Moments Borrowed From Time

My name is Diarmuid McDonald, I have been taking photos since Feb 2013 and have decided to put this blog together to collect my various thoughts on (predominantly) photography related topics http://www.flickr.com/photos/momentsborrowedfromtime/

Inside Aqua House – Peterborough Squatters Autonomy

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet the occupiers of Aqua House, a former Environment Agency building in Peterborough left derelict since 2012, and since last Saturday the site of the only protest I have ever noticed in this city. If you have been anywhere near town bridge in the past week you will already be familiar with the banners and flags flying above Aqua House; targeting the newly elected Conservative Government and listing demands for social housing. Driving past, one can only speculate who the masked figures on the balcony are, or what they believe in. After spending two hours inside the building it dawned on me that Peterborough Squatters Autonomy (PSA) are alarmingly ordinary people. But I think that might just be the point.

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Accommodating over one hundred members PSA operate a non-hierarchal internal structure, all decisions are the result of deliberation and subsequent voting. Court is held regularly to discuss and determine all aspects of the groups internal and external actions. Maintaining the individual integrity of group members seems to be important to PSA; when asked how they would identify themselves ideologically, two of the three opted to simply describe themselves as “activists”.

In general the group stands in opposition to the governments stance towards it’s own citizens, which PSA perceive as bordering the nefarious to say the least. The group has made statements targeting the callous construction of luxury river-side flats in the city, despite the ongoing issues faced by many in Peterborough of lack of affordable housing and homelessness. Aqua House is surrounded by an existing block of modern flats, a construction site where more luxury housing is currently being erected, and an abandoned wasteland which is presumably next in line for development. From the roof of the building you get the impression of a frontline, as the tide of gentrification can be seen in all directions. Aqua House itself has yet to be sold to private developers, and in Feb 2014 was bought by the council for £748,000. Given it’s location the site appears to be a perfect opportunity for developers planning to construct expensive living spaces out of financial reach for the majority of city residents. With it’s riverside views and relative proximity to the railway station, it seems inevitable that any construction on this site is destined to be occupied by wealthy commuters working in London. It is hard to imagine such projects having any benefit to those in Peterborough who are in need of adequate housing, or simply shelter.

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Predictably, public reaction to PSA has been mixed. The group state that members of the public have been generous in their food donations to the group, a decent portion of which PSA utilises in feeding Peterborough’s homeless. The group’s Facebook page has been steadily gathering ‘likes’ and has received expressions of solidarity from a number of local residents. Although PSA perceive the majority of public reaction towards their cause as positive, they claim to have received threats from individuals and groups, notably the English Defence League (EDL). One member explained to me how these threats tied into PSA’s reluctance to reveal the identities of it’s members, stating that “we are not covering our faces to hide ourselves from what we are doing, it is for our protection”, a necessary precaution as she believes that her actions have put her in “personal danger”.

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Although the interior of the building shows visible signs of distress, the squatters are keen to stress that these damaged areas (radiators have been looted from some rooms) are not the result of their protest. A sign in the front entrance to the building, placed by PSA themselves reads: “No graffiti No damage Clean up mess if made Be kind”. There is no evidence of criminal damage to the building cause by the squatters.

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Following the court hearing on Wednesday (27th May) an interim possession order has been granted to the council, who will undoubtably take action to remove the group in the coming days. PSA claim that this is just the beginning of their activities in Peterborough, and irrespective of eviction procedures brought against them they are “here for the long run”.

Unsurprisingly there is more to the events at Aqua House than can be discerned by a mere passer by. What interests me (and always has in these situations) are the people involved, ordinary people who have chosen to engage in extraordinary acts. The activists you see on the balcony are fundamentally no different than you or I. They have beliefs and convictions as we all do, although unlike the majority of UK citizens, PSA have put their beliefs into action. This is always liable to lead to scorn, resentment and derision from passers by, ranging from those who’s interests are affected and those who’s are not. But the same drivers who curse the squatters from their steering wheel will have likely walked past members of PSA in the street at some other time. Made eye contact. Thought nothing of it. As life goes on.

I never did ask their names, but I expect they have ordinary names just like you and I. Except perhaps not like me, because I have a ridiculous name.

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Disclaimer. I remain independent on this issue, and am not a member of, or representative for, Peterborough Squatters Autonomy. For more information on the group please see their Facebook page.

An englishman’s castle is his home

New Gallery on my website: www.dmcdonald-photography.com 

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Isle of Wight, 2014

Not sure about the edit, but for the time being will suffice. If anyone has any thoughts or questions on it, i’d love to hear them either in comments below or via my website contact page 🙂

Isle of Wight, 2014

Coming out to the cold

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Stay tuned. Words will follow. Unexciting developments will unfurl and blink obliquely.

In the mean time I’ve returned to the UK. England grows fat while her intellect grows thin.

 

I’m so glad that my memory’s remote

‘Cause I’m doing just fine hour to hour, note to note
Here it is, the revenge to the tune,
“You’re no good,
You’re no good you’re no good you’re no good”

 – Elliott Smith

Desde Murcia

A middle aged man, un-comfortably dressed, sits on the street’s edge, one hand balancing an iPad, the focus of his concentration, the other presents a rugged Burger King cup to be ignored by passing shoppers. Two tens chime twenty cents softly from the cup. It is 3 o’clock and sweltering. ‘Viva la Republica’ is scrawled on the wall opposite. An Englishman, sweating and lost, makes his way home and begins to type

Murcia, Espana.

Ive flown south for summer.

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Cats, 2014 – nothing special

Having put in a regretfully pitiful performance throughout my two years of Spanish classes while at school, and ultimately failing my exam (to nobody’s surprise), I plan to stay in Spain until I can speak Spanish – at which point I will probably grab my camera and leave. I have not moved abroad into an alien culture for any desire to ‘find myself’, indeed the concept of doing so I regard as an almost Rawlsian idiocy of reason. If anything the opposite is true, which it ever more seems to me is a norm in modern society.

That is not to say I have learnt nothing in the past two months. Present tense verbs, animals and “donde esta la bibliotica “ aside, I am continually surprised by the warmth and attachment that others show me, having always considered myself a bore, unsocial and irritating. Maybe I have been wrong all these years, or maybe language is just too much of a barrier.

I am looking for my next photography project. I have a few ideas, as I write this I have ten rolls of Kodak Portra 400 at the lab, but whether any of these ideas have potential I am unsure. I have made the jump to colour, which is a challenge but I have been told that Murcia does not make sense in Black and White. This I can understand, Manchester was only available to me in Black and White. I think about Black and White a lot, and occasionally lapse into a roll of Tri-X or Fomopan. Its too hard to deny the wisdom of old sayings. I usually regret this choice of film, and spend days seeing photos in colour that are now unavailable to me. It’s a minefield dressed up as a mindset.

“I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses” – Kurt Vonnegut.

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Digby Coventry, 2014 – From a project yet to be published

 ..and its so often late at night, involving alcohol.

I plan to sit on my photos from Murcia until I have a finished project. That makes the 4th project that I currently have unfinished, unpublished on my hard drive. It is quite liberating not to feel pressure to share immediately, but at the same time, I appear to be making no progress.

The new project will likely involve banality, copious consumption, and perhaps a twist of the Lynchian. To whatever avail I am still trying to incorporate politics into my photos – not necessarily in the simple Political event journalism way. From the tame political events I have photographed in Murcia I have watched the local ‘photojournalists’ at work; DSLRs, narrow focal length, posed photos, on the edge of the crowd. For now I’ll leave them to share their ten photo variations between themselves.

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A day at the beach, 2014

I don’t know where this is going, I don’t know if I will fly north for winter. At risk of a Sandymount meander I think I’ll stop

Workin’ on Livin’, Workin’ on Leavin’, Workin’ on Leavin’ to Live

I left Manchester. It was a fast two years and was getting faster each day. Another day I might take the time to explain why I left, but not today. From a photography perspective, I had finished my project It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City and handed my prints over to the guys at the Real Camera Company for the exhibition. I might continue this project once I return to an urban environment, as there are definitely some weak photos in that set, but we’ll have to wait and see. I had grown sick of the mediocre street photography that Manchester seemed to be producing in abundance. I am sick of watermarks and bokeh, the poorly composed non-events that become Facebook sensations. Lack of content heralded by a mass without substance. Selective colouring. Digital playgrounds. A broadband folk-hero and an ISO fetish. 1’s and 0’s. ‘Nice street shot’. ‘great street scene’. Like Like Like.
I have become a photo snob. Maybe this is a good thing
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The sun seems to shine in the south, and London is very pretty in the daylight. I have met some really great photographers recently, some have had a bunch of exhibitions, others carried hardcover portfolios still smelling of new book. Feeling like a minnow among whales I chain drank tea and suppressed my hangover.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Gilden during his book signing at the Photographers Gallery, but it was all a blur.
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It’s been a strange few weeks; walks through woods, 120 film, coffee shops in London, and bus stops in Southampton.
I look at the sea and feel a knot in my stomach.
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I wonder how many Whales there are?

Interview with Robert Thuringa

Robert Dyhringer is a young photographer currently based in Stuttgart, Germany. A full time mechanical engineering student, Robert pursues photography in his spare time, documenting his progress and displaying his work on his Blog. I was immediately struck by the bold and surreal vision of the streets portrayed through Robert’s portfolio, experimenting with flash and long exposures the Gilden influence is immediately apparent. When I realised that Rob was a fellow M6 and SF20 (flash) user, I knew that I had to not only interview him, but get back out on the streets myself to keep up! I caught up with Rob to talk about his influences, his experience utilising flash on the street, and how a mysterious Bentley led to a complete change in his photographic vision. 

All photos are property of Robert Thuringa

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How did your interest in photography develop? 

Hey Diarmuid, thank you for having me here on the blog! I came into photography about 3 years ago. I got some money for Christmas and just bought myself a DSLR. Before then I was not interested in photography, but since that point my interest has grown day by day. A year later (2 years ago from now) I started shooting the streets. First I did it just in digital black and white. The pictures…well they didn’t really interest me. They just looked the same as all other street photography. A year ago I discovered Bruce Gilden, I saw his pictures by accident and just felt in love with them. That was the moment I started shooting on film and with flash.

Tell me about your journey in film, I understand that you have recently moved to colour. What prompted this change? 

The moment I moved from digital to film was a big step. Not only as it is a totally different technique, it also gave me a lot freedom. As you know street photography is hard: only 5-10% of all images are useable or can be called ‘good’. This always frustrated me while shooting digitally, because you notice the bad pictures on the display while shooting. Now, with film I do not notice it that much, due to the fact that I can‘t see what I got while shooting. It is simply more fun to shoot unaware. I recently moved from B/W film to colour. I shot B/W (mostly Ilford FP4 and Fomapan 200) for over a year and it has been great fun. I love to play with the effect you can achieve with these two colors. It can be totally mundane as well as totally strange looking.

Then one day there was this baby blue painted Bentley sitting at one side of the street. It just looked that crazy and nice. The only problem: There was a B/W Film in my camera. The solution: I went to the next camera store and bought myself a roll of AGFA Vista 200 and loaded it in my camera. I went back to the place where the car has been, but it left already! Since that day I have shot color (mostly AGFA Vista 200) and now walk the streets totally differently. Now there are not only strange or interesting looking people there are strange and interesting colors everywhere. It’s great!

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How has your photographic approach changed since your switch from Black and White to Colour?

My approach changed has dramatically. Initially it was all about people. I walked the streets looking for people who looked strange or interesting. By shooting B/W I was able to exaggerate this by shooting with a long exposure and w/flash. Now with colour it is more about, you might guess it, colour. Actually I did not notice all these colours that much until the Blue Bentley stepped into my life. Now I see colors everywhere. At the moment I can‘t imagine changing to B/W in near future.

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Your Black and White work has a very Gilden aesthetic, you mentioned that he is a big influence on your work? 

Oh yes! He was extremely inspiring. He was the one that made me try using flash in the streets. First I did it just like him and used the flash off camera. The ‘Smoke’ picture from my B/W gallery was one of my first pictures shot with off camera flash. Off-camera flash quickly became a problem. People in Germany are very aware of their privacy, and of course it would be obvious that I had photographed them when I pointed the flash on their faces. This made me use the flash on-camera. People would be less likely to ask me whether I took a photo of them or tell me to delete the photo. This way I am able to shoot here in Germany without any problems.

Who else has influenced you?

After using the flash for a while I looked through the internet to find more flash-street-photographers’  and found (of course) Eric Kim, who is an awesome guy. I hope to meet him someday here in Germany. His blog is very inspiring and brought me further in street photography.

These two guys (Bruce and Eric) are definitely my biggest influence.

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What is your favourite photography book?

One?! Well that is a problem. I have a lot of favourites. But if I am just allowed to tell you one it would be Mark Cohen‘s Grim Street. It is not that popular as he is not that famous, but it’s still a great work. He is also a ‘flash-street-photographer’, maybe one of the first. What is so special about his work for me is the closeness to his subject. Often he is just about 30cm away from his counterpart. There is a nice video on YouTube where he gets filmed while photographing, a must to check out! 

Clearly you are not afraid of using flash in the streets, what do you make of the online backlash against this style? Ridiculous youtube comments aside, what do you make of the claims that this approach is gong to be the ruin of street photography by creating hostility to photographers? 

I know flashlight in the streets is a big discussion point for other photographers, I always have to argue when I tell people how I achieved my pictures. I can understand people who think this is awful. The first thing I tell people is that the way they think people react when they got flashed is totally different to the reality. My experience is that when I photograph a stranger on the streets with flash and without permission, often they don‘t realise that they have been photographed. Most people just turn around thinking I have photographed something behind them. I would say 5% of the people whom I’ve ‘shot’ ask me about the picture. I explain them who I am and what it is for. For the rest of them it seems to doesn‘t matter.

What I have noticed when this discussion comes up is that the people who argue against flashlight in the streets themselves often shoot with a long tele lens. For me these people just don‘t have the nuts to get close to people and shoot with 35mm lenses.

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The new colour work shows a lot of promise, you seem to have an eye for flashes of colour in an otherwise grey and mundane urban environment, is the way forward for the foreseeable future? Do you have plans for any colour based projects or do you plan on returning to black and white?

I will definitely stick to color film for some time. I am really looking foreword to the summertime when everything is colourful and happy. The greyness is really something I noticed this winter, 90% of all people are wearing black clothes at the moment, it’s awful…. I think this will change with spring and I am excited what I will be able to do then with my camera.

Sometimes I think about changing to B/W again. I just love the process of developing and printing my own pictures. Actually some of my pictures, again my picture ‘Smoke’ is an example, are real prints from my darkroom which I just scanned with my flatbed scanner.

You never know what the future brings! I am looking every day for that bentley to get a shot of it with my Leica.

  Thanks Robert, keep chasing the Blue Bentley!   Robert Dyhringer 7   Its always good to hear from a photographer willing to stand up for their methods, I can’t imagine the ‘flash in street photography’ debate will subside anytime soon, but Rob certainly stands as an example of how this technique can be used to produce visually striking images. It is also nice to see another young photographer sticking to film, I look forward to seeing Rob’s work in future.  You can check out his work, both Black / White and Colour, along with his blog on his creatively designed website.    See more of Robert’s photography and follow his progress here:   www.facebook.com/rob.phil.blog http://www.robphil.com

In your bag No: 755 – Diarmuid McDonald

Posted on January 14, 2014 by Japan Camera Hunter

In your bag 755, Diarmuid McDonald
Naughty Diarmuid has not put a bag in the shot, but thats ok, as the setup more than makes up for it. Come and check this one out.
ImageMy name is Diarmuid McDonald, I am a street photographer currently based in Manchester, UK. I have been taking photos since February 2013, and have only really been concentrating on street photography since July. I haven’t actually got a camera bag, so this stuff all just gets bundled into my rucksack, which seems to do the trick. In the past months I made the decision to shoot only in film, and I have not looked back.

My main camera is a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron lens. I am focusing on just using this camera, lens and Kodak Tri-X 400 (pictured) for the foreseeable future of my photography.

I currently use the Leica SF20 flash, either on the hot shoe or on my Nikon SC-17 cable. This hasn’t caused me any trouble from the people of Manchester yet, although some one I photographed made me join them in the pub where they gave me a lecture on the murders and church arsons that surrounded the Scandinavian Heavy Metal scene in the early 90′s.

I also use an Olympus XA with attached flash, this is more of my personal camera to carry with me when I am just on my way to work and am not looking for photos.

The miscellany that remains includes spare batteries for my flash, notepad and pen (to record my wandering thoughts), and a Magnum photographer Photofile for when I run out of inspiration.

At this point my kit is perhaps more impressive that my images, but I am trying to formulate some project ideas and hopefully will have some worthwhile photos in the new year.

www.facebook.com/dmcdonaldphotography
www.flickr.com/photos/momentsborrowedfromtime/

Diarmuid McDonald

Thanks for sharing your…erm…no bag with us Diarmuid. That Scandinavian lecture must have been asolutely fascinating.
Check out the links and make sure you come and comment.

Keep them coming folks, we need more submissions, so get your bag on Japancamerahunter.com. Send me a hi resolution image of the bag (please make sure it is horizontal) and its contents, with some details about yourself and what you shoot. Oh and don’t forget your contact details (twitter, flickr, tumbler et al). Send the bag shots here. Please understand that there is a long wait now as there is a backlog of submissions. Not all make the cut, so make sure yours is funny/interesting/quirky. And please make sure the shot is of good quality, as the ones that are not do not go up.

Cheers
Japancamerahunter

http://www.japancamerahunter.com/category/whats-in-the-bag-2/

2014 Update

At this time of year the internet becomes saturated with blog posts either reflecting on the year passed or speculating on the road ahead. Many of these blogs will be new, a resolution, and by now most will be facing that tough second article slump. As I type these words, dozens of Day #29s are being uploaded to Project 365 groups on Flickr. I uploaded a Day #29 once. It looked like this:

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Why I quit my 365

I gave up on my own 365. It ended with a whimper. I was uploading photos that were very poor and on the occasion that I did upload anything worth looking at, it would get swamped by the mediocrity that was inherent to my Flickr photostream. On top of that, I was juggling digital and film, which due to the delay in film processing (and my own laziness in never correctly setting the internal clock on my X-E1) meant that organising the project was becoming increasingly muddled. There was no visual consistency to my Flickr, I was uploading B&W film, and then poorly edited B&W digital (and even worse colour digital). One of the photos I took was of a bag of reconstituted potato animal shapes.

I was not self aware of this at the time, it took a new friend to point the above out to me and I am glad he did. What I did know was that I was not taking the sort of photos that I wanted to take. I knew that I wanted to explore project based ideas but was spending far too much time worrying about getting a decent enough photo for my 365. On top of all this I was spending an unholy amount of time obsessing over view counts and favs, wondering why certain photos would do better than others, and spending far too much time looking at Flickr street photography groups with envy.

Project 365 is an interesting concept and I have respect for anyone who commits to one for a whole year, especially those who further restrict themselves with a themed 365. As a project it simply was not for me.

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Welcome to 2014

So its a new year. How many of us have spent time in the last few weeks cursing the floorboards, vowing that we will hone or twist our personal trajectories before this stone returns to this spot? On the rare occasions in 2013 where I was able to collect my thoughts I only ever planned on planning.

“I’ve spent far too much time trying to align myself with the world, I don’t think I can be bothered anymore”  E.G.

What I know is that photography will play an important role in the coming year, even if I have been relatively inactive in the past couple of days.

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Ive created a portfolio website, just follow the link below. I would love to hear what people think.

http://www.dmcdonald-photography.com

Peace.

Hands in Photography

All photographs included within this article are copywrited and owned by their respective photographers.

Recently I have grown more and more obsessed with hands in photography, not quite to the extent that Tarantino has been obsessing over feet for the past 25 years, but obsessing never the less. Despite my inactivity on the blog and flickr, I have been very busy photography-wise in the past two months; I have been concentrating on what I want to express and achieve through my photography, I have spent time with some truly inspiring photographers, and waved goodbye to a whole bunch of ‘faves’ on flickr (I might go into this in a later post). All in all it has been an odd, yet exciting period. But back to hands..

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Manchester, 2013

I have been spending more time looking at photography books, Collectives and watching films about photography. The equal and opposite reaction has been that I no longer trawl through street photography groups on flickr, because lets face it, most of the photos are mediocre at best. I found myself increasingly disinterested in photos of people simply walking past in the street and have been trying to avoid taking anymore photos like this. Something changed. I began taking photos much closer than I used to and instead of going for the ol’ eye contact, I looked to capture the essence of what I saw and felt in a different, more intimate, way.

Expression

What initially attracted me to photos that incorporate hands was their expressiveness. I think that the face is the most expressive part of the body, but hands are surely a close second. We use hands to gesture, to indicate and to greet others. Hands are fundamental to our body language. For example, in the photo below by W. Eugene Smith, all we see of the subject is their arms and hands, despite this, the photograph is full of expression.

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©W. Eugene Smith / Magnum Photos

The figure’s hands appear tense and distorted, this crooked and unnatural gesture is visually unsettling, giving the impression that the subject might be crippled or in pain. The photo, taken in a Haitian Mental Hospital, tells a visual story about this character without ever showing the subject’s face. W. Eugene Smith could have easily taken the shot face-on, the man looking out from behind the bars, yet by portraying the subject in this faceless way; hands held out in an unnatural gesture, he leaves the viewer to contemplate the identity of this figure. The end result is a photo that thematically echoes the subject’s environment, by visually expressing themes of madness, discomfort and imprisonment.

In the photo above, the absence of the subject’s face leaves their hands tell the story, if we consider the iconic shot by Diane Arbus’s shown below, the child’s contorted left hand perfectly compliments the surreal effect created by the grenade, facial expression and loose shoulder strap. If his hand was simply limp by his side, this would probably still be a great photo, but this ‘claw-like’ gesture adds to the feeling of mania exerted in this image.

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©Diane Arbus

I recently studied the Communicative Method of language teaching. Practitioners of this approach view gestures as an intrinsic element in communication, and I think this becomes apparent in photography. This is because photographs freeze moments, making the communicative capability of hands more apparent. There are near universal signs (or gestures) that convey meaning, these include clenched fists (anger / aggression), pressed palms (calming / prayer), and the middle finger (insult / provocation). By including instantly recognisable gestures like these in photographs, it becomes possible to convey the attitude of a subject at 1/100th of a second, and in the absence of any spoken or written words.

Character

From Dr T J Eckleburg to the Afghan Girl, eyes are often thought to be the ‘window to the soul’*, and Western culture frequently prioritises eyes as the focus of an individual’s image. Although this is a cultural norm in the western world, it is feasible for a society to perceive either the skin or even the human voice as the key to deciphering personality. I don’t mean to discredit the above examples of eyes, the Afghan Girl is a very powerful photograph and Dr T J Eckleburg a wonderful metaphor, the simple point to take away from this is that sometimes the apparent truths of Western understanding are simply prevalent, or entrenched, norms of understanding. That is to say, there are conceivable alternatives. I could go on to write whole essays on this topic, but my Politics & International Relations degree is now behind me and I don’t want to drift too far off topic. In terms of photography, the takeaway point is that to portray a subject’s identity it is not always necessary to photograph their face (and eyes). Often a person’s hands can tell you a great deal about them, and often in ways that their face will not.

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© D.S.Schaefer

In the above photograph by Danny Schaefer (click the image to visit his page), only the subject’s hand is shown, this works to great effect. From this image it is possible to discern a surprisingly large amount of information about the subject; their skin colour and relative age, body type (the fingers are long and thin, suggesting a slim, tall individual), and broad occupational field (the fingers show traces of paint and other materials, suggesting that this man works with his hands). Some of this (such as the last point) might not be apparent in a traditional portrait of this man. Furthermore, I find that this image leaves me asking for more, it leaves me wanting to see who this character is, and my first reaction upon seeing the photo was to ask Danny for the background. The details on the knuckles and the kinked little finger are in my opinion equally or more significant in portraying character than a photograph of the subjects face alone would be. The little finger in particular leaves the viewer wondering if there is a story behind this historic injury.

It is often very difficult (or perhaps impossible) to perceive the reality of a person behind their outwardly projected image. Today we hide behind copious layers of make-up and wrap ourselves in branded products in the search for identity, the irony is that we become less individual with every Abercrombe jumper or pair of Air Max that we wear. One reason why I am not attracted to women ‘dolled up’, ready to hit the town on a saturday night, is not that they are ‘showing too much’, but rather that they show too little. The reality of who a person might actually be is concealed by their make-up, tan and meticulously planned outfit (please note the same is true for bicep saturated men with their fashionable haircuts). It seems that The Matrix is real, and nowhere is it more apparent than club culture; with the agonising wake up scene taking new relevance and no-one better suited at portraying bumbling one dimensional morning-after-the-night-before confusion than Keanu Reeves.

The point I am trying to convey is that in modern society a great deal of time and money is spent trying to manipulate our outward presentation towards others. As the face and eyes are understood to be focal points in our image, these areas often get extra manipulation through hair gel, eyeliner and mascara. The result can be photographs (or should I just call them profile pictures?) with very little impact. This is not to say that photos of party-goers can’t be good; Maciej Dakowicz’s Cardiff After Dark is an incredible body of work. In my opinion it is sometimes possible to decipher information from a persons hands that has been hidden elsewhere.

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Manchester, 2013

The above photo was taken as part of an exercise I was undertaking which involved taking portraits of suits around Manchester City Centre. This photo was taken not long after I started experimenting with flash and unfortunately I misjudged the flash power and spoilt / overexposed the hands. I was talking to this chap while taking a few photos of him, mostly about his daughter who apparently studied film and media, when I noticed that his hands were surprisingly grubby. I asked to take a couple of photos of his hands and he obliged, explaining that he had been gardening the night before. The contrast between his smart suit and his dirty hands (although its difficult to see in my photo) struck a chord with me; he had taken care to don the uniform but had forgotten to scrub his fingernails. Visually this presented a duality between the character of a faceless suit, and the man who spends his thursday evenings pottering away in the back garden.

Of course hands can be manipulated with manicures, nail polish and the like, but in the above case, they provided an insight into this character that the rest of his appearance had repressed.

Thematic

Hands can also be effective in representing the desired theme of a photograph, or even series of photographs. A good example of this is W Eugene Smith’s photo included at the start of this article, in which the subject’s contorted gesture compliments the theme of insanity and pain. The end result is a powerful and provocative photograph. A similar effect is achieved in Danny Schaefer’s ongoing Magicians project in which he uses hands to visually represent the themes of mystery and magic.

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© D.S.Schaefer

 It is not simply the act of photographing hands itself that builds themes, there has to be a link between the desired theme and a subject’s hands. This is often more apparent in photo sets, as themes can be build over more than one image. One of the reasons Danny Schaefer’s Magicians works so well is that slight of hand is a characteristic of magicians, the audience is often directed to focus on one element and thus remain oblivious to the ‘trick’ which often happens elsewhere. The above photo, which shows the magicians hands isolated against the dark background, can be seen as a metaphor for the trick; the act of drawing the viewer’s attention to a desired object in order to prevent the ‘trick’ itself from being deciphered. This technique is continued throughout the series, which combined with a grainy black and white look, creates visual themes of mystery, anonymity and intrigue.

Geometry

Hands often provide visually interesting subjects of photographs, especially if taken close up. Geometric shapes such as triangles between spread fingers, or knuckle contours can lead to interesting compositions. Hands are flexible and can assume a variety of gestures and shapes, and thus there is potential to exploit this in a number of different scenarios. Gestures such as pointing can often lead the eye to emphasise a particular element of the photograph, give direction to the photo, or just appear to tell a more interesting story.

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©Eric Kim

Conclusion – Cutting off body parts is bad etiquette 

The idea behind this article is not why you should drop everything else and start photographing hands, but instead why images that include hands can often be effective or memorable photographs. This can be especially effective to convey themes within a project or to add mystery to a photograph (by not including the subject’s face). Taking photos of hands alone is not necessary, but sometimes it is important to maintain an awareness of a subject’s limbs during the photographing process. From my experience in Flickr Street Photography groups, there is a focus on taking shots of the face with all other elements being subordinate or secondary. The end result is often ankles or wrists chopped out of the frame (obviously I am often guilty of this too), which can look sloppy and detract from the shot. I feel that Tony Ray Jones’ self-advice of ‘No Middle Ground’ is particularly relevant here; either get close and only include little, or take a step back and frame properly. There are no set guidelines or distances here, its just important to bear this in mind, especially in street photography where opportunities can present themselves in a fraction of a second

*Note I found an article claiming that scientists were able to prove that eyes were the ‘window to the soul’ but as it was written by the Daily Mail I am going to make the safe assumption that is largely false, and/or scaremongering.

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Happy Christmas

If there are any photos that you know, or have taken, that are relevant to the above, or if you have any thoughts on the article let me know in the comment section below.

Talk To Strangers: why you should start a conversation with anyone wielding a camera while shooting street photography.

When I first began street photography back in February I did not speak to people in the street. I would wander through Manchester remaining as low-key as possible and attempt to capture candid shots on the sly and at distance through a 50mm on a (crop-sensor) DSLR. Nowadays I make an effort to start a conversation with anybody wielding a camera. Well, almost anybody. I don’t approach anyone just taking a few snaps of their friends on a phone or compact camera, I usually avoid bothering tourist looking types, and I probably wouldn’t be running up to Bruce Gilden and starting a conversation with him (I would watch in adoration, maybe reach out my arms in hysteria and cry, like a school girl in A Hard Days Night).In all seriousness, I try to talk to anyone who looks to be taking interesting photos or is wielding a film camera, and I think you should too – even if only to smile and say nice camera.

I’ve met some talented street photographers in Manchester and some insightful camera collectors, all because of this new practice of talking to strangers. I have walked away from each encounter feeling positive and encouraged by the brief bond shared with a stranger; the recognition that we share a love for cameras and the documenting of human existence.

Tootdood

Tootdood – Click to visit his Flickr

I wanted to write a short post about a couple of the people I have met, to share my photographs of them, and to put the case forward as to why you too should talk to your fellow (street) photographers.

The Collectors

Film cameras always catch my eye when I am out on the streets, and I almost always approach the owner and say hi. I work on the assumption that in this age of digital cameras and the prevalence of cameras designed towards ease of use, a film user is more likely to be interested in the art of photography rather than a tourist. The high costs of buying and developing film and the ‘inconvenience’  film is unlikely attract somebody with a minimal interest in photography. In addition, as I am often working with film myself there is a visual manifestation of shared interest between us which I find puts people at ease and allows us to make small talk centred around this common interest.

Cannon AE1

Cannon AE1

The other day I saw a young guy sporting this sweet looking Cannon AE1, arguably the most influential SLR in history, and so I approached him, complimented him on his camera and asked what he was looking to take photos of. I think this guy was a little surprised that a stranger was talking to him, and was at first taken back but we had a quick chat about his AE1 and he seemed to relax, I asked to take a photo and obliged. I bid him good day and walked away. Neither of us gained anything material from the encounter, I guess I got a photograph, but I came away feeling positive and I hope he did too.

Not all of my encounters have been brief; I spent a good portion of my lunch break a week or so ago chatting to a vintage camera collector. I asked him what he was photographing, and he showed me a broken drain filled with glass bottles that had caught his attention a few minutes before. The conversation later moved to the man’s cameras; he had an old Pentax on him and so I mentioned I had an ME Super which I loved shooting. He then told me about his impressive collection of film cameras, advocating the virtues of Russian rangefinders as a cheap alternative for Leica. We exchanged names, I wrote his flickr address down on my arm and then headed back to work.

The Collector

The Collector

I met another camera collector (pictured) in an arts and crafts shop, we passed upon the stair and I complimented his camera, asking if it was a Voigtlander. I think it was German but not a make I was familiar with (if you, unlike me, have a decent knowledge of vintage film cameras and recognise it please comment below). He collected cameras manufactured in the year he was born and when I asked how many, he looked over my shoulder to check his wife was beyond earshot and leaned closer with a grin on his face:

“about thirty-five”.

We ended up chatting for a couple of minutes, he didn’t have a website or flickr page so I have not been able to see his photos, but he recommended an online lens forum to me and let me take his picture. I love his expression, we assume that if someone has their eyes closed in a photo it must be detrimental, but here I think it adds to the shot; it makes him appear calm and friendly while drawing attention away from his face and toward his camera.

The Street Photographers

I don’t only meet and chat to street photographers, but as this is my main interest I wanted to briefly mention two guys I met who share my interest in documenting life in Manchester.

Tootdood (aka Mike R)

Mike R

Mike R

I saw this interesting looking guy on a friday lunchtime, he had a camera at his waist, a flickr badge and a big smile on his face. I think I initially said ‘nice hat’ and we got talking about photography, I asked if I could take his photo and he kindly said yes. Afterwards he leaned forward and showed me this:

Photo by Tootdood (aka Mike R)

Photo by Tootdood (aka Mike R)

I just remember finding it really funny that he had taken a candid of me taking his portrait, I don’t think I have ever seen a candid shot of myself on the street which was also cool. He gave me his photo-business card and I promised to check him out on flickr that evening. Mike just seemed to be a man full of positivity and character, I remember walking away with a smile on my face. You can check out Tootdood’s photo on flickr by clicking on these photos.

Tony

I first bumped into Tony outside the Real Camera Company, he was stuffing his taped up Fujifilm X100s into his bag so I had a strong hunch that he was a street photographer. We spoke briefly, he gave me his card and we went our separate ways. I remember being blown away by Tony’s photostream (click the photos to visit his Flickr), he is currently working with slower shutter speeds and panning techniques to achieve some visually stunning images, my personal favorite can be seen below.

I bumped into Tony again a few weeks later, we were both taking advantage of dress down friday to blend into the high street and take photos. He has recently bought a Go-Pro which I can’t wait to see in practice.

Photo by Tony Eccles

Photo by Tony Eccles

But Why!

I personally think that making an effort to meet fellow photographers is good practice for a number of reasons. Ultimately we live in a world of strangers. Thousands of people pass each other in the streets, their paths cross and overlap constantly yet they very rarely meet. Life in big cities can be very alienating, everybody you see appears to be in a desperate struggle to get to work, get that raise, or just get home. David Foster Wallace once gave an incredible speech on this subject (if you have not heard it, stop reading right now and give it a listen: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaVrn1Sz0H8); with an analogy of two fish too focused on the immediate centrality of their own lives that they fail to enjoy the water they live in, he succeeds in giving one of the most inspirational messages imaginable – I simply can’t do it justice so wont try.

A teacher at my school once gave an assembly on basic psychology; he told us to smile at people in the street because the physical act of smiling released endorphins and that if you smile at a stranger they will probably return the favor. He insisted that this small act of kindness can make somebody’s day and I believe he is right.

Imagine if the person walking next to you shared your taste in music or film, wouldn’t you want to introduce yourself? Unfortunately, you might not be able to see their film preference, but you can see their camera. As illustrated above, you might come away with an email address or flickr name, and this former stranger may become somebody you share photography experiences, or advice, with in the future. For me, the opportunity to study how other photographers document the city I live in has been very rewarding. I find that I notice things that I too have photographed, but perhaps at a different angle or with a different focus, other times I find myself looking at great photographs of Manchester that I simply would never have considered taking myself.

Tony (click photo to visit his Flickr)

Tony (click photo to visit his Flickr)

But How?

Believe it or not, I consider myself to be a very shy person and a year ago would never have considered anything written above as possible. However, when I am out taking photos, I become absorbed in the moment and in the action of photography itself, and I forget about my inhibitive nature. There is no set formula to how you should approach strangers and strike up conversation with them, this is something for you to do in a way that you feel comfortable with. That said, there are some techniques that I would recommend:

  • Have a standard opening line. Think of it like a chat-up line, albeit without the cheesiness, creepiness, or latent sexual aggressiveness (actually don’t think of it like a chat-up line!). I often start the conversation either by asking what he, or she, is looking to photograph that day, or by complimenting them on their camera. You might try asking if they have taken any good shots that day, or if you can take their photos. The key thing is to seem enthusiastic and harmless.
  • Focus on their camera. If this is what has caught your eye, and especially if they have a retro looking film camera, ask about their personal experiences with the camera; how do they find using it, how long have they had it, is it their favorite. You might get rewarded with an interesting tale, or if you are really lucky they may let you try it out.
  • Ask questions. In these situations I feel it is best to encourage the other person to talk, after all you were the one attracted to them (or at least their camera), people generally enjoy talking about themselves so ask them a question or two, but remember to keep it light. During the aforementioned psychology assembly I was also told that even if a conversation is one sided and one individual dominates in terms of time spent talking, that person will recollect the exchange as a balanced, and engaging conversation. If you do less talking, and instead ask questions, actively listening to the response, the person you meet is likely to come away from the experience with a positive overall impression of you.
  • Do not take the opportunity to simply talk at the person. SImilar to the point above, you chose to have a conversation, allow them to take it as far as they wish. If they simply say ‘thanks’ and walk off, let them. The worst thing you could to is to stand their blithering on at them about how much you love the camera on your iPad and how great it is for street photography, while they try desperately to escape. Don’t be the person who rants at unwilling strangers in the streets, if only for the reason that a street photographer will probably try to take your photo.

If anyone agrees/disagrees, has any tips of their own, or even any stories of interesting people they have met, I would love to hear them in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading.

Now go watch that David Foster Wallace video