Photography

Photobooks - a personal list

Everyone loves a list.

The desert island game is one I will willingly play from time to time - especially with music. Although choosing only ten tracks or pieces from a lifetime of passionate listening often seems as futile as it is impossible - moods shift, needs change and new things come along. The same applies to photo books. A new one is almost automatically elevated to favourite status and, if it’s not, then the purchase is always slightly tinged with regret.

So, which would you take? No fixed limit to the number of books but let's assume that your travel is not in some kind of mobile-library(!) so that there is some implied limit.

I started by imagining a top ten. I then asked my instagram followers for their favourites. This brought me a few familiar ones and some new books that I look forward to discovering. It also threw up the question of which books qualify - I had been thinking about books by one photographer. However, there were some really strong mentions of books about photography and some collections too 


This first blog is going to focus on books by single photographers, leaving space for compilations (for want of a better word) and guides in future blogs.

I should also say that I am simply listing the book without a review. If you want to see what they’re like for yourself then there are plenty of places to look online or in bookshops. 

So.. here we go.  Click on the image for a link to buy online.

The Suffering of Light

Alex Webb

Home Around The World

Elliott Erwitt

Colour Correction

Ernst Haas

Modern Color

Fred Herzog

Twilight

Gregory Crewdson

Valparaiso

Sergio Larrain

Henri Cartier Bresson

by Clement Cheroux

Youth Unemployment

Tish Murtha

Early Color

Saul Leiter

The New Yorkers

Robert Herman

Honourable mentions to Anders Petersen, Marc Riboud, Mark Neville’s “Fancy Pictures,” and the sheer gorgeousness of Sebastiao Salgado’s use of deep blacks in his monochrome images.

If your favourite is not listed, I’d love to hear from you. Like or comment below.

Til next time.

Photo Rich. Time Poor.

I am lucky enough to have had a week’s holiday; not travelling but just unwinding, catching up and reeling back some of the hours lost to the day-job over the past two months. I suppose that it’s part of my own sense of worth and some deep puritan work ethic that I am seemingly unable to completely stop. I begin my time off by making lists of tasks to achieve within the week ahead - one of which is to write this blog. (So here I am with less than 24 hours holiday remaining and a slight sense of guilt for not having done it earlier - anyone else been here?)


One of my main aims this week was to spend some time looking at photo-books. I have said several times in this blog space that one of the best ways to learn is to look at the work of the greats. It’s so important. It feed us, educates us , inspires us; yet it’s so easy to put off. Why wouldn’t I want to invest a small amount of time in something which I know will help me improve in an area I feel passionate about? Yet time is precious. Finite.


How long should one sit enjoying a pile of photo-books for? Two hours? One hour? 30 minutes? Ten? Even that can feel like an indulgence when there are other people in the house going about their business. Surely, one can find ten minutes in a week.


It turns out I couldn’t.


I do know where a considerable chunk of my time has gone. Social media. Specifically, Instagram and Twitter. In recent blogs I have written a good deal about social media and largely in positive tones. I am not about to change my view. While I find that I have spent a long time on both platforms - or longer than I would’ve wished - this is purely my problem and not one that I can blame the platform for. However, while I enjoy the capacity of social media to allow me to see many, many more images in a short space of time than ever before in history (and very easily too), I find that there is such a wealth of images to enjoy and respond to that I am not spending long on any of them. It’s become a swipe, flick and like mechanism. I consume hundreds of images in a day and I dread to think how much time I spend on each one. Or rather, how little time i spend on each one. I’ve learned to quickly take in the basic elements - composition, light, framing - but it’s almost a skim reading. Sometimes I probably spend longer writing a comment than looking. So many pictures. So little time.


Don’t get me wrong, I am inspired  by what I see on social media, I learn from my peers, and it definitely feeds me - especially in encouraging me to pick up my camera, get out and start shooting. I need to learn to slow down and truly consider the images before me. In short, I need to chew my food, savour it and reflect on it, rather than always subsisting on the spaceman’s diet of a dry handful of tablets that contain just enough to sustain me.


This morning, the clocks went back. Today I have an extra hour. While I have been promising myself time spent with a pile of inspirational photo-books, the week has almost passed and I haven’t achieved it. So I hereby declare that I am going to commit to spending that hour with a fresh pot of coffee and a pile of books; a collection of paper images that I will turn slowly, savour, and force myself to look at more deeply. I come to them with the expectation that I will learn from them - both consciously and subconsciously. When I next pick up my camera I will do so with the improved knowledge and better vision that this hour and these books have brought me.

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Likes, Inspiration and Social Media

My last blog garnered a good response on social media - lots of positive comments on Instagram and Twitter; if no actual direct responses on here; the website that hosted it. Maybe that’s the perfect response in itself. 

Thinking on (and I’m not the first person to think of all the things they wish they’d said after the moment had passed) I think the major omission from the blog was: inspiration.

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For me, one of the greatest honours is to know that I have inspired someone else. There were a few posts on my feed this week that drew that response - I’d encouraged photographers to go out and shoot and, more specifically, to go looking for reflections. 

Basking in that initial warm fuzz, I began to think about inspiration. I have been so inspired by so many of the feeds that I follow on both Instagram and Twitter that I was surprised that I hadn’t focused on that as a major reason for swimming in the social media pool.  

Inspiration is a two way street. I can hope to inspire - but I expect to be inspired.

The work of other photographers has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, of processing, of framing...  

It has inspired me to visit new places and helped to plan my street photography when I am there. 

I have been introduced to the work of other published photographers - both living and dead - through references and comments in feeds.  Some feeds even exist to publish work of long gone greats who probably never even used the words “social” and “media” in the same sentence.

Social media really does have the capacity to inspire on a worldwide level - both looking ahead to the future as you see the work of current photographers develop, and looking back to the past.

In short, I can’t help feeling that if you don’t find inspiration in social media then you must be following the wrong people.

 

It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.

 Jazz and Cocktails. London, Jan 2018.

Jazz and Cocktails. London, Jan 2018.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s a stupid thing to want to do.” Elvis Costello says; at least he is just one of several musicians who this quote has been attributed to. The more attributes, the more pertinent - perhaps. So, if writing about music is like dancing about architecture, how about writing about photography? And what about about the connections between jazz and street photography? That is what is currently occupying one partially lit corner of my mind.

 

Many great photographers have shot evocative images of many great jazz musicians, it's true - deep blacks, crisp rim-shot whites, all filtered through a haze of filter-less Gitanes smoke. You can almost hear the flattened fifths of the tenor saxophone. The music and the stylised black and whites take us back to a bygone age when cigarette smoke was de rigeur and a kipper tie, pork pie hat and blacked out shades was the uniform of the new school of jazz. But that particular alley is not where we are heading.

 

Instead, I want to explore the connections between jazz and shooting on the street.

 

Music and photography both have their own distinct subcultures or genres, each demanding a different appreciation and I think there are similarities here. Take landscape photography. This requires a considered approach, taking time, preparation and precision to create the greatest images. In this it is a kin to classical music. The holiday snapshot; surely that’s pop music. Immediate, brash, unsophisticated for the most part, disposable yet relevant and life enhancing. Street photography must be jazz. 

 

Jazz relies on certain rules or forms. Structures are learned - scales, cycles, blue notes - forwards and backwards and around. Well known songs, standards, are revisited time and time again as new elements are unearthed and discovered or rediscovered by new bloods eager to make themselves heard. It requires a great deal of technical proficiency. These structures are echoed in street photography with its foundation in other genres of photography and of visual art - the rules of composition, the work of the greats on whose giant shoulders the photographer attempts to climb.

 

Perhaps the defining feature of jazz is its reliance upon improvisation. True, this is not confined to jazz. Classicists will tell you that the great composers created frameworks for improvisation. However, it is improvisation which defines jazz. This, to me, is where the arcs of jazz and street photography swing closest to one another.

 

The dictionary will tell you that improvisation can mean making do. Who would want to sit on an improvised chair, or tuck into an improvised meal? Improvisation in jazz is not about making do. Far from it; but it is about making, creating something afresh. It is about an artist at the peak of his/her powers, creating something on the spot whilst referencing the traditions that preceded them and demonstrating their technical prowess in response to a given situation. It means a high level of technical proficiency combined with a high level of creativity.

 

Isn’t this what the street photographer does? In creating a new image, they bring to bear the knowledge of every image they have ever been influenced by. They use their technical expertise coupled with the inside-out knowledge of their camera, each button and lever falling into place instinctively just as the keys of every piano or saxophone do in the hands of the most skilled jazz musician. And they do this instantaneously; responding to whatever happens along.

 

It is this ability to react quickly to whatever is going on around them which makes a great street photographer or  great jazz musician. It is part anticipation, part learned technique and part luck. The challenge is to rearrange the world into something beautiful from whatever ingredients you are handed at the time.

 

The moment of creation is one of stepping off into the void. For a jazz musician, it means being able to imagine the sounds before they have been made; for a photographer it is about envisaging the image before the shutter is pressed. Nether moment is repeatable in quite the same way. This is what puts the energy into the piece or the image. This is where the excitement lies.

 

Perhaps most significantly, jazz also likes to throw away the rules. At its most free, it is simply a celebration of sound and reaction to an environment. Street photography, too, is at its most creative and innovative when it bends the rules, breaks the structures and surprises our expectations. A celebration, a riot of light.

 

As the great Charlie Parker said: “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

 

Jazz has always doffed its pork-pie hat to tradition but forged bravely forwards into new territories and this, to me, is what street photography does best.

2017 Reflections

According to Lightroom folders, I’ve taken about 20% more photos this year than in 2016. I already shoot too many. Of course, the number on file is nothing compared to the number taken - I delete a huge proportion of the number I take. And, I guess, like any street photographer, many of these will include the nearly shots - the ones that would’ve been classics if I hadn’t missed a head off or framed the action too far off the edge, or forgotten to switch the camera on/insert SD card/bring extra batteries. Ah the ones that got away.

 2017....

2017....

 

Crucially, have I improved? As Yoda puts it in the latest Star Wars movie “The greatest teacher failure is.” Perhaps this is the new hope - that we continue to learn from our mistakes. I have to believe I have and looking back at last year’s photographs I certainly feel that this year’s crop are more knowing, more intelligent. They have probably lost a certain innocence or naivety. That, in itself, may not be such a good thing. It isn’t good if my images have simply aligned themselves to others' perception of what makes a good shot. I hope that I have maintained an essence of me and even developed a more recognisable style. I still try to take the pictures that I want to see - rather than trying to conform to someone one else’s view of what works.

 

This year I have even discovered the joys of printing. For as long as I’ve been taking photos seriously they have existed only on a computer screen or a mobile device. My first exhibition at the tail end of the year necessitated finding out about printing and seeing the first fifteen black and white images printed was such a proud moment, eager to unwrap them at my desk and showing any poor soul who happened to be passing. Thanks to the Printspace for doing such a great job. The exhibition was a far greater success than I could ever have dreamt and I loved giving my talk - who knew I’d love talking so much? (Ahem!) Following the exhibition, some of the prints now hang in my home and in my office and I do still enjoy seeing them, adding to the sense that I am shooting the shots I would like to see. Long may that last.

 

A year ago my website was only a few months old. A year on, blogging hasn’t exactly been frantic but it has been fairly regular and consistent - enough to see the site in the top 50 street photography websites online - though I wonder how many there are… I’ve bashed away on Instagram and Twitter and seen my following increase, now approaching the 1,100 mark on instagram (not huge but not nothing). More importantly, as a result of plugging away on these I secured an interview and feature with Digital Photographer (Issue 195) and a feature on www.streetphotography.com. Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Honestly, if you’d told me at the beginning of 2017 that by the end I’d have achieved half of the things above I would have struggled to believe it. I’ve been very lucky and very well supported. You know who you are... thank you.

 

Artistically, my photographs are better. I know they are because I am more fussy about quality control and what I will allow through. I have improved my editing workflow and become better - more subtle but still with some way to go especially with colour. I have honed a style that uses sub framing a lot and is better for it. I have improved my techniques with night shots and my street work is now more about capturing well composed moments and not simply catching a passer by on the way to the supermarket.

 

So, if could go back a year, what advice would I give myself?

  1. Believe in what you’re doing especially the black and white - and be true to your vision of what is right.
  2. Keep pushing the social media on a regular basis. Blog too whenever you can.
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of just sitting and looking at pictures - online, in a book or a gallery. If that doesn’t sit comfortably with your Protestant work ethic, then think of it as high class training for the eyes.

Always Rattling Something...

"They're not comfy or cosy. You're always rattling something."

 

This is how my photographs were described to me recently. I’m still not quite sure how to take it but at least it means I’m developing something of a recognisable photographic style. Every photographer, indeed every artist, seeks to develop their own style over time, whilst also acknowledging the debt we each owe to those who inspire, and have inspired, us.

Standards.

 

As a sixteen year old with a trumpet in my hand I was keen to hone my own sound and thought the best way was to try to avoid any influences. So turning my back on the Miles Davises, Freddie Hubbards, and Lee Morgans, I tried to reinvent jazz as we know it. That's why you never heard of me.

 

I suppose that when I think about my musical taste (if taste is the right word - maybe voracious appetite would be a better description) I realise that it is more quirky than mainstream and this probably represents my world view. It would seem that my street photography is also a reflection of that. My personality/interests/quirks are showing through. And I suppose that's a good thing even if it's not for everyone's taste. At least it means my own style is developing. Whether a style ever fully develops and we, as artists, reach an end point is debatable - and probably for another day.

 

I know some people are shocked by what I do and feel that I am invading privacies; quietly disapproving of candid street photography. Others look but can't imagine getting so close or being so brazen. But maybe this is just me out there rattling something. I certainly don't do it to cause offence. I just like to capture the mundane and shine a spotlight on it, the way I see it.

 

And with this blog, I now get to write about it.

 

This week it somehow found itself in the top 75 street photography blogs in the world. For that, I am very grateful and have a nice new rosette to show for it emblazoned on the site, like a calf length tattoo - but one which I won't be hiding in my sock at interviews. A huge thank you for putting me there. If you'd like to see the list including the other 74 then you can find it here:

http://blog.feedspot.com/street_photography_blogs/

 

Please do click through and take a look at some of the amazing thoughts and images my street photographer colleagues have posted.

 

Teaching me to see.

Of course, in my last blog, I didn’t mention the main reason that many people take photographs. The creative outlet. I firmly believe that our capacity to express ourselves artistically is a major element of what separates us from beasts. I have always felt this drive - be it through music, writing or photography - and have dabbled in several areas while I have sought to find my voice, my style or the best way to express myself. It is a basic need and one which often restores equilibrium at the end of a busy day; for those of us who don’t work in the creative industries at least.

 

I can trace my interest in photographs, if not cameras, back to my childhood and my parents giving me a Polaroid camera when I can’t have been more than about seven. However, once my dad had read the instructions and discovered that the prints were coated in poisonous chemicals, it was taken from me in order to keep my younger siblings safe. That camera was swapped for what I believe was a Kodak Instamatic 133 with a cuboid four flash attachment. Obviously it didn’t bring the instant gratification that a Polaroid would have brought to an impatient seven year old. But it didn’t kill my brothers and sisters either.

 

  Christmas with an Instamatic, siblings and someone's friend... (c.1972)

Christmas with an Instamatic, siblings and someone's friend... (c.1972)

Time passed and I swapped the Kodak’s cartridge film and its funny purple flashcube for my first SLR. By now I was a student and could afford (!) a Praktica - don’t ask me what model or what happened to it. It was responsible for some suitably mean, moody and magnificent shots of south east London in the mid 1980’s - not to mention the flat-tops and misguided mullets of some of my friends.

 

There then followed a photographic drought - with the exception of the odd holiday and small child snaps - until two developments swept me up. One was technological with the advent of digital cameras and a chance freebie on a teaching course which provided me with a very primitive digital camera and a laptop. It wasn’t inspiring. But the technology was moving and soon I was able to have a camera that was small enough to fit in a jacket or a cycle jersey when I was out and about. Before too long even on my phone. Like many people, the best camera being the one I had with me, the mobile phone camera has become a way into (or back into) photography.

 

The second development came when I was introduced to a Fuji bridge camera and taken out into the Hampshire countryside for a day with a friend. The pictures I took that cold January day were amazing - or so I thought. Blurred streams, frozen waterfalls, close-ups of leaf skeletons … Actually, the quality didn’t matter. Here was something which hooked me. It was expressive but it also required a degree of technical know-how that I could spend time learning.

While the bridge camera has been superseded, my friend hasn’t and now many of my photographs are taken on stolen, precious days out with him and another friend - two photographers who know far more than me and have taught me much in the last few years. We descend upon our chosen venue - very often London - and shoot whatever grabs us, punctuated by espressos, pies and pints. Much of the time we are apart, only a matter of fifty to one hundred yards, but when we come back together we are always stunned by the huge differences when we compare shots on our viewfinders.

We all see things differently.

Once, a photograph was a photograph was a photograph. At least that's how it seemed to me. I've come to realise that any photograph reveals as much about the photographer as it does the subject. The three of us express ourselves in quite distinct ways and each has his own style. See for yourselves here: www.flickr.com/photos/auribins and www.flickr.com/photos/andythekeys.

Not only do I now understand that I see things differently to the photographer either side of me (just as they do) but also that I see things differently to how I used to before I was so camera-centric. A camera is never far away but even when it’s not in my hand I am constantly framing, composing and looking for images. It has made life much richer and brought the dullest activities to life. There is always a photograph out there if you learn how to find it. As a far better photographer than me (Dorothea Lange) once said: "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."