A Place To Feel

FEEL

Photography to me is an emotional endeavour. I am a pretty rational, analytical and logical person, or at least I try to be.

I do love to think and analyse things, situations and people. It is not that I am unemotional; I just value analytical and rational thought in such times over emotional thought.

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But that changes when I get out into the world with a camera. As I said above, photography is an emotional activity for me. I try to photograph based on feeling rather than reason, emotions as opposed to logic. Sure, some analysis is necessary, I still meter and do the requisite math to calculate the long exposures I am fond of, but I get that work done as quickly as I can and it is only a means to an end. I don’t aim to make photos that represent technical achievement or superb rational execution. I like to try to make photos that reflect how I felt in a certain moment and that usually involves photos that contain some sense of the wonder I see and feel about the world when I am out in it as a photographer.

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Perhaps that is why I have taken so well to pinhole and the old world photography processes. These types of photography are less about analysis than they are about intuition; they are less about documentation than they are about a slightly ethereal memory of being somewhere. It is then easy to dream, and dreams tend to be driven by emotion.

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Anyway, the idea for this reflection came about due to a thought I was having regarding the difference between looking at the situation rationally versus emotionally. I was leaning towards the rational perspective, unsurprisingly. Then I sit down at the computer and start editing and looking at images and realised that they showed a very different version of me looking at the world and I found that interesting.

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New Life

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I’ve burned my bridges

And I am free at last

All my chains

Are in the past

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The day is wide open

The sky is blue

The world is a miracle

And so are you

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The New Life starts here

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Racists, bigots and stalkers

Banging at my door

I’m not fighting with them

Anymore

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Friends, Family and Pretenders

How do you do?

I can make it

With or without you

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Citizens of the world

Child, woman and man

The keys to the kingdom

Are in your own hands

The New Life starts here.

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In The Quiet Of The Crowd

QP3It occurs to me that these days one must go farther and farther to escape the crowds. I witnessed how larger and larger numbers of people are travelling and places are getting more and more crowded. In part this is driven by the internet and social media. It is easier to publicise a place and we are drawn like moths to a flame to the places that sites such as Instagram subtly tell us are the “it” places that one must visit in their life. Look at Iceland, look at New Zealand, sure. But even on a smaller, more local scale I see beaches and trails becoming more packed. I don’t know what I think of this. On one hand I find it repellent and annoying to navigate crowds of people when my goal is to get somewhere away from people. On the other hand, I can hardly fault these people for wanting to get out into beautiful places. They are doing the same thing I am doing and I can no more fault them than I can, or should, myself. But at the same time the increasing numbers present issues. The more individuals through an area the more wear on that area, the more litter, the more people climbing through alpine meadows off-trail, or scaling sea stacks at the beach disturbing the natural bird life. We slowly erode that which we love.

siena3On a photographic level the unwanted wanderer has long been a bane to the photographer wanting to get “the shot”. I remember struggling with this in my early days, waiting patiently and sometimes not so patiently, for that man in the red raincoat to get along his merry way and out of the frame I have been composing for the past ten minutes. But that was then. These days I rarely experience the issue and in large part that is because of the world of photography that long exposure and pinhole has opened up to me. When you are making 10 second, or eight minute exposures, crowds not present much less an issue but actually they create an opportunity. So many times the essence of a particular landscape image to me is based on the unpredictable blur of people moving within the frame. Now my struggles laughably tend toward the opposite end of the spectrum. I set up to make a long exposure of people within a landscape and I get a minute into a four minute exposure and they get up and leave the frame, barely registering as ghosts at that point. I want to run in and tell them to not get out of my way.

QP1The photographic aspect of this issue is a fun one to wrestle with, the non-photographic aspects of growing crowds though has me a little concerned at times.

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Between No Longer And Not Yet

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Morning broke on the day I looked most forward to, and it did not disappoint with its glorious Tuscan sunrise.

I selected and squeezed three oranges into four small glasses, took my coffee outside and made a couple of Photographs.

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San Gusme was just appearing through the morning mist. I knew then that the magic here cannot be held at bay by Glass. It strikes deep and massages a tired soul. Once again the peace was overwhelming and my eyes filled with tears of bliss and joy. The anticipation of what lay ahead made my head spin.

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Breakfast devoured we headed west to Siena to pick up the famous and scenic SR2 to San Quirico d’ Orcia. Driving through fields of curvaceous green plains. This is where the Unesco protected Val d’ Orcia begins.

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About 5km south hot sulphurous water bubbles up into this picturesque pool in the centre of Bagno Vignoni.

We then headed 15 km further south to the tiny and beautiful (aren’t they all) village Bagni San Fillippo. A tiny path through the woods took us to sets of warm, tumbling cascades. Mudpools and Sulphur mountains. A most glorious spot.

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It was fast approaching lunchtime and we headed for Monticchiello, a sleepy medieval hilltop village. Just inside the main Gate (doesn’t that sound brilliant – inside the village gate) stands the small and highly regarded Osteria La Porta. It has a small terrace  with the most overwhelming panoramic views of the Val d’ Orcia. This is the place to have Lunch.

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We drove unhurried to Pienza, making several stops en route to enjoy and marvel at this wonderful scenery and to make photographs.

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We could see our next stop from the terrace of Osteria La Porta.

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Pienza is small and boost several Renaissance  buildings that should not be missed. We spent several relaxing hours here and strolled without a care and without any hurry through this beautiful village. Exploring with eyes, heart and soul.

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I also found a plaque that stated that the Val d’ Orcia was an idea by several Renaissance painters. I for one will be forever grateful to them.

So we slowly made our way back to the Villa for our last night and a scrumptious BBQ.

I thank whoever needs thanking for making this trip possible.

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Marketday And Other Stories

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Thursday morning and we were greeted by a beautiful Rainbow to bring in the day. Running low on supplies and a needed trip to the chemist for potions and lotions due to my encounter with the Giant Hogweed, we headed for Castelnuovo Berardenga. Thursday is market day.

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I decided to take the Rolleiflex, loaded with Kodak Portra 800 and Berrger Pancro 400, with me. Boy did that caused some interest. The Tuscan folk really appreciated this camera. Words like “fantastico” drifted my way wherever I went.

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A little crowd gathered and examined the old machine. Several wanted to have their photo taken. I felt very humbled and enjoyed the little place very much.

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Buying supplies from the market.

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Supplies bought and a quick hello to the local baker and we were on our way.

 

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Tomorrow we will be heading south. The day I looked most forward to on this trip.

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We also finally found Abbie’s resting place. We gave Abbie to our good friends James and Penny and she lived with them here in Tuscany until the ripe old age of 14 ½ years. She was a special dog and seeing her place under that Olive Tree made the whole trip even more special.

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The Dream And The Light

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Our last night in Tuscany. We managed to escape; transported ourselves for some days onto a privately owned Chianti Vineyard. Utterly inspiring. A Villa set in Olive groves surrounded by soothing hills and billowing plains, the magical splendour that Mother Nature has to offer.

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So just go out and win
And should you lose? That’s fine
Precious love of mine

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We made it, though, to this moment in time

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The open road beckons. From San Gusme to the Val d’Orcia. Classic Tuscan countryside, rolling hills, sun-kissed vineyards and avenues of Cypress trees. Historic time capsules dotted amongst the landscape, transported to the modern day. All there waiting for us………more to discover ……

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I found a wild wild wood
Full of white eyed birds
And a roaming boar
With no eyes at all
I felt a warm warm breeze
That melted worry and fears
I had a bad migraine
That lasted eight long years

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And I know that I am alright
And I will wake from my dream tonight
And I will find some true peace in time

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Destination Curiosity

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A couple of thoughts on curiosity, and how it drives and influences how I work as a photographer.

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The effects of my curiosity are both sweeping and subtle, in regards to the decisions I make with my cameras and where it will take me.

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One aspect of it is that I am always trying to do something different, or looking back on things I once experimented with but never explored thoroughly before heading off in other directions. So I make a point to come back and revisit some of those ideas.

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Recently I decided to start working more with the very basic Daguerreoytype Lens and an unusual new film. Ferrania P30.

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I am always curious about rendering the world through such images as opposed to images that are familiar in both sight and photography.

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This is easy enough to do, and these images aren’t the point. It doesn’t really matter if a photo is any good or not. In this case it was about being curious, asking myself questions and then answering them by making pictures. Hoping to capture that elusive lost Image.

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Sometimes I get the shots, sometimes I don’t but ultimately it is not why I am there, nor is it why I pull out that camera. Which itself might sound crazy.

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I don’t solely use my camera to make photos, I also use my camera because it is a sort of meditation and a justification to linger a bit longer.

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Sometimes we get so hung up on how best to make the photos and we fret and worry and ultimately distract ourselves.

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I know this is very abstract and I also know it is easier to say when you have several decades of experience doing as much photography as I have and I know it is easy to claim not to worry about the pictures when you have a whole hard drive full of images you love. I know abstract advice isn’t easy, but for me this is my driver. And maybe that truth doesn’t work for anyone else. I cannot comment on other photographers approach, just my own.

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I can offer insight based on that, invest myself in being there with a camera in hand. I make photos, and by the time that shutter fires that goal has been met, my destination has been reached and the story has been told.

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A Dream Within A Dream

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I am plagued by sleeplessness, and usually drift off sometime between midnight and 1 am. Lucky for me, my body is used to this by now and I woke as usual at about 6. None of this is terribly important info, it is just providing a bit of context for I awoke from a dream; and dreams that get interrupted by waking always seem to stick with me a bit more clearly. Generally I have weird dreams that make me look dubiously at myself when I actually remember them. This morning’s dreams weren’t so weird. I was having a dream about being in a conversation with someone regarding why I use film. I know, I know, maybe I think about film photography so much that it permeates my dreams. But it was actually kind of refreshing to awake with a whole series of explanations laid out in mind. Or at least it was refreshing that that was what I woke to. There are many worse things for one to wake up thinking about right now.

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I have answered this in a lot of different ways. I generally preface it by saying it is a longer, more complex answer than people might be expecting. Perhaps they would be better off continuing the conversation in a dream. Ha. But it is something I think about and I am constantly trying to refine my answer to adequately convey. I witness friends and strangers alike making countless photos with their phone. Instantly created, instantly posted, and instantly forgotten. I do not own a phone camera, and I cannot feel any emotional connection to a phone itself. If I did I think I would be repelled by the notion.

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But let me explain some of the reasons I generally hold or give out. The first is that I love the cameras. My Hasselblad, my Nikon, my Leica, my pinholes, my Rolleiflex. I seem to create much more of a connection with these pieces of machinery than I do with any of my digital equipment. But my Rolleiflex is something else. I often introduce the camera as being the same age as I am (it was made in 1961) and it will live just as long as I will, if not even perhaps longer. Knowing it won’t be made obsolete by new technology (it has already faced that distinction) and replaced in a few short years helps. But it is more than this. I like the mechanical nature of my film cameras. I like that they don’t have a library of menus that present a solution to every problem I might face. I like that they don’t show me immediately whether my guesses and calculations were right or wrong. Nah, they are true companions, they listen to me, they share my vision, they chip in with their perspectives but it is an easy-going partnership. It is hard to explain, really. I think using a film camera like a pinhole or a Hasselblad or a Leica is something you cannot really understand till you have tried it. There are tactile qualities that just cannot be expressed. There is a change in perspective that escapes a verbal or written explanation.

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And speaking of tactile, I really value producing tangible results. Negatives I can hold in my hand. True, I scan all my photographs into a digital format, but I always keep the file of negatives. If you told me that a member of my family might someday show their grandchildren the pages of negatives that these images reside on, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. But if you told me that one day they would show them the digital file of this image, I would be surprised. Is it honestly reasonable to expect the generations that come after to maintain the digital archive I have created of my generation? How long will my hard drives last? And unless someone takes care to transfer them to new media they’re lost. And what happens when that person no longer cares to? And that is not counting the chances of computer failure. I don’t place much stock in the permanence of digital media, especially given the habits of the average photographer when it comes to backing up and printing their work, me included. And so my film is my best hope for future children to see the life I lived and the images of the world and their ancestors. I put a lot of stock in this. There is a reassuring quality to being able to hold a negative up to light and see the image frozen there in your hands.

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And if I were to limit this to just three reasons, you know what the third would be? The cost. I use film because it costs me money. Some claim that digital is great because the photos are free (after you buy the camera, those lenses, a computer and an Adobe CC license, of course), that you can make as many photos as you want with no charge. And this is an advantage in its way, but so is the cost of film. I load up my Rolleiflex and each shot costs me somewhere between 50p and £1. The photos aren’t free at all but because they have a cost, I assign them more value. When something costs you, you care about it more as a resource. I think about each of those potential images a bit harder and more carefully. I make the shots count. And it makes me a better photographer for it. Sure, I move slower. I make fewer photos. I am more deliberate and disciplined. These are not bad things. I can take my DSLR and easily make 400 images, but how much do I value each of those images? Not much. The majority of them are disposable and when I am making them I treat them that way. I don’t really care about 95% of those photos. And as I said, there are times that they are advantageous. But when I carry my film camera I care about each photo I make much more. So using film teaches me to care about each image.

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There are other reasons, but those I think are the big ones. I could talk about the aesthetics of film, particularly black and white film. I could talk about dynamic range. I could talk about the delayed gratification of it. These would all be good topics to discuss further. One thing I don’t think you will ever hear me talk about interestingly enough is quality. I don’t go down that long and murky path despite using medium format film. For me it is still too contentious an issue and one that too many spend too much time arguing about, does film make a better image than digital? As if it is all about sharpness, pixels and detail. It just isn’t that important to me.

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So I am trying to use the computer and social media less, and just focus on real life and the people I love and my art. Of course I am not going to be fully off the grid, because as you can see I am publishing this post. At times my head feels like it is exploding with the amount of information we are forced to consume on a daily basis and how that information is so distorted there is almost no longer any tangible truth. I feel there is this blanket distortion on society/media and the way we gather our news and important information, and more and more of us are feeling lost and looking for new ways out of this distortion and back to the truth. Finding hope in places like the Forests or beneath the big Sky, finding hope in the land and in the water and in old books offering new ideas and most importantly in each other and love. And using good old fashioned film to capture this beautiful world of ours.

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Well there you go, a glimpse into my head this morning from my first few moments of consciousness.

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The Acros Lament

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My Lament to Fuji Acros, which is not long for this world. Like the seasons, the inexorable spin of the planet and the relentless pull of time and progress have their way eventually. Acros will be a memory, but what memories it will have made. This roll, for example, exposed in the shifting dunes in the middle of the coastline nowhere, with the sun beating down and the wind completely still.

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Tangentially, I’m a late spring/early summer guy. I love the promise of warmth. I love the feeling of well being it brings. I love the quiet that both bring. But spring comes and goes such that despite how well we get along, we always part. But we part with promises to reunite again when we can. Eventually time will break that promise but till then…

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I am disappointed to see Acros break that promise, but it is a fact of life as a film photographer. I have seen more films come and go in my years than films currently available. Weirdly enough, I am OK with this and that is largely because I have images like these. It is worth it to live through the demise of Acros because I had this chance to make these Photographs with it. And not to sound callous, but there are other films. So I carry on and swing between tears and wonder.

Still, I will miss this film.

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Lightbulb Sun

LS3I’m not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes but these wrinkles masterfully disguise
The youthful boy below who turned your way and saw
Something he was not looking for, a beginning and an end
But now he lives inside someone he does not recognise
When he catches his reflection on accident
You may tire of me
Because I’m not who I used to beLS1
But I’ll follow you into the dark
If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the No on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark
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