The Road Before Us

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These days everybody is a photographer. But the obvious split between taking snaps with a camera phone, or making Photographs with a camera had me wondering about a question that has been asked over and over. “How do I get better at photography, and can I offer some advice?” My response would be, go out and constantly work at it, by making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, teaching yourself and sticking with it through the months and years. Essentially there is no magic solution to getting better, you just have to go out and put in the work. When I started I had lots of questions and I answered most of them myself. Sure, the vast majority of what I learned I did by myself out in one corner of the world or another. I read a lot too. And looked at a lot of photography books. But mostly I was out there with my cameras thinking and exposing.

But there is a trap one can fall into when one reaches a certain point. They can look back at the road they have walked and forget how difficult it was at times, especially in the beginning. One can also easily forget that what might work for you may not work for someone else. For some of us, the best way we learn is out there on our own doing trial and error, but for others the best way they learn is through collaboration or mentoring. Perhaps not everyone has the innate confidence to go out there and fail, perhaps they need to have someone help them learn that confidence. Perhaps for them going out on their own to learn is not the goal, perhaps it is to learn in the company of others.  At the same time, memory is a dangerous thing to rely on too much and our memory of our journey from amateur to accomplished is likely glossed over in parts and skewed in others. If you have been making photographs for years and years do you really think you remember what it was like to be a complete beginner? I doubt I do, I would tend to doubt you do as well. But we think we do, and that is where it gets tricky.

We should also remember that we often take different paths through this realm and our destinations are often different as well. This can be tricky to keep in mind, I know, I have to remind myself of this constantly as well.

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For Instance whenever I travel to a different city I tend to find one (or two) features of that city and really hone in on them. For example, during my first visit to Paris I spent a lot of time finding every angle of the Eiffel Tower that I could. I find that having something like this to focus on helps me keep an eye out for peculiar angles I might have otherwise missed. Part of that is the process of photographing something you are so intent upon. For example, if my goal is to find as many different perspectives on this building as I can discover, I’ll walk extra lengths around it, or I’ll make sure to keep its location vaguely on my radar so that I’ll glance down every alley that leads off in that direction just in case there is an unexpected view. The goal is not to produce a collection of images of this building, but rather give me something in an unfamiliar city to pay attention to and become familiar with. And when you are a bit adrift in a strange town, visually overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to sort it all out photographically, I find that this technique can help give me solid creative ground to start to work from.

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Anyway, just sharing some thoughts.

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Spiral Scratch

Damn. Pete Shelley gone. Woke up this morning to Rain and Wind and this very sad news. The Buzzcocks were and are a big part and firm favourite of mine, and I was fortunate to be able to meet with Pete a few times and tell him so.

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Pete used to call at our flat in the early 80s at Old Lansdowne Road Didsbury Manchester. One of the girls I shared with was Carole Morley and Pete had a crush on her. Whisked her off to Paris at the drop of a hat. I remember him so well as if it was yesterday. A real Northern Gent. I lost touch through the years and this image is the only one I could find in my archives. I am often amazed that not more get lost through moving house, county, city, country. I remember when I first arrived in Manchester and Homosapien was one of my favourite records. I also recall that XL1 had some sort of floppy disk to use with a Sinclair ZX. The original release was packaged with a computer program which featured lyrics and graphics which displayed in time with the music. Non amazing now, but was a big thing then. Travel on well punk pioneer and ace Mancunian songsmith.

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R.I.P., Pete.

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Fear

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The truth – I have always been afraid. It is a painful feeling, fear. It sits deep in the bottom part of your stomach and hurts. But it is the energy of survival. I have always been afraid of fear and at the same time grateful for it–afraid of its pain and grateful that because of the pain I can take steps to eradicate it by overcoming that which frightens me.

One who is afraid reacts to it as any animal. If one is a rabbit, one runs into one’s hole and hides. If one is a turtle one pulls back into one’s shell. We have all known people who react to their fear in this fashion. Some call them shy. Some, wrongfully, call them cowards.

But some people react to fear as a wolf reacts. We get angry. It is easier to be angry than to be afraid. It is less painful. The frightened wolf attacks whatever frightens him. But it is fear, nevertheless.

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Fear has been given to us so that we may recognise that which endangers us in this complex world. To avoid injury of one kind or another we need to recognise the danger, whatever it may be. Fear permits us to ask ourselves: what are we afraid of and to evaluate it. It gives us an opportunity to say to ourselves, we don’t need to be afraid of this person or that situation. It is something we can handle. It gives us an opportunity to understand that the other person may be as afraid of us as we are afraid of them. It gives us a chance to deal with our fear.

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Fear is also the stuff of courage. We cannot be brave without fear. One who faces unreasonable danger is not courageous unless that person has first felt fear and overcome it. He is only foolish. I know of no persons who are brave who are not first afraid. So, at last, fear is our friend. Listen to it. It speaks loudly to us. It is not to be ignored. It is to be cherished as our protective partner.

In the end, fear is a gift.

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Postal Boxes and Penguin Suits

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No woman in a burqa (or a hijab or a burkini) has ever done me any harm. But Men in suits missold me pensions and endowments, costing me thousands of pounds. A Man in a suit led us on a disastrous and illegal war. Men in suits led the banks and crashed the world economy. Other men in suits then increased the misery to millions through austerity. If we are to tell people what to wear, maybe we should ban suits.

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Living In Another World…

 

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…..to you.

I don’t know if these images are more about time or about light. I suspect the latter and the manipulation of time was just a means of making the light of the moment stand out from the crowded world of detail that surrounded it. But time and light are interesting siblings as one is often used to measure the other. And the making of these photos again reminded me of how much I like being anchored to one spot amidst that ever-flowing sea of time… to be as in the present moment as I can be. I set up the camera to be a patient observer and then I step back and try to imitate that as well as I can. Perhaps with each exposure I get a bit better at that patient observation of time and light.

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A Place To Feel

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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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