Photosketch. Part Two, the instant film photos.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part Two.

Yesterday’s post was all about the Photosketch day, what it was about and how the day went. This one will, hopefully, be much less verbose. 

The objective of this, the second of two walks, was to experiment with instant film cameras; both Polaroid and Fujifilm Instax in a variety of Yorkshire Dales environments. I have never used an instant camera, and I don’t recall any of my friends having them back when they were more common. Everyone else on the walk had used them, and some brought their own along for the session.

When Polaroid stopped making the film in 2008 there was an outcry from the millions of fans around the world, with many buying bulk and hoarding. In 2010 the Impossible Project started manufacturing film for the Polaroid and the world took a long sigh of relief, and things carried on as normal. Fujifilm has been making their Instax cameras for almost as long, and never ceased production like Polaroid. The Instax films are smaller and a more traditional photo shape than the good old, almost square, Polaroid.

There were six different camera models to choose from, some quite old, and most not being used in a long time. Though all had been cleaned, there were still a lot of artifacting and strange marks from the rollers. I loved them.

I started with one of the Polaroid cameras. I liked it, so simple. Point it. Press the button. Wait a few seconds for the photos to emerge, then stick the photo in a pocket to develop somewhere warm. There is nothing fancy with these plastic cameras, no focusing, no setting aperture or ISO, fixing shutter speeds. Nothing. just point, then click.

For my first image I wanted to test the tonal range of the camera to see what it could actually do with contrasting light. I am still reflecting on Robert Macfarlane’s new book ‘Underland’ as it has challanged me to think more about my environment, and think a little about what is below my feet.  Not that I was moving in to an underground system, I just took a photo of a hole in one of the dry stone walls. I am assuming this was to allow small beasts out of a paddock, it is too small for a sheep and a farm dog would just jump over. I cannot think of any other reason for it to exist. It was a view into a place I had never been, and one that was not accessible. OK, it was just another field, but hey, I wanted to create some sort of drama!

The photo did require me to lie down on the damp stony ground, and get up quite close to the wall. Point. Click. Done. New experience.

It was cold and windy up on the hill. I was advised by those wiser than me in the ways of instant film to stick the print under my jacket and into my armpit as the chemicals on the paper require warmth to do their magic. It would happen, but it would take some time. And here is the first image.

I was quite pleased. I love the light leakage at the top and bottom, though I really like the roller flashing a lot more.. They do add to the image. It is all slightly out of focus, but that does not bother me at all.

My second attempt was out in the open, with quite even light. I had no idea what this digger was doing up in this field. It was in good condition, so didn’t appear to have been here for long, but there were no tracks or other sign as to how it got there. I am wondering if it is used to bury carcasses ?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though this was taken only a few minutes after the first one the light artifacts and leakage were slightly different. There was no predicting what was going to come out of this camera, and I really liked that.

As we were walking up the field to enter into the next section of the walk the heavens just opened and dumped a whole load of very cold rain on us, it was very brief, but quite heavy. I snapped this image of Steve taking a photo on his phone as the clouds sat just over his head. I have no idea what the bright thing in the bottom corner is…

I like that these images, just look old, and slightly degraded; the loss of focus and the the flat light as a result of time and poor technology. Not that they were taken an hour ago.

At the highest point of the walk there was a collection of rocks overlooking a low bluff. I was working my around the edges and saw this small entrance point. I have no idea if it was short or long, it was small, it made me wonder what was there. Was it an entrance into the underland, to the below/ Who knows.  I took a photo, triggering the flash this time. Different artifacts.

By the time we reached the next area to explore I had used up the film in the Polaroid and it was time to swap to an Instax. The camera I was given was a lot newer than the Polaroid and had significantly less noise and light leakage, but I could not work out how to turn the flash off, it just refused to not fire. It had one more function than the Polaroid, light or dark. Otherwise it functioned the same. Point. Click.

My first play with this camera was in a small section of pine forest.  I literally crawled in to the very dense low-hanging trees for the first couple of shots. Before I knew about the always-on flash, I was trying to capture the very low foilage, the very high moss and tree litter, and the thin gap of light working its way in between. I just got a lot of very bright flash.

Similar to one of the photos I took with the Polaroid I ended up with this strange thing in the foreground, in this case, right across it. No idea what it is, nor why it is there. it did ruin it for me, and it was the worst photo of the day. Things got better once I was not close to anything.

I really like the colour palette in the Instax, it has the yellows and grey that I really like, and the green is quite muted. If only they made a version bigger than 2.5 inches.

Crossing the wall we started down a gradual slope back towards our start point at Fleur’s house. The light was just wonderful as we walked and I took a number of photos on both the instant and the normal camera as we walked.

We stopped for a while at these two trees, native trees are so rare in the dalesl it was an interesting place to take some photos. This is, I think, my favourite of the Instanx photos.

Somehow I managed to accidently take two photos (It is now three months later and I am typing this in the pub, and I have no recall as to what button I was trying to press). However, I like both photos. They break so many rules of photography; the horizon is not straight, nothing is in focus and there is what looks like hair on the lens; and I rarely take photos of people, so a personal ‘rule’ also broken. Fleur and Rachel.

That was the last of the images I took over the course of the day. I very much enjoyed working with this group of people, and with the instant cameras. Back at Fleur’s place we had a very enjoyable session reviewing the range of images we all took. No-one took the same thing, we all have a different eye and different ideas. The important lesson I learned from the people and the day was they are all valid. 

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. I recommend it. Check it out here.

Photosketch. Part one, the day.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part One.

This will be a two part post, primarily due to a large number of photos to show. This first post will be all about the day and the images taken on my camera. The next post will be all about the Polaroid and Instax images I took as the day progressed.

The reason for this trip to the North Yorkshire Dales was to attend today’s Photosketch walk. It was the excuse I needed to come north, get out of my comfort zone and share a day with some very talented, exciting and experienced photographers.

The event was advertised on the Twitter feed of Al Brydon, a photographer I follow and whose work I greatly admire, I have made a number of images that Al has directly influenced. Al and fellow photographer Fleur Olby organised Photosketch, a photography based walk by Fleur’s home near Rathmell, a village even smaller than the nearby Settle. The village had a car park, and that was about it, no shops, no pub.

The concept behind Photosketch was for a diverse group  to get together to create photographic art while walking, taking to time to think about and reconnect with nature and the outdoors. It sounded like just the sort of thing I needed to drag me out of a long photographic slump. I liked that this was about making art.  I needed to be reminded that photography is art, and I do it to be creative, not for Instagram followers.

I was a bit pensive going into this event, Al and Fleur are great photographers and I knew there were others coming, they were probably good as well.  I felt a bit of fraud coming along. What if I sucked? We were supposed to show some photos as part of the introduction, my images, my style, my lack of a ‘body of work’, would those be held against me? Would there be sneery looks at my ineptness? Breaking my main camera on Saturday didn’t help much either, cannot even look after my equipment!

As you would expect these were ridiculous thoughts.

Fleur picked me and a couple of others up from the train station in Settle, and we set off in her Land Rover (so much more appropriate here than in London) to Rathmell, where we met Al and the rest of the participants in the towns only highlight, the car park. There were five participants in all. Most of them seemed to know each other, either by reputation or through working together previously. I was not intimidated by this at all, oh no, not at all.

The day started with an introduction session in Fleur’s office/studio/barn. She lives a long way from nowhere, it is very remote and very beautiful. Pretty much all of my event mates were professional photographers or ex degree/masters students; all had exhibited before. In galleries, not in cafes like me. I felt inadequate to start with, however they are all lovely people and once we got talking things all balanced out. We are all human, and all love what we do. We are all equal, just different.

The day was split into two, a short walk to a small ancient swamp forest near the end of Fleur’s property, followed by lunch and then a longer walk into the moorland above. For the first session we took our own cameras, the afternoon was all about playing with instant cameras; both Polaroid and Instax.

The forest was beautiful, very small, very quiet, verging on eerie. It would have been magical to spend some time here alone, absorbing.  There is an interesting mix of light marsh grass and twisted beech amongst rock and fern. There was a very brief moment as we arrived were the light was stunning, though it did not last long enough to get cameras into action.

I was trying to think about my photography in different ways, take things slowly, looking at the details, watching the others; trying to get the feel of the place and get that onto the sensor in the back of my camera.

I wanted to think a bit like Al in the short period of time we had., time when I was largely on my own and able to think and focus.  A lot of Al’s work is underexposed, dark and very moody, allowing the viewer to interpret more from the things that cannot quite be seen than what can be seen.

I had to take a couple of my more usual impressionist photos though 🙂

After a very big lunch and a long discussion covering art, photography, books, nature, place and a wide range of other vaguely related subjects we all donned boots, coats, woolly hats and headed off up the hill and onto the moorland above Fleur’s house.

We were all given an instant camera, with a pack of film. I started with an old Polaroid, others had a range of different Polaroids and Instax cameras. The idea behind this longer walk was to play with this different technology, look and think about what we were going to take images of, not just snap away taking dozens of frames of the same thing with the hope of getting one good image. The instant cameras meant we could review the results today. I have never used an instant camera before, I was the only one who hadn’t, all the others regularly shot film, or used old plate cameras and were ued to thinking about taking images over a longer period of time.  This sort of low tech was what they were used to. I will talk about the instant camera experience in the next post. It was fun.

We passed an old farm house on the way and I got told off for taking photos. The locals do not like the ruin porn thing, displaying the slow decline of the rural way of life. Fair enough I guess.

The moorland was amazing, I really liked it up on the hills, we had a few zones to take pictures, with 20 or so minutes in each as we covered the six or so mile walk. It was moody and cold up in the hills and at once point it rained heavily, though fortunately briefly. The clouds were amazing and I was gutted I did not have the big camera as the wide angle was perfect for this environment. The little G16 did OK though.

We dropped down into a small section of pine forest, passing a really cool mountain bike loop on the way. The pine forest was an interesting change from the open and mostly treeless moors, and Iiked the closeness and darkness of the trees. We didn’t have long there unfortunately, I think I could have gotten quite ‘lost’ in the depths of this large grove.

Walking back down from the top we were again exposed to some massive views, with big clouds, big horizons and wonderful contrasts between the yellowy grasses and the grey sky. I took way too many photos. This is my sort of place, though I was supposed to be not taking cliché Phil photos today. I couldn’t help it, and I know I was not the only one…

Watching sweeping rain showers batter the horizon from our position of relative dryness was dramatic and inspiring and I wanted to stay longer, however those clouds were not all ‘over there’ and we could see them coming our way, with growing rapidity.

Apart from the pine forest, we saw very few trees, coming across two trees together we stopped to take a few photos, they were almost unique in that environment.

I had a lot of fun with the instant cameras, I had a go with both types and took about 24 photos. All the cameras were old, some hadn’t been used for a while so results were unpredictable, there was a lot of roller noise, but for me this just added to the joy of the images. This was my favourite, a landscape Instax. I will show some of the rest in the nex post, maybe tomorrow.

It was cold out, so the instant photos took a while to develop, even stuffed into pockets close to body warmth.  Back at Fleur’s we spent some time looking at all photos we had taken, comparing images and effects from the different cameras and discussing experiences. It was really nice, quite education, and interesting to see the varierty of styles. I very much enjoyed it. adly and all too soon it was time to be dropped back in Settle, the day was done 😦

It was a good day, I learnt some things, met some brilliant people and came away feeling validated that I can make good images. I just need to find my thing, as I don’t have a thing at the moment. It will come !

Big thanks to Fleur and Al for organising, and to Steve, Rachel, Kristell and Phoebe for being great company and good teachers.

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. Check it out here.

Taking the camera for a walk

Saturday 13 January 2018 – London.

Happy new year! Welcome to 2018. Year six in my two years away from New Zealand. Day some number of thousands in the blog that probably wouldn’t last past the first day. I cannot believe I am still here, and that I get viewers on a daily basis, thanks 🙂

El was off to the football this afternoon, she now has a season ticket to the club that will not be named by an Arsenal supporter. She also had some work to do this morning and I didn’t (well I did but meh) so I decided to take the camera out for a walk. My plan was to catch the train into the city, find St Dunstan’s Church, walk up to The Photographers Gallery in the west-end to see the Wim Wenders exhibition, buy some new walking shoes, then go home. I am trying to do more exercise than I have been, taking a camera with me meant a meandering two or three hour walk.

Now I had decided to visit St Dunstan’s Church I felt I needed to take the Canon 5d MK 1 rather than the smaller, lighter point and shoot. I keep thinking I need to replace the 5d, it is 13 years old; which in technology terms is ancient, there is a MK 4 version now. It is heavy, unwieldy, and unfashionable, and the view screen is terrible. However, every time I take it out for a walk I just love the images that pop out of my computer screen when I get home. It just seems to suit the way I take pictures. In my bag it went, with a wide angle and a 50mm lens.

On a previous walk with El I had failed to find St Dunstan’s, poor research. Today I at least memorised the address. It is easy to find.

The church has a long history, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many time since its creation in 1100. The ruined version that remains now has a Christopher Wren designed tower built in 1701 that still stands and a pile of ruins, courtesy of Nazi Germany, from 1821.

I always wanted to visit over a weekend, as it is a popular lunch and contemplation spot for city workers during the week. At the weekend it is just busy with photographers. It is a very cool spot.

The trick is take a photo that shows off the ruined church; the vines, the moss and mould, but hide the newer post-war buildings that surround it. Avoiding the fashion photographers and their detritus was far harder.

Leaving St Dunstans I started a very meandary path towards the west. I wanted to stay off the main roads and explore the smaller, less known streets, avoiding the worst of the people and finding things I have never seen before. Like St Mary Abchurch.

The churchyard led me up to the intersection at ‘Bank’,

where I headed off bank down the lanes towards the north bank of the Thames.

Walking towards St Pauls I found this rather forlorn looking closed outdoor cafe area outside a church.

There is an interesting mix of old and new buildings along Queen Victoria St, this used to be my ‘patch’ when I was a courier driver for DHL back in the 1980s, not a lot of has changed since then.

I headed back up into the lanes around St Pauls, passing the lovely St Andrews of the Wardrobe church, hidden away from the worst of the rush.

I stopped for a light lunch, coffee and a rest in a cafe on Blackfriars Rd, before crossing over, finally heading down to Thames side.

Though soon after I was back up off the main road and strolling through the peace and quiet of ‘Temple’ , one of my favourite weekend places in the central city. It is pretty much deserted at the weekend, most of the entrances are closed and unless you know how to get in, and more importantly out you would never know it is there. I was looking for some of the small flower gardens, but it is the wrong time of the year for flowers, and the few that were there were blowing around in the quite strong wind. I decided to find the exit on to Fleet St, which is not as easy as it sounds on a weekend as a lot of the place is locked up.

One of the great aspects of London, that does go a bit unremarked upon, is the vast number of trees scattered all over the central city, trees both ancient and new, near buildings both ancient and new.

Crossing back down to the river again I came across No 2 Temple Place. The building is slightly off the Thames and I must have passed nearby without actually spotting it before. It is a gallery though it was not open when I was there. I had been planning on taking a few photos using a very shallow depth of field of any flowers I found, not having found anything suitable I decided to experiment with these two small statues marking the entrance to the gallery. I liked them both.

I took the stairs up to the top of Waterloo Bridge.

Making my way through a very crowded Chinatown and Soho, I went to The Photographers Gallery to see the Wim Wenders Polaroid exhibition, which I very much enjoyed. It was quite busy as well.

My final mission for the day was to buy myself a new pair of trainers for walking the streets, I have worn out another pair with all my walking around, mainly, London. I was surprised to find this a successful, and not too stressful event. I headed home with purchases, and a what I hoped was a bunch of photos I would be happy with.

One of the things that I love about, and am frustrated with, when using the old 5d is that it is so old it is does not have an active rear screen. There is a screen and I can see the image I have taken, but the screen is small, has a very low resolution, is a bit worn and quite faded. I do not get much of an appreciation of the image I have taken. I sort of like this as it means I do not ‘pixel-peep’ every shot I take, so I tend to take less shots and use the camera almost like it is loaded with film. The downside is I have no idea how good, bad or indifferent my photos are until I get them loaded on to my computer.

I am going to say I was pretty pleased with what I got today. Going on a photo walk was a really good idea. I need to do it a lot more!