To see a sea of steps

For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the photograph known as “The Sea of Steps”. This image was made in 1903 by the early English photographer Frederic Evans. Evans had been a keen amateur photographer since the 1880. His specialism was the cathedrals of Britain and France. He gave up running his book shop in London when in 1887 he was given the chance to exhibit at the Architectural Club in Boston in 1887 (aged 45) to pursue photography as his full-time profession.

The Sea of Steps - Frederick H Evans 1903

The Sea of Steps – Frederick H Evans 1903

In 1900, he had his first solo exhibition at The Royal Photographic Society and was elected to the Linked Ring Group which boosted his reputation beyond compare. In 1903, he was invited by Alfred Stieglitz to have his work featured in the new Camera Work journal. This was accompanied by an essay by George Bernard Shaw.

It was this year (1903) that Evans created his iconic image. The photograph is simply of the steps that lead up to and past the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral. These steps show many hundreds of years wear by members of the chapter and clergy, pupils from the Cathedral School in Wells (of which I was one for 5 years) and now, the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the cathedral every year.

The steps appear to flow up and around the corner into the chapterhouse hence the name “Sea of Steps”. The composition is fairly simple, but very well balanced. It obeys the rule of thirds and the “magic ratio” in equal measure. He has managed to keep the verticals parallel, and importantly, the tonal reproduction is stunning.

I have only once seen an original (printed by Evans)on display at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath although there is a very nice later print in the chained library in Wells Cathedral. Original prints (of which I believe there were only 5 or so) command a huge price. The last one that sold as far as I’m aware was sold by Sotheby’s in New York in 2013 for $233,000. This puts it slightly out of the grasp of the average collector. Apparently though, this was for a silver gelatine print which bizarrely is rarer as he preferred to print using the far more expensive, but beautiful Platinum process.

In 2015 I was given permission by the cathedral to produce a series of images of the cathedral with the intention of having an exhibition of them in there at some point. After completing the nave and the chapterhouse, I next moved onto the famous steps.

My technique was slightly different to that of Evans given that he used a traditional plate camera, producing large glass negatives that would then be contact printed onto the paper in his darkroom at a later date. Even though I was using modern equipment, my remit to myself was to do as I believe Evans would’ve done had he been around today.

My equipment for the shoot was my old (it’s not dead yet) Canon 5d mk2 and the fantastic Canon 24mmTSE2 lens. This lens allows all of the movements (tilt, shift, yaw etc.) that are available on a modern large format camera and are probably comparable to what was available to Evans. This was all fixed to my trusted Manfrotto 55 tripod. Interestingly (well, I think so) I use the screen on the back of the camera to compose shots like this (with grid lines turned on), so I am working almost as I would with a large format camera, just without the smelly cloth over my head.

I worked quite methodically to try and find the exact place where Evans would have placed his tripod. I later found out that when the image became popular at first, marks were made in the floor, so photographers could easily find Evans’s spot. I didn’t know this at the time, so had none of this luxury.

I can’t tell you the exact settings for my camera as I work in quite an erratic way, just spinning dials until it all clicks into place. All I know is that I shot at ISO200 with the lens shifted upwards with no tilt. I also used 4 separate spirit levels to ensure that the verticals were (err, well) vertical. The image was then processed very lightly in a mix of Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and importantly the amazing Alien Skin Exposure software. This enabled me to apply the grain structure and contrast etc. of Fuji Acros 100 film (which is a favourite still in my analogue camera). I also used this software to give the image the subtle toning of platinum prints.

My version of the famous "Sea of Steps" photograph

My version of the famous “Sea of Steps” photograph

I am quite happy with my finished image. I have achieved a slightly wider image area than the Evans original, but kept the same perspective. This is due to the limitations of the older lenses compared to my modern architectural specialist glass. I am quite happy that if it had been possible, Evans would have tried to include this extra detail.

In researching for this image, I did the ubiquitous google image searches. Most of the images found, either used very wide lenses, low angles or other techniques that add nothing to the image and in my opinion look a tad tacky. I have always had a thing about odd camera angles and “special” effects and am of the opinion the just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

My ultimate plan for this image would be to have a genuine platinum print made from the file and have it presented in the same way as the originals I have seen. Maybe one day my prints may find their way into the cathedral library along with their inspiration.

All of my cathedral images so far can be seen at: http://www.andrewchamberlain.co.uk/-/galleries/prints/wells-cathedral-prints/-/medias/1488014f-b631-4b62-8eb7-3e90187aed2b

 

 

 

Auntie Dolly

 

Auntie Dolly sat by her range - taken by me age 14

Auntie Dolly sat by her range – taken by me age 14

Whilst struggling with the never-ending task of setting up my new laptop, yesterday I came across some folders of photos that haven’t seen the light of day for many a year. At roughly the same time, I found a photo that I casually took last year whilst doing the annual tradition of Christmas churchyard flowers. When I looked at this photo, I realised that Auntie Dolly passed away twenty years ago today.

 

Dolly (or Dorothy Lillian to give her proper name) was my great aunt. She was my paternal grandad’s sister and her and her husband (uncle Charlie) were like a third set of grandparents to us. I have always felt that it’s their rural ways that have made me the way I am more than most things.

 

To say their life was a bit on the basic side is quite an understatement. For as long as I knew them, they lived in an amazing little cottage in the village of North Wotton between Wells and Shepton Mallet in Somerset where they worked their life around the old coal range in the kitchen. This was where they cooked, lived and what they used to heat the house. For years there was no running water until a neighbour put in a standpipe outside the back door for them running off his own supply. By modern standards, the house was quite dirty, but in all the years I knew her, she was never ill and thinking back, neither were we. There’s certainly something to be said for a bit of dirt helping with the old immune system.

 

Dolly and Charlie (while they were able) had an amazing and immaculate garden growing all the fruit and veg that they (and us) needed. There were runner beans in massive towering corridors, carrots as far as my little eyes could see, lettuce and cabbages that were big and that the slugs and rabbits would never dare touch for fear of the wrath of Charlie.

 

There was an orchard full of apples, pears, plums and adventures. Charlie, as soon as he could, taught me the art of grafting fruit trees, something I really should have another go at soon. We even did one tree with two different varieties on one stem. Charlie showed me how the mistle thrushes would “plant” the seeds of the mistletoe in folds in the apple trees. This fascinated me and is possibly the reason why this orchard is still over run with my little planting experiments all these years later. Charlie’s allotment (which he rented for the princely sum of £1 a year) and orchard are now the village hall carpark and churchyard extension respectively. I’m not sure what he’d have thought to that really.

 

Dolly used to tell us of her adventures and how when she was younger she had a job in a café in wells (The Beckynton, Now Twentyone cafe). This may seem insignificant, but back before the war this was quite an undertaking walking into Wells to do a day’s work then home later, possibly in the dark. In later years, she hardly left the village, as when you think about it, everything she needed or wanted was there. There was the village shop, post office and for Charlie (whilst he still could) the Crossways Inn, which then was a proper barrels for seats and sawdust on the stone floors pub, how I remember it the few times I went there with (or to find) him.

 

The village shop twenty-five years ago was the centre of village life. It was owned and run by the formidable Mrs (Dylis) Younger. Mrs younger was a bit of an enigma. All we knew was that she had fled Zimbabwe at the time of the take over of mugabee. She was once wealthy, had land and many staff, but now she scraped by running a tiny shop in a village in Somerset. How did this happen? We will never know. What we do know is that Dolly and Dylis were great friends. From totally different ends of the spectrum socially and economically but they were there for each other to the end, so much so that when Dylis passed away shortly after, her ashes were placed at the foot of Dolly’s grave.

 

I often wonder what Dolly would make of the modern world. I don’t think she’d like it that much. The few times she came to visit, she was bothered by electricity, the TV and so many things that to the “modern” person seem so insignificant. To some, it may seem like she didn’t have much, but to her, she had everything. She was so knowledgeable about wildlife and even with her fading eyesight she could spot a robin or (her favourite) a Red Wing at the length of the garden. She knew when they would arrive, where they were nesting and what each one of them would be eating.

 

Dolly always said that she would never leave that cottage and in reality, she never did. We suggested sheltered flats and the like, but she wouldn’t have it. One day, she had a fall, was taken into hospital in Wells, and within a few days she was gone.
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Life in a technological black hole

IMG_4721In March of this year, I moved into a little medieval cottage in (well, next to) the middle of nowhere on top of the Mendip Hills in Somerset. To say it is basic by modern standards is a bit of an understatement. My heating is via a big log burner and a couple of old storage heaters, which depending on how they feel, may or may not blow the electrics for the rest of the house. The windows are old thin single glazed, the floor gets wet when its raining hard or if it’s hot and humid and ventilation is provided by gaps under the doors big enough to fit a hand (or a mouse) under.

 

One of my initial priorities was to install the internet into the house, a task that proved more complicated and expensive than initially hoped. When I did finally find a provider, the highest speed available to me was 1meg. Deciding this was pretty much pointless, I just didn’t bother, put it to one side and possibly to do at a later date.

 

Now, 9 months on, this still hasn’t been done and my outlook on things is quite different than it was at the start.

 

I have found that life goes on quite happily without the internet. I have realised that I don’t need a 24-hour information stream full of transient information, that, other than worrying me and sometimes making me unhappy added nothing to my life. Now if I want access to the proper internet[1] I simply go to the pub, my caving club down the road or if I have washing that needs doing, then down to my mum’s 20 minutes away. A bit like posting a letter[2] in the old days.

 

What I have noticed is that although I am undoubtedly having less interaction with other people, that which I am having is real, direct and face to face, on the phone or using the oldest form of social networking, going down the pub. These interactions are enjoyable and instantly 2 way. No one ever says LOL in real life, do they?

 

I have realised that whoever it is and however much they deny it, most people’s life on social media is a carefully crafted version of what they want you to see or think of them doing. Everyone seems to be having amazing holidays, going to great parties, or on the flip, having a time so bad that they feel the need to tell everyone about it. No one ever puts a big post on Facebook about their trip to Lidl along with a raft of photos from the chocolate section discussing which is best, a mars bar or a Mr Choc Choco Caramel[3] and how they had to endure the one cash desk open even though there were 20 people waiting.

 

It seems to me that people are becoming tech zombies. Everywhere you go, people have their faces staring at their phones rather than the world around them. This I find so sad. Transient information is just that, transient and temporary. A majority of people if asked could tell you who presents Bake Off, but couldn’t tell you the type of tree they’re stood next to or the history of where they live. The bit I find saddest is watching parents taking the children to school so engrossed in whatever is happing on facegram, instachat or snapbook that they forget to interact with their own precious children. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn in a few years that this is having major impacts on the children’s emotional and educational development, if this is proved correct, then it’s a very sad legacy for the “smart” phone.

 

The internet and social media does have uses to me. I use it to run my business, market myself and showcase visual parts of my outdoor and artistic work and even do my banking. The most revolutionary thing about the internet is the ease of keeping in touch with friends in far flung places and reporting back when I am likewise, things that would have been either complicated, expensive or both before.

 

So, is my life any less fulfilled living in my little tech black hole? No, I don’t think it is. I have read more and learnt more in the last 9 months than in the last 10 years, I cook loads, make things all without any distraction other than that of BBC 6 Music or Radio4 which is always playing in the main room. When not working or doing this, I fill my time helping on the farm, watching the amazing wildlife[4] that lives all around me or even riding my bike or simply going for a walk in the amazing local countryside which surrounds me.

 

Did I mention I don’t have a TV? Now that one really blows the kids minds. I’ll tell you about that at a later date.

 

 

 

[1] for some reason I can’t fathom, I get 4g mobile signal in my bedroom between 6 and 8 am, so this has become my email and web time albeit on the tiny screen of an iPhone SE

[2] A letter was a folded piece of paper covered in neat handwriting, placed in an envelope and delivered to the recipient in a few days by a grumpy bloke on a bike.

[3] Mr choc is the winner for me every time.

[4] At the moment, we have 3 types of owl, 7 types of bat, fieldfares, redstarts, foxes, badgers and so much more.

An unknowing brush with greatness

UK. Bath, England. 1994. Magnum member group photograph taken in 1994 at launch of George Rodger's exhibition at the Royal Photographic society. Left to right: Eugene RICHARDS, Fred MAYER, Richard KALVAR, ABBAS, Patrick ZACHMANN, Howard SQUADRON, David Alan HARVEY, Micha BAR'AM, Burt GLINN, David HURN, Thomas HOEPKER, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Chris STEELE-PERKINS, Susan MEISELAS, Leonard FREED, Jinx RIDGER, Martine FRANCK, George RODGER, Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, Elliott ERWITT, Eve ARNOLD, Eli REED, Peter MARLOW, Bruno BARBEY, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Sebastiao SALGADO, Larry TOWELL, Costa MANOS, Rene BURRI, Paul LOWE, Donovan WYLIE, Carl DE KEYZER, Hiroji KUBOTA, Nikos ECONOMOPOULOS and Dennis STOCK. Photograph © Peter Lavery.

UK. Bath, England. 1994. Magnum member group photograph taken in 1994 at launch of George Rodger’s exhibition at the Royal Photographic society. Left to right: Eugene RICHARDS, Fred MAYER, Richard KALVAR, ABBAS, Patrick ZACHMANN, Howard SQUADRON, David Alan HARVEY, Micha BAR’AM, Burt GLINN, David HURN, Thomas HOEPKER, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Chris STEELE-PERKINS, Susan MEISELAS, Leonard FREED, Jinx RIDGER, Martine FRANCK, George RODGER, Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, Elliott ERWITT, Eve ARNOLD, Eli REED, Peter MARLOW, Bruno BARBEY, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Sebastiao SALGADO, Larry TOWELL, Costa MANOS, Rene BURRI, Paul LOWE, Donovan WYLIE, Carl DE KEYZER, Hiroji KUBOTA, Nikos ECONOMOPOULOS and Dennis STOCK. Photograph © Peter Lavery.

 

Back in 1994 when I was 20 and just properly starting off taking photographs I joined the then great Royal Photographic Society and quickly applied for my LRPS.
I decided to drop my portfolio up to the octagon in Bath where they would be critiqued by a panel of experts and peers.

All was good. I went to my assessment where they talked through the images and basically said they were ok and reached the heady heights required.

A week or so later I went back to Bath to collect the box of prints.

As I walked round searching for the right place to be, I headed towards the main octagon gallery as this was an area I knew and had been where my assessment had been. I wandered aimlessly through a door and into the big room where there was this big group of mainly older chaps mulling around and talking about life and photography.

Turns out it would seem that I had just stumbled into a meeting of Magnum, possibly the greatest group of contemporary photographers of the 20th century, celebrating the launch of a retrospective by one of their founders a George Roger. Everyone was friendly, said hello and pointed me in the right direction for the office I should have been looking for.

I suppose in hindsight I should’ve been awestruck, and now in retrospect I think I am a bit and rue a missed opportunity to speak with people long gone who are now my artistic heros and inspiration. You can’t go back in time, but if you could then this would be one of those moments I would certainly do differently.

Later on that day, I was wandering round Bath and sat down outside the abbey to have a pasty for my lunch. An older heavily bearded man sat down next to me, saw my RPS sticker on my folder and asked if he could have a look. He was very complementary, asked questions about what I was doing and trying to say and was generally very nice. This man was Micha Bar am.

So, after missing my big opportunity, I ended up with a smaller but all together more rewarding moment after all.

Sometimes the new big thing is the old thing all along

Yesterday I decided to make the most of the last of the autumnal crunchiness, get out with the camera and take some much needed new images. The night before I put the batteries on charge for my faithful Fuji x100 and thought no more of it. This camera has been everywhere with me. It’s been to the top of mount toubkal in the Moroccan atlas, it’s been down deep caves and visited most of the hilly parts of Britain either for fun of while I’ve been trying to find errant DofE kids in the fog.

So, up I get in the morning, pop the fully charged battery in, turn it on and………….

NOTHING!!!!! Not a beep, not a light, not a, well nothing. It is dead, it’s no longer a camera, it’s an ex camera, it is deceased, kaput, it is no more! Just a useless lump of metal.
So, what to do? The morning had been planned around taking some photos, so that’s what I was going to do. I looked around for options, and there it was again, sat on the shelf looking like a proud statue or a memorial from the past. My trusty old hasselblad was saying, “use me, not the pesky beepy ones”.

So off we went. Clunk, whirr, bang, clack. 52 years after it was made, it still works as good as new (if with a few scratches, missing chrome and a bit of “patina”). I had to think about everything I did, no screens, no built in meter, no auto this, no auto that.

It was great. I sort of have an idea of what images I got, but won’t know until I get my chemistry set out and hide in a dark corner waiting and wondering what will I have got. It felt good. I had to use my brain and all the knowledge I’ve acquired over 30 plus years of messing with cameras.

The reason for this rambling is a bit off on a tangent. I do a lot of work in the outdoors, running DofE expeditions, mountain biking. It has been noted that over the years that there is an ever increasing massive reliance on potentially fragile technology. People walking use GPS systems, their phones and more recently and potentially worrying satellite trackers to know where the kids are.

This is all very good until something goes wrong. This can be something as minor as a battery failing or even just getting wet. Sure, use them as a backup, but don’t rely on them. These gadgets have the potential to allow leaders to sit in a cafe and watch the kids progress on a laptop screen. This is all very well until something goes wrong.

The tracker is moving, therefore everyone is ok? Well, no, it could be that everyone is in trouble and they’ve sent one lone child to find help. Sat in the cafe, you’ll never know.

The tracker has stopped moving at camp, therefore the group are all at camp? Again, no. Maybe one has made it to camp looking for his or her team, but the rest are missing out on the hill. Again in the warmth all looks good.

The same cam be said for mobile phones. It is common practice for groups to have mobiles for use in emergency. This is good, except that in most mountainous areas and even here in my kitchen, there is little or no signal. If your entire procedure relies on phoning in at camp or when there’s a problem, then things can go awry.

In the outdoor world as per the photographic one, a lot is to be said for revisiting and reinforcing the traditional skills. When technology fails us its essential to have a plan B. A OS map and compass won’t fail you if you know how to use them. They don’t rely on batteries and work as well now as they did 50 years ago or in 50 years time, much the same as my trusty old brass camera (providing they still make film then).

It’s a sad state of the modern world that technology is seen as the saviour of any situation when in reality, that technology is what has got you in that situation in the first place.

Now just don’t remind my that my new car has more in common with a stealth jet than my first 1974 mini and yes, that never broke down either.

A crossing of paths and minds

Many years ago, one of my first paid commissions was to take a few photos to finish an unfinished set of black and white images of the Mendip Hills for Somerset County Council

The set had been started by James Ravilious, a photographer who at the time I had never heard of. He is now one of my favourite photographers and has been a huge influence on my work over the years.

Mr Ravilious sadly died in 1999

There have been many crossings of paths over the years. My first exhibition at the rural life museum in Glastonbury was spurred on by seeing an earlier exhibit of his in the same venue, preceding one by Xhris Chapman, one of Ravilious’s best friends and colegues.

Subconsciously, my work has always been inspired by Ravilious, but I’ve never realised how much.

Last month, I went to an exhibition of his work at The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. Lovely as this always is, there were some of the classic images (some of which I’m lucky enough to own signed originals of) and some new ones I’ve never seen. He did after all take around 20,000 images for his project for the Beaford Archive in Devon.

Neatly tucked in between some unseen images was one that gave me a proper tingly spine moment.

As I said earlier, my first commission was to finish his last unfinished job. At this point, I had never seen any of his images other than the few already done for this job so was really winging it.

The photo in question is a simple one of a chap ploughing with his old tractor somewhere in Devon. A fairly inconsequential image, but hopefully you’ll see why it stopped me.

John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon. James Ravilious 1976

John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon.
James Ravilious 1976

In a previous post, I have shown an image taken at Mendip ploughing match which was one for this project. Although there is 30 years between the images, the similarity is obvious. Some things don’t change. Farmers still plough using tractors from the 50s. they still wear flat caps and most importantly are meticulous about straight lines. This is something you will never get with digital.

To me, one of the best things bout these two images is that because they were both shot on 35mm black and white film, processed in the same way, unless you had my notes, it would be impossible to date either image o the nearest decade let alone year. This became apparent last year when one of the producers of BBC’s Countryfile rang me and asked if they could use some of my “antique” photos in their programme on the ploughing matches. They were shocked when i told them that there were not antique, but only a few years old.

Below is my image. I hope you will see the similarity and why it had the effect on me to see the one in Bristol.

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Mendip Ploughing Match

Mendip Ploughing Match

 

 

Film’s not dead…….. or is it??

In the last year or so, there has been a massive resurgence in the use of film and film cameras bringing huge debate about what’s best and what is right.

A few years ago, i was approached by a gallery in London about the possibility of putting on an exhibition of my work for them. They had seen my exhibition at the Somerset Rural life museum following those of the late James Ravilious and then Chris Chapman. They had read that i had finished a commission for the former before he died. All was good, we met up, but in my usual chaotic style of the time, i forgot, and nothing more was done about it.

The thing that i remember most about the meeting was that before they’d even seen my portfolio, they had asked me to ensure that they were all analogue and that no digital stuff had been done to them at all. They professed that they felt that digital prints held no intrinsic value and therefore only sold “proper photographs”.

I didnt think much of this until i read an article in the Times magazine where Sabastio Salgado was being interviewed about his latest book and exhibition “Genesis”. Whilst at school and college, we were fed images of Salgado working, always using a Leica (R Series) and always sooting on black and white film. I’m not sure what i thought when i read that he no longer uses either. He now shoots digital using a Canon EOS 1Dx. At first i though he was giving into pressures of the modern day and then read the article and all made perfect sense. It would seem that with amazing quality digital cameras and the ability to print with digital enlargers (or whatever they are called), it is now possible to produce an end product with exactly the same aesthetics and more importantly the physical properties of a high quality fibre based darkroom print.

Salgado gives many reasons for his current photographic methodology, all which show a refreshing logic rather than the rose tinted longing for techniques past. He says that the main reason he shoots in black and white is that when he started, you had 2 choices, B&W or colour slide film. With slide film, you got a box of slides, but B&W gave you a contact sheet enabling the shots to be seen in order enabling easier building of a story for the traveling photographer.

Since Salgado’s move to digital, his workflow has hardly changed. He still works in exactly the same way now that he did with film. He shoots with the screen turned off and only using the camera information he would’ve had 20 years ago and quite often with a hand held meter.

Salgado stated that he has never used a computer (and has no intention to do so), sending the full memory cards to his assistant who converts the files to monochrome (using DXO Film Pack), does a tiny bit of adjustments to levels etc and produces the most excellent prints. These prints are produced on a digital enlarger onto traditional fibre based black and white paper thus producing a print with identical properties to one that would’ve been shot on film in the old days,

Sabastio Salgado interview from the Sunday Times Magazine

The point I am making here is that one of the worlds most respected photographers has adapted to a modern / efficient workflow to produce prints of the most amazing quality. These prints sell for upwards of £11,000 each and anyone who knows anything about photography would love to have one in their collection. So why is it that the small galleries, usually representing up and coming artists insist that your images are shot on film?

I think the time has come for people to accept the modern way of working. If the end product is equally as good then the reasons to shoot film are far and few between. A point that’s often quoted is that with digital prints it’s impossible to control editions. Possibly, but no more so than in the old days. In my darkroom monkey days it was quite common for me to run off 50+ off the same print for something like a school photo or a football team, I could do this probably quicker than can be done now with anything but the most modern digital printers.

So, as I see it, the quality is as good if not better, the workflow is simpler and the ability to control editions is if anything far easier, so digital shooting is the way forward.

Or is it??

When I’ve had enough of computers, shift lenses and Photoshop, there’s nothing I like more than taking my trusty Olympus OM2n and a 50mm lens out for a day. No computers, no autofocus and not even a zoom. As my mentor said, the best zoom lens is your feet. Some of my best images ever have been taken in this way. As the old saying goes, keep it simple, stupid!

So, my point is, digital is amazing and produces images and prints beyond compare, but there is something special about a “real” photograph that you’ve made with a 40yr old lump of brass and made appear using chemicals and processes that have been around for over 100 years. It’s’ just a bit of magic and soul you can’t get with a computer.

Maybe the iPhone is the greatest camera ever made?

I know that could be a bit of a rash statement, what with those of us that take photos for a living carrying huge amounts of vastly expensive camera equipment with us where evere we go, and more so for those who have it as their hobby, sometimes simpler approach is the way forward

In an interview a couple of years ago, Annie Leibovitz the top amaerican fashion photographer when asked stated that for most people that the iPhone 4s was indeed the best camera. What was her thinking? She stated that the best camera to take a photo is whatever one you have with you at the time (as in you cant take a photo when you don’t have camera with you) and with most people these days having their phones with them all the time, this point is pressed home.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8903814/Annie-Leibovitz-praises-iPhone-camera.html

From my experience, the iPhone with it’s 8mp sensor and surprisingly good lens (which also roughly matches a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera) can take some amazing images. I have regularly taken shots with the phone that i would’ve missed otherwise and with asthetics that have proved hard to improve on with anything other than something like my old Hasselblad 500CM and its 60mm lens. Add to that all the apps that are available and you have a fantastic creative tool.

The pinacle of IPhone photography has in my opinion happened in the last month or so. The London based photographer Andrew Montgomery has recently shot and published a book “Distiled” on the modern spirit industry competly on an iPhone. Andrew has done some amazing work for clients as wide ranging as Jasper Conran, Country Life and Yeo Valley, so this confidence certainly gives the humble iphone legitimacy as a proper tool.

Andrew Montgomery – Instagram

Myself, I normally have my iPhone in my bag and have taken some pictures that I would’ve otherwise missed. I regularly use the amazing AltPhoto app to add filmic effects to the files and give them that bit more “feeling”. Add that to Instagram and you have the perfect tool for both recording and sharing exactly what you’re working on at any one time.

One of the best things about images taken on the iPhone is that due to the 8mp sensor, it’s also realistically possible to produce good quality prints up to 10″ square and beyond depending on the process and printer used.

Below, I have included one of the many images I’ve got due to just having the iPhone on me when I would not have been able to have anything else. Hope you like it. A

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The Problem with InfraRed – An adventure to the end of HIE and beyond

Ever since seeing a feature in a magazine whilst at school, i have been fascinated by the qualities of Infrared film and have made it a mission in life to try and master this most tricky of photographic mediums.

The photographer featured in the above mentioned article was the (now) late Sir Simon Marsden. For those of you not familiar with his work, he is a master if the infrared medium, producing some seriously gothic and un-nerving images of haunted sites, churches and derelict buildings around Britain and Europe. A biography and a huge archive of his work can be seen at http://www.simonmarsden.co.uk Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and his work is rocketing in price, whilst sadly and bizarrely, his books are turning up in remnant shops (which is where i’ve recently picked a few up.

About 10 years ago, i decided to dive in at the deep end, bought a book on infra red photography and a couple of rolls of Kodak HIE High Speed Infrared Film. The book was massive and in depth. it was full of examples, formulae and graphs, all about how to get the most out of this stuff. after wading trough the book, i came to a summary ion the last page that basically said “forget all you’ve just read, it’s nonsense. put a dark red filter on, set the camera to 200ASA and bracket wildly”, so this of course is what i did and the book hasn’t moved from the shelf since.

I did take note that the best conditions for this film are a spring day, late morning, so that the sun is not to high, but that the foliage and buildings have absorbed and are therefore eminating a nice amount of infrared radiation (heat). So, on such a day i packed my Xpan in the car and headed of to Glastonbury. i pulled up, set everything to idiot mode at 200ASA and snapped away. As i was using a rangefinder, focusing was still easy, although you have to adjust the focusing back to the red infrared line that you used to get on manual lenses “back in the day”.

The film was developed in Eric Purchase’s darkroom in Wells high Street where i was working at the time. You had to be very careful and either perform the whole task in the dark, or uses stainless tanks. I did the former as i never could load the metal spirals, and what with this film being so thin, not to mention expensive, i didn’t want to take any chances.

For a first attempt, i couldn’t have hoped for better results. from this film emerged the two images here of Glastonbury Tor and The Abbot’s Fish House at Mere near Glastonbury. Both of these still rank in my best selling ten images.

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Glastonbury Tor HIE

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Abbot’s Fish House HIE

 

As you can see from the above images, the main effect of infra red is to define the skys along with lightening and heat reflective / emitting areas such as the foliage and darkening any absorbent areas such as woo and to a lesser extent, the stone of buildings.

Other things that you learn after a while are that certain cameras will work due to the infrared counters used in most modern cameras will fog the film, also, the halation (the white glow effect) is increased by longer exposures. it doesn’t seem to matter what the combination, but two shots, both with technically identical exposure amounts, but one with a longer exposure coupled with a smaller aperture will always have a greater halation effect. this is possibly due to the film heating up under exposure, but in the words of Stephen Fry on QI, “Nobody Knows”

The biggest problem with IR film is that you are technically photographing heat not light, and in such, your light meter and your eyes will only give a rough guide and can both be easily fooled by a large margin.

Earlier this year, i went out with my last roll of HIE to see what i could get and almost give it a fitting send off rater than sitting like a relic in the freezer (where is always lived until a couple of days before use). I did what i always did and set the camera to 200, red filter, bracket wildly etc, but this time with more varying results than I’ve ever seen before.

St Andrews Clevedon HIE

St Andrews Clevedon HIE

The First shot of the day was of St Andrew’ Church in Clevedon, taken from an area known as poets walk due to it’s regular visits from Tennyson and Coleridge ‘back in the day’. The sun was out and you could feel the heat on my burning bonce. The image seems to have come out very nicely. theres not to much grain, the contrast is nice and more importantly there was no bleed from light leaking from the next frame or even through the camera itself. (I learnt to use something like my EOS 1V as this has a metal back that is IR proof unlike the plastic ones on lesser cameras).

Congresbury HIE disaster

Congresbury HIE disaster

I went to Congresbury St Andrew’s to try and get a picture of our local church as the last image on this film. all the settings were the same, but as you can see, it’s all gone a bit wrong. there seems to be light leakage and really heavy grain. Obviously, as it’s in the same tank / camera, it isn’t light leakage or a development problem, so the only thing that i can think of was that is just different atmospheric conditions. maybe, some light could have got in while lens changing,  but to be honest, i can’t figure it. This was at the same time, the biggest problem and the biggest joy of HIE. When it didn’t quite work, oh dear, but when it clicked, wow!!

In the last 10 years, digital technology has moved on leaps and bounds, both with the cameras and also now, the software that runs things. For my commercial work, i use Canon EOS 5D mk2 cameras, so it seemed an obvious move to see if i could attain the same visual results via a totally diferent route.

Again, Congresbury church was my subject due to is locality and medieval magnificence. The image shot has been featured in an earlier post about the lens used (The new Canon 24mm TSE mk2). The process to get the below image was quite simple. Using Alien Skin Exposure within Adobe Photoshop CS5 I ran the film simulator with the Kodak HIE settings. It is possible within this to adjust the contrast, histograms and above all, the grain and halation so associated with the original film stock. The results are quite nice and about as near to the original that it’s possible to get digitally.

Congresbury Church via Exposure 4

Congresbury Church via Exposure 4

If i was to critique this image beyond the fact that i think it’s a very nice image that fulfils my Marsdenesque gothic ambitions. I haven’t pushed the halation to much as i didn’t want to overdo the effect at the expense of the quality of the image.

Having recently updated my software to Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 (as opposed to aperture that i was using previously) a few new tools have become available to me. the most relevant one here is the “Negative Clarity Adjustment” that allows you to take the razor sharp digital image and soften it in a way that it more happily resembles and analogue image. Furthermore, I have tried having the file printed onto standard Ilford Multigrade paper through a digital enlarger by MetroPrint in london. using this method (and possible a bit of toning) the images are indistinguishable from traditional outputs. In the latest version of Lightroom, there are even functions that will enable me emulate the film, granulation and halation without any other software. Just need some practice and experimentation here.

Now, after years of not knowing and going down the digital route, i have finally got hold of some of the new Agfa/Rollei 400 IR film. reviews say this is as near to HIE that can be got now. It is sat in the fridge, waiting for the right weather to head of to a subject that i have been meaning to photograph for many years. I have a plan, i have the camera and now, once again, i have the film i need. Here we go again………….