After looking at the Liu Zheng "Chinese" photographs, a project which took 7 years to complete, my friend and commentator Carey asked me if I have any projejects lined up that could take years to complete. Well the answer is yes and no.
My projects never take more than a few months to finish, but they can take years to start. I have books of ideas and sketches that are refined over several years. Some of these projects are ready to be made into finished works but have to wait, because of certain logistics - location and models spring to mind.
Something as simple as a flower can hold the project back months until it's in season. Models are my biggest obstacle in completing projects. Finding a person to match the image in my mind is very difficult. Painters have an easier time because they can make changes or, if they're good enough, paint from their imagination, but it's more difficult for photographers. So I'm always looking for certain people with particular skills to help me finish projects.
One of my projects started life in Spain several years ago and I recently found a few people in England who fit the bill and can help me bring it to completion, but I still haven't completed it, so I won't discuss it anymore in case I jinx it.
Martin Parr is a photographer I've alway connected with. His subjects (even food), have a melancholy quality. In contrast, William Egglestone's photographs (who I have to compare with Martin Parr), are equally engaging, but I feel distant from the subjects.
There's a very good short video on the Guardian web site where you can see Marting Parr (that's him above), discussing one of his famous photographs. A nice little insight.
If you click on the photograph above you will see some extraordinary photographs by Liu Zheng. Fables and stories from China are depicted using the style, lighting and subdued color pallete of European renaissance art. I don't know a lot about the artist and even less of Chinese mythology, so I can't guess if the scenes are contemporary - created by Liu Zheng, or traditional. I'll do some research and let you know.
Also, when you get to the gallery, have a look at the other works, including "The Chinese" a work that occupied the artist for 7 years.
Saturday was my first opprtunity to visit Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery for the Suffolk Showcase exhibition. It would be vain of me to bang on about an exhibition in which I'm included, but it's obviously a proud moment for me to see my photographs alongside the other artsits. All the works are of a high standard, I'm tempted to buy something for myself on my next visit.
You might have noticed that I take a lot of photographs of vintage cars. It's not that I have an interest in automobiles, I use car shows as an opportunity to test cameras and film. These events are also interesting from a 'people watching' perspective - of which I do have an interest.
At the shows I overhear conversations about various aspects of ownership, I heard one owner telling someone that he spent 10 months cleaning, preparing and painting (6 coats), the underside of his Ford car. I had to look, I got down down on my knees and it was indeed very, very shiny.
I've noticed that vintage car owners admire complication, lots of knobs, dials and switches. The best of these fiddly little things are chrome and are pulled, pushed, turned and flicked while driving, or for that matter while the car is stationary. I suppose the ultimate fantasy car would have a chrome Hammond B-3 organ built into the dashboard.
The owners of the cars are happy to have their pride and joys photographed, it's a common occurence. They rarely comment when I'm taking a picture except to point out the car's unique characteristic which is usually something mundane like an extra wheel nut. But if I'm using a folding camera it can start a conversation, and if the folder is a Kodak Retina you can almost see lust in their eyes (at the camera, not me).
The reason for the lust is easy to see, the Kodak Retina has all the qualities of a classic car: leather, chrome, machined parts, grease and glass, and most important, plenty of knobs and dials. Added to this is the fact that Kodak Retinas are more complicated than a Webber DCO45 Mk 3 and you have all the ingredients for a love affair between man and machine.
The folding Kodak Retinas were born when Kodak bought the German Nagel company in 1931. For 30 years, until the early 1960's, Kodak Retina cameras were the company's luxury product, elegantly designed and precision made, they ooze quality. Engineering and finishing is second to none, the wonderful optics from Schnieder, the Compur Rapid shutter that has a musical quality at slow speeds - and it's ultimate trick, to fold up into an oak tanned, saddle leather carrying case that fits in your pocket.
The description above was inspired by my conversations with vintage car owners, but the folding Retinas are wonderfully tactile little cameras that have produced many saleable photographs for me over the years, I still use them especially when travelling.
These cameras do look a little intimidating, but 15 minutes turning, pulling and pressing and you soon get the hang of them, and they are definitely worth the effort.
I enjoy looking at people. I think they are the most engaging of subjects, but if the subject is a celebrity, or at least well known, the job of looking is made very easy. I wonder how much we actually look at a familiar face!
What do you think of this photograph? Because you don't know the subjects you might be drawn to what the photograph says about their ways and human condition. You know nothing about these people, your imagination can take over, you can read anything you like into the photograph. For those with an imagination, rich pickings indeed.
I can see the appeal of untitled works, but if you must know the story I'm happy to share it.
I haven't been feeling too good for the past few days, I'm not ill, just lifeless. I can trace the problem back to last Friday when I went for dinner with my brother in law and his 2 sons. It's essential to meet up with friends but this meeting was in Kilburn, London, a 3 hour round trip.
The reason we meet in Kilburn is because we can eat at the Vijay restaurant and drink in Father Ted's across the road. I did enjoy a splendid evening - great food and excellent company on a warm summers evening. At midnight I decided to make my way home to Suffolk. Instead of heading for the M25 motorway which takes the long way to the M11, I decided on a more direct route through Camden Town. Just off the Holloway road I saw an art deco neon sign and I made a mental note to return and take a photograph.
The journey home was uneventful. When I arrived home it was still very warm so I opened the bedroom windows wide, I got into bed at 2am and dropped off immediately. I was woken at 5am by a woman talking to a dog, "Come on Button, let's go", and I could hear her talking to the dog as they walked into the distance. The talking wasn't clear enough for me to hear everything, just the odd phrase. I couldn't get back to sleep, first the birds starting singing followed by the sounds of the day. I lay in bed until 7am, then got up.
On Sunday morning the same woman woke me up again at 6am. I must have been waiting in my sleep for her because I heard her conversation with the dog as she approached, "Hurry up Button", it got louder, peaked and grew quieter in the distance. I then started to think what is the effect called when a police siren approaches and the note drops as it passes (it's called the Doppler effect), which turned into a dream in my half sleep. I got out of bed at 7am.
Monday morning it's the same thing, on the dot, Button and mistress having a 'conversation'. Tuesday she doesn't turn up but I'm waiting for her and my sleep is fitfull. Today (Wednesday) she didn't wake me, I'm hoping she's taken another route with Button.
Until today (I had a good 8 hours sleep last night), I've had no enthusiasm to work, I just wanted to sleep. But now my motivation is back, my mojo is working. I've had a walk with the dog (my dog - not Button), I'm planning a new piece of art and, I'm going back to Holloway Road within a few days to have a good look at the sign. What a difference a sleep makes.
Duck with portraits, taken with a Kodak box camera
People who buy vintage cameras tend to fall into three types: collectors, interior decorators/designers and photographers. One camera that suits all types is the humble box camera.
I'm a devotee of the box camera, I once used one exclusively for seveal weeks, photographing village life in Spain. I'm always amazed when I see the results produced by a simple camera getting on for 100 years old. The reason for the exceptional photographs is that the negative size of most box cameras is 6x9 cm, that is huge!
Gold and Ivory Brownie Model F
Most manufacturers made a box camera for the consumer end of the market, there's a bewildering choice, but I've narrowed my choice down to two makers, Kodak and Zeiss. The gold Kodak Brownie above is very attractive but isn't my first choice to use, that honour falls to the Portrait Brownie, Number 2.
An important feature of the Portrait Brownie is the number "2" around the lens. All number 2 box cameras use 120 film, which is readily available. Most Kodak box cameras (like the gold one above), use 620 film, which is not available anymore, but as it's only the spool size that's different, it's an easy job to load the original 620 spool with 120 film.
The No.2 Portrait gets the designation "Portrait" because it has a close up lens built in, operated by a little lever on the front. Originally intended for head and shoulder portraits, it makes this little camera very versatile (for a box camera). The Kodak Number 2 Brownie also has 3 apertures and a time setting to leave the shutter open. I've always wondered why Kodak didn't mark any of the controls on this camera! Did they think it would spoil the lines? Whatever the reason, you have to spend some time memorising what each control does.
There are no tests of memory requird for my other box camera, it's the Zeiss Box Tengor above. Zeiss made box cameras from the 1920's, mine was made between 1948 and 1956. This was the last box camera made by Zeiss, the end of an era. As you can see all the controls are clearly marked, there's no guessing on this camera.
As for the quality and characteristics of the negatives produced by these camera, each has it's own merits - that's why I use them both, they're brilliant.
Photographing and gawping into a stranger's window is a bit like visiting an art gallery, the longer you look the more you see. Of course you can't do this within towns and cities but at the seaside it isn't a problem (yet).
It's very hot in England at the moment which is un-English. I should have stayed at home in the cool on Friday but instead I visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see an exhibition by one of my favourite artists, Maggi Hambling
Maggi and I do share a very tenuous connection, and that is during the 1990's we shared the same life model. Sadly I didn't have her to myself, but I did draw her with a group of artists for several years. She was a colorful character who must have been well into her seventies at the time. The studio was an old church in North London (The Florence Trust), which was draughty and freezing during the winter. Because of her age and because she was naked, every gas heater in the building was positioned around her.
She wore an ashtray as a ring and would chain smoke cigarettes while she posed, which was against the rules for me and the other artists. Our model smoked, and cooked in the heat. She once told me that Maggi rolled her own cigarettes and also chain smoked when she was drawing her. Back to the exhibition.
Maggi is probably Britains greatest artist, I can't think of anyone better. She has great drawing skills, makes wonderful sculpture and is a very fine painter. The paintings in the exhibition are portraits of waves off the North Sea coast. These paintings are among her most ambitious in scale, in these works I could feel the power, grandeur and beauty of the sea.
The Wave Exhibition
The Fitzwilliam gallery is a very relaxed space to stroll around, which encourages the viewer to look a little deeper. I spent a couple of hours looking closely at frames. The one above with carved apples (by Holman Hunt), is wonderful but I was really looking at contemporary framing. I found a very nice frame on a Picasso that the artist had distressed to suit the painting. Then I found a couple of paintings by Howard Hodgkin where the frame is part of the composition. And then it was time to leave, 5 hours that passed in a flash.
As the Tour de France is underway it seems appropriate that I should mention an incident that happened this time last year. Sigma films, a film production company, bought the rights from me to use my photograph above for the movie "The Last Word".
The film was shot in Glasgow and has a good cast, Eva Green the ex Bond girl and Ewan McGregor, who plays a chef and a cyclist in the movie. It did occur to me that the film may be released during this years Tour de France, but it hasn't.
It takes a long time to make a film and this one has been in post-production since last February. I keep an eye on the Sigma Films blog, but news is sparse. I read there was to be a special screening in Glasgow last month, but that was cancelled. I also read that it was to be premiered at a film festival later this year. I'm starting to feel like Baby Jane Hudson. I caught a glimpse of the limelight but it's been whisked away from me, boo hoo.
Cameras come and go and digital cameras go very quickly indeed, but a lens with attractive characteristics will always be valuable.
Usually my pictures take shape over several weeks and progress from ideas to sketches. I'm usually striving for a certain look before I take a picture and to help me I have several cameras and lenses, plus a choice of film to call upon to get what I'm after.
My equipment is varied and includes homemade contraptions that sometimes fail spectacularly. I'm a fan of toy cameras with plastic lenses to distort reality and I love instant cameras. To feed all these cameras I have a freezer stocked with a variety of film, most of it no longer made. I also own more traditional cameras and lenses that will lend a certain voice to the picture.
The small lens above might look ordinary enough, in fact it looks empty when you look through it (an optical illusion), but, when handled correctly - which is not always easy, it produces images of spectacular quality with certain characteristics that are unique. This lens sings from a different hymn book.
The Nikon f/1.2 is called a "fast" lens which means a lens with a wide aperture that lets a lot of light through. Fast lenses are designed for photography in the dullest conditions, dusk or even candle light, without the use of flash. A by-product of a fast lens is shallow depth of field (depth of focus), when it's used at its largest apertures.
The shallow depth of focus and the blur it produces is my reason for using a fast lens. Used at the widest apertures the depth of focus of the Nikon f/1.2 is ridiculously shallow, making focusing hit and miss (this is a manual lens, not autofocus). The other side of the coin is that this lens is amazingly sharp, which allows me to float the sharp on the blur like a layer.
So focusing is tricky, there's no room for error and I always get a percentage of out of focus frames. Another feature (it's not a problem for me), is flare. There's a lot of glass in this lens (7 elements), for the light to bounce around. The lens is supplied with a lens hood that apparently does a great job of reducing flare, but I've never used mine.
Flare and bokeh
This lens does have wonderful painterly characteristics when used with a camera loaded with suitable film. Look at the tree line where it meets the sky in the photograph above, isn't that wet on wet?
I've used this lens for many years, I know its voice which I sometimes hear when a picture comes to mind.
I've been sitting on the news for a few days, but I can tell you all now that my 2 works (that's one above), have been selected for the exhibition at Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery. The exhibition opens this Friday and I hope to there some time, I'll report back here.
Working out the cost by the square foot, beach huts must be the most expensive properties in the world. They cost between £50, 000 and £100,000 each and they are used (very occasionally), to make tea and sandwiches, have snoozes and change clothes. They are beautiful.
I spent a couple of hours yesterday driving through Norfolk, England, to visit this beach and go back in time. After getting lost, because I don't have sat nav, I arrived at the beach around 2pm, which from a photographers point of view is about the worst tme of day to take a picture. But the light is different here, this is the North Sea coast and looking out to sea the next landfall is Den Helder on the Dutch coast. The flat light and delicate shadows work well with the traditional colors of the beach huts. This is definately a place to escape from vulgarity or rudeness, it is elelgantly stylish, even the caterpillars have subdued colors.
I took an array of traditional cameras and a pocket full of film to capture the day, so I'm very excited to see the results which should plop through the letterbox early next week.
The food was good! Potted shrimps with bread and butter followed by scones with jam and cream, and a gallon of tea.
Today was the official "Town Show". It must be my age but I found it quite fun. It's been a lovely day, sunny with a light breeze. Plenty of vintage cars to photograph plus a couple who loved snakes enough to carry them around. I bought a de-luxe game of Scrabble (All monies go to a good cause).
I also met a potential, great model. Someone with a wonderful face wearing outrageous clothes. My model was very happy to pose (they always are), and I took 3 frames. I could have used my digital camera but I couldn't, it has to be film for serious work. Now we'll all have to wait until I get the film developed, but I have high hopes.
It was taken in Paris during the summer of 1955, the golden age of haute couture. Dovima is wearing a dress by Christian Dior with an elegant sash. Probably Avedon's greatest fashion photograph and one of his personal favourites, this photograph hung in the entrance to his New York City studio for more than two decades.
It's up for sale at Christie's Paris this autumn. You'll need to budget between $500, 000 - $700, 000.
You know when you give something away to make you feel good, it's (in my case) usually because I didn't like the thing I was giving away in the first place. Like a very expensive gray leather cowboy hat (I'm making this up) that you bought on holiday a few years ago. Just looking at your purchse makes you miserable! So you give it away and sort of feel good about yourself.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Charles Saatchi has the same feelings about his art collection, he is gifting more than 200 works and his Saatchi Gallery to the British public. The gallery is a very impressive building and contains art claimed to be worth £25m ($37.7m).
Tracey Emin's My Bed, 1998
On the face of it, it seems to be a very generous gift, but have you seen the collection? Unfortunately, Saatchi, for all his money, hasn't built up a collection worthy of a gallery. He championed Tracey Emin's bed, New Neurotic Realism??? and A lake of reflective oil. There is some good stuff, I remember seeing Jenny Saville at his old Gallery in St John's Wood, but in general the collection is patchy.
I foresee another problem with the gift and that is the name change from the Saatchi Gallery to the Museum of Contemporary Art for London (Moca London). Having seen the MOCA in LA the Moca London, doesn't look too impressive. Just my thoughts.
I've always found the images of Chris Steele-Perkins very amusing. He has a good eye and a tongue stuck firmly in his cheek. He currently has an exhibition at the Kings Place Gallery in London. The Guardian has created a very nice little audio-visual presentation featuring his comments on some of his most famous photographs. Click the image above to see the show, or click here.