Photos website to remind myself that some of the greatest photos have been taken with the simplest of equipment. And that whatever it is that moves us about a picture has little to do with technical excellence and everything to do with content.

Pictures like this... Raymond Depardon's opium smoker in Vietnam. The same photographer's picture of camels crossing the Tenere Desert, where only the tiniest silhouettes of a camel train demarcate sand from sky. Erich Hartmann's oblique, touching pictures. The miracle of timing, incident and composition that is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Inexplicable combinations of events which nonetheless have their own logic and grace, as in this picture by Nikos Economopoulos.

The historian Tony Judt has said in a different context, "In the arts, moral seriousness speaks to an economy of form and aesthetic restraint..." If he had been talking about photography then I feel sure he would have been thinking about pictures like these.

More summer scenes

I'm not a great fan of summer -- heat and harsh overhead light don't make for great photographing weather. But one of the things I do like about summer is that you can often just let the moment and its extravagance of colour take over. They don't necessarily have a deeper meaning, but somehow the profligate colours become as much a subject as the other things in the frame...

Wednesday 22 June 2011

'Hollister, California, 1922'

Well, of course it isn't California. It's Birmingham. And for all the corn-fed homoerotic Americana, it's just shopping.

I could be wrong but I guess that like many other Abercrombie & Fitch campaigns this is shot by Bruce Weber. There's a strange picture of BW in bed covered in cameras here.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Secret skatepark

I was wandering around the area behind the Custard Factory and heard a curious noise coming out of a warehouse building underneath one of the railway arches. There was an open window; I stuck my head in to see what was going on and saw this.

I'm sure it isn't 'secret' to the many kids who use it, but to me it seemed secret -- the kind of place I would have wanted to go when I was young, had skateboards been invented and had I been able to use one without killing myself...

Saturday 4 June 2011

World of Leather

Getting ready...

Crowds begin to gather to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on a large-screen broadcast in Birmingham's Victoria Square.

More on Madin

There are a number of posts on here in which John Madin's brutalist Central Library features. When it was announced that it was scheduled for demolition, I started to look deliberately for pictures in which it featured -- such as the one below.

It makes for an iconic backdrop if you can find the right kind of action happening in front of it, as in the more recent ones below.


I've written before about the angels of photography -- the photographs you wind up with when something else seems to take over and look after pressing the button.

I shot lots of film again at Pride this year but in many cases, no matter how you try, what you get looks resolutely like what it is -- a gay pride procession, and no matter how much fun this may be, what I'm looking for ideally are photographs that transcend their literal circumstances and are open to wider interpretation. For me, that's when photographs start to get interesting.

This was the best picture I took in three rolls -- and it is the one I have literally no recollection of taking. The focus is off by miles, but what the hell -- sharpness isn't everything, the angels of photography know that.

I do also like this one: