Monday, August 30, 2010

Why is your style?

I've been thinking a lot lately on style in photography. I've seen images I really like, others I think really suck, and noticed that there are a lot of popular trends that seem to be way more style than substance. This has led me to wonder, rather than what is your style, a better question might be why is your style?

I'll start with one of the styles I don't particularly like. HDR. For many people it's a love it or hate it thing. Beyond the really crappy examples where it's really overdone, where it has this awful crackly texture, even the well done leaves me wondering what the point is? While our eyes may be able to see 3 or 4 times the dynamic range our medium may be able to capture, do we really see it when we look at a scene? I tend to find pretty much all HDR to look rather unreal. So when you choose this as a style, what do you want people to get from it? If your images look unrealistic, are you saying an attempt at capturing reality is unimportant? Is it just a creative exercise, something artistic? Is it better than reality, the way a picture should be by capturing all it possibly can, in your ideal world? Something to think about. As is the question, why did you choose it?

Another style I am seeing a lot of is desaturated images with a look of old polaroids or old colour snaps. Some of it is really lovely, but isn't different enough, at least not anymore, to be a very unique style. Lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon. At what point does a style become a trend, and then become meaningless as it really isn't individual anymore? Now, you can argue that how you use it brings that individuality to those images, and yes, that's completely true, but they still tend to get lost in the sea of images that look so similar in the end. It's not enough just to tweak a bit here and there, you really need to get into what makes a style unique.

So the popularity of a style or look brings me to ask, why are you choosing that style? What is it you want to say with it? Because in the end, your style says something, whether you consciously choose it or not. Styles evolve, develop not always by plan and have a lot to do with how your view the world, rather than necessarily the equipment you use. There are exceptions, as there are to everything, such as Holga images, where the gear does dictate a lot. In many cases, styles are chosen, directly emulating something seen in image galleries, something popular, something that can even be a fad, outright copying in many cases, and a reason is often a desire to achieve the same success of the person they copy. But in the end, what are you saying when you do that? If you don't transform what you desire to emulate into something that is uniquely your own, you can't say much besides you haven't put the effort into your own creativity. Sure, coming up with something original is hard, but by choosing to have your style show that originality, and being conscious of what else it says, you come up with what is uniquely yours. 

My own style is still developing, but even now I can see trends. My fine art images tend to be about nature, beauty, light. They have a stillness to them others remark upon. This relates not so much to something I wished to communicate as it does about how I see things. Nature for me is soothing and peaceful and the images show that, as they show my viewpoint. The images may be disparate in actual subject matter, but processing treatment, framing, composition, shallow depth of field, all impart an indelible stamp on the images that make them identifiable as mine, especially viewed together and in the end that is a style.

When it comes to portraiture, I am still working on what I want for a style, but I am turning to things people don't necessarily use much anymore, processes, equipment etc to get a look that will be unique and uniquely my own. I may go well out of my way to avoid looking like the masses of photographers out there but as I work things out, I am consciously looking at developing that style and considering what it will say. In the terms of high end and fine art portraiture, presenting a unique look, one off images, hand worked portraits, all these should communicate the unique value of such portraits. In addition, people who choose this for their portraits are also saying something in what they value in an image, in art and about themselves. And in the end, this is what your style says about you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blue in the sunlight

What turns blue in the sunlight? Cyanotypes! Also known as sunprints or solarprints, this is one of the simplest processes to get a photographic image without using a darkroom.

Yesterday was fun in the sun with friends exploring this colourful process. Lovely lush yard, good food, company and play. What more could you ask for on wonderful Saturday afternoon?

Cyanotype is a simple process. Mixing two chemicals, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, the resulting solution is brushed on paper in dim light indoors. Then you place a negative or items for photograms on the paper, and expose to the sun. After about 30 min, wash them for about 10 and where you blocked the sun, the paper stays white and the rest turns blue. If you don't want to mess with chemicals, you can buy precoated paper kits. This is great kid friendly exploration and hey, you can teach them a little about science and photography as you go, if you are so inclined.

This was our first outdoor social and photo event with the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op. We are holding these regularly and they are not just for darkroom members. We did colour photograms our first night. Friends are very welcome. Looking forward to our next get together next month.

Here's a few images. If you want to know more about cyanotypes, drop me a line.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great photography magazines

Well, I just read a post on photography magazines, listing what was considered 5 great magazines you should be reading. I have to say, I was struck immediately by the US centric list, and the fact that it was the big names that aren't necessarily the most interesting reads.

Now, I admit my tastes tend to be eclectic, as anyone who's never heard of half the musicians I listen to can attest to, but I think there are lots of fantastic magazines out there that do way more to promote the diversity of photography and quite frankly, are far more interesting.

What do I get on a regular basis? Two great magazines for fine art, black and white and film photographers in particular are Silvershotz and View Camera Great images, lots of inspiration and excellent articles. I also really like Outdoor Photography from the UK. Beautiful colour spreads, great local knowledge (if you live in or are travelling to the UK) and again, plenty of inspiration. I also read two professional magazines, PPA mag from the Professional Photographers of America and Professional Photographer from the UK. Excellent articles on the business of photography, great examples and inspiring views of other photographers who are making it in this business.

I like the fact that these aren't all gear based, that there aren't as many ads as the mainstream mags tend to run and that you can find a real mix of photography and advice that is really relevant.

If you find these magazines interesting, you should subscribe or pick up a copy at your local bookstore or magazine stand. Some have very reasonable prices for digital subscriptions, especially compared to the cost of importing paper copies.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gastown Motorcycle Show n' Shine

While this northern girl was wilting in the heat today, it was still a fantastic day to wander about downtown. From the Vancouver Chinatown Festival to the Gastown Motorcycle Show n' Shine, it was full of hordes of people all over the place. While I don't have a bike myself, and am not a huge fan, it was still pretty cool wandering about the bike show and seeing some of the neatest bikes I've seen in person.

Here's a selection from today. And what the heck, one last one for a little downtown colour.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why darkrooms matter

I was out wandering about my neighbourhood with a camera this weeked, as I often do. I really appreciated the fact that it was overcast as my old tlr only has a maximum 1/500th shutter speed, so for my shallow depth of field work, this is an ideal condition. And as well, just after the rain, there were lots of things covered in masses of rain drops, always a guarantee of something to photograph.

It had been a little while since I shot with film. While I use both digital and film cameras, I really love shooting film and working in the darkroom the best. Many people I know, who still shoot some film, don't do any darkroom work at all. I think this is really a shame.

I know there are many people out there who feel a darkroom is a thing of the past and has no relevance anymore. Others feel they are free, no longer having to spend time in one. Others have only ever and will only ever shoot digital. I think the point these people are missing is that learning to print in a darkroom does still matter.
When I speak with people about photography, they often ask about a place to take courses or their cameras and what they would like to do with their photography. I always suggest that they consider giving a film and darkroom course a try. Luckily we have an excellent school here, Langara College, that has a fantastic darkroom and still runs basic photography courses with film. I really believe that this is valuable, even if you only ever shoot digitally afterwards. 

Shooting film has so many benefits, especially for someone who is just learning. Learning to shoot manually, where you can't see what you did right away teaches you to master your camera fully, because if you don't, you won't have successful results. It slows things down, and since you only have a limited number of shots, you learn to make them count. You tend to become more selective of what you shoot, and I think end up paying more attention to what is in front of the camera. 

And then there is the darkroom. No matter how many times I watch it, it is still a magical thing, seeing that image form from nothing in front of my eyes. But beyond that, unlike sitting in front of a computer screen, being in the darkroom really makes you part of the creative process, in the physical sense of things. There's a satisfaction that I don't find is there when sitting in front of a computer, of having made something with your own hands, where you are physically creating this image, not just pressing a mouse and watching the computer do everything. 

I think there's a disconnect, when it comes to technology, that disappears when you physically create and process an image. There is also the ability to experiment hands on, see what happens when you do ........It is a chance to play, to become part of the process. And there is nothing like the satisfaction of being able to say I made this.

That's why I always suggest to people to take a chance and get their hands on an old film camera, which is cheap these days, and go take a film photography/darkroom course. You may decide this isn't for you in the long run, but you have had the experience to fully make that decision from an educated position and you might even have had fun anyways.

But don't just take my word for it. Freestyle Photographic Supplies is not only an excellent place to purchase supplies, but is committed to traditional black and white photography. They have published on their site opinions from many photographic educators that they work with on why darkrooms do still matter.