Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Making Photographs I

The plethora of modern digital cameras has made the taking of photographs so much easier, but the making of a photograph is still as time consuming and as difficult an exercise as it has always been, albeit a very rewarding one. At that point in time when you press the shutter a snap shot is taken what happens before and especially after that action is what makes for the breath taking photograph. The camera takes the snap shot the photographer makes the photograph.

A photograph like a work of art has 2 essential characteristics, it has to have something to say and it should demand attention. The more it has to say and the more profound the statements it has to make are what will push it into the realms of great art. It will engage its viewer in a conversation. How the abstract elements of line, space, form and colour are arranged will give it its wow factor, will make it stand out from the crowd. When these characteristics are both present working together with equal weight then a master piece is born.

So much of the advice on photography is concerned with the nuts and bolts of the craft. It centers around the operation of the camera, the taking of the photograph. Although handy this advice is often film centric with a manual mode of operation in mind and a pleasing snapshot as the desired end result. Today with the digital darkroom at our finger tips, the camera is just the recording device. A large number of inaccuracies recorded in the camera can be corrected with any half way decent editing software. Consequently, the mechanical operations of the camera are often best left to the machine. A photograph can be made with a fully automatic point and shoot with the judicious use of an editing program as long as the photographer's aesthetic sensibilities are turned on.

The most important thing that a photographer or an aspiring photographer can do is become visually literate. Look at the great works of art, if you're lucky enough in the flesh if not in books or on the net and discover what makes them so great. Why is Picasso's Weeping Woman, Van Gogh's The Starry Night, or Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles considered such a great work of art. Look at the work of Irving Penn, William Eggleston or Helmut Newton and see how they communicated their ideas, how they use abstract elements in that communication.

Watch TV with the sound off, how well do the pictures tell the story? Listen to radio drama, what images can you imagine to fit with the dialogue? Look at pictures in magazines, is the explanatory text needed? As you become an active viewer of the visual stimuli that surrounds you so your visual literacy will grow. It will reach a point that your subconscious will throw up the visually interesting aspects of the scenes that surround you. If you can capture them with your camera, you are well on the way to making photographs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ocean's Edge - The Photography of Louise Mann

It is not surprising that Louise Mann developed an interest in, and an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art at an early age. Her parents were actively involved in the visual arts and through visiting exhibitions, galleries and artists' studios Louise quite naturally developed a keen sense for form, color and composition and an affinity with abstract art.

Her interest in photography began in 1989 when she was given a single lens reflex camera for Christmas. It was clearly only a matter of time before the photography interest and the contemporary art knowledge converged. Louise is now using the camera to produce images where the emphasis is more on the visual elements such as line, shape, colour, tone, texture, movement or sensory experience.

The series of work presented here has been undertaken along Perth's beaches, capturing intrinsically Australian and iconically Western Australian beach life. The essence of the place and people and the way Western Australians harmonize with their beach environment has been captured and portrayed like never before. Elusive but present, the figures in these images come from an ordinary existence, but become extraordinary in the way they have been portrayed in these beautifully haunting artworks. These have to be seen to be believed, and yet again, Louise creates these effects in-camera, washing away superfluous detail to leave us with basic colour, composition and form in order that we might interpret for ourselves and connect on a personal level.

Louise Mann lives in Perth Western Australia with her husband and three young daughters. You can view more of her unique images by visiting www.louisemann.com.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Fiction of the Photograph

A recent example of photographic “trickery” is that of a gun toting bathing beauty purporting to be the American vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Through the relatively simply procedure of putting the head of one person upon the body of another its author has expressed a political opinion that resonated with enough people to ensure a wide distribution. Its undefended status as a fake can be seen as an extension of the author’s opinion albeit unintended.

One hundred and sixty years ago British photographer Roger Fenton made two photographs entitled “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” relating to the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimea War. Each photograph depicted a road between two hills. In the first photograph cannon balls littered the hills sides whilst the road was devoid of the ordinance; the second photograph showed the same scene with cannon balls on the road.

American film maker Errol Morris devoted several hundred column inches in the New York Times last year detailing his investigation into the order in which these two photographs were taken. He conclusively proved that the scene with the cannon balls on the road was taken second and by implication it was a set up perpetrated by Fenton. In the age of Photoshop such duplicity would result in instant dismissal, although the second photograph is arguably a more accurate rendering of a bombardment.

What would take several hours of manual labor, transferring cannon balls from the hill side to the road, can today be created in minutes with a computers cut and paste facility. Like the recent pair of Iranian missile photographs. The first showed four missiles being launched with one of them having been Photoshopped. The second, released a day later, tended to confirm the manipulation accusation by showing an identical scene but with only three missiles being launched and a mobile launcher replacing the fourth missile.

The Photoshopping controversy ensured an arguably longer life than the images merited and overshadowed the story being told. In the current political climate of Israel and the US threatening to bomb Iran, the Iranian ability to retaliate with either three or four missiles is a moot point, that they can retaliate is the story. And that the Iranian missile launchers are mobile reduces the first strike capability to neutralize retaliation. Meanwhile the chatter about the naughty Iranians manipulating their photographs dominates.

This chatter resonates around the documentation of the moment in time captured by the camera is the depiction of a fact and that fact is the truth, the camera doesn’t lie. That this is preposterous is self evident because it ignores the values of those involved in the photographic process from the photographer via the client to the consumer. For all photographs are colored by values ranging from morality, meaning and personal goals to views on life’s larger purpose of the photographer and or their customer.

The October cover of The Atlantic Magazine and its resultant controversy shows what happens when the values of the client and the photographer differ. The magazine wanted “a shot that makes the Republican presidential nominee (John McCain) look heroic” and in their wisdom selected the self-professed "hard-core Dem" photographer Jill Greenberg to take the photos. Surprise, surprise the photograph is not very flattering and others from the shoot have been manipulated to show her political stance and reportedly posted on her website.

All the photographs from the shoot are of John McCain (the fact), how he has been portrayed ranging from old man to ghoul are various aspects of the photographers relationship with him (the view). Had The Atlantic hired a Republican photographer and been given a flattering rendering of the nominee it would have been as fictitious as the others. For as long as photographs are made by people the facts will be seen through the prism of their views.

It is unrealistic to expect it to be otherwise. For all photographers not only bring their camera to the shoot but also their views and/or the views of their employer. Whether it is the depiction of an event, the presentation of an opinion or the portrait of a celebrity it is the view the photographer imposes on their work that turns the fact into fiction.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Work

The Space Between
I made this piece a few weeks ago and was in two minds about it. But it has grown on me and is becoming a firm favorite.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kalbaryo – A Shrine to Celebrate Easter

First published in The Expat Travel & Lifestyle Magazine March 2008

The Philippines is the third largest Roman Catholic country in the world with some 80% of the 85 million Filipinos following the faith. Although religion and the state are constitutionally separate, the Church has a significant influence on both the affairs of state and the affairs of the average citizen. But this is a two way street with a heterogeneous fusion of indigenous elements into the main stream of Catholicism resulting in a folk Christianity unique to the Philippines.

The major events in the Christian calendar, Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, are all celebrated with gusto with Easter or Holy Week, as it known in the Philippines, being the one that ignites the Filipino passion. From the public self-flagellation and crucifixions of Pampanga Province through to the street parades and the Easter Shrines of Makati City’s Poblacion barangay with their infusion of popular and/or indigenous cultural influences, Holy Week is the celebration of the calendar.

For over half a century, the 17000 residents of the Poblacion barangay have held street parades, a Saturday night vigil or salubong and constructed shrines known as kalbaryos in honour of Holy week. Each year up to 40 of these shrines are dotted about the one square kilometer that is this inner city suburb. Some are existing chapels, given a spring clean and a coat of paint, but the majority are new constructions with many blocking vehicle access to streets of the suburb.

Throughout the year, street groups known as Samahan raise the up to 50,000 pesos required to employ an artist, feed and water the volunteer assistants and obtain the materials necessary to actualize the artist’s vision for their Kalbaryo. Although sacred in inspiration, the designs are often secular ranging from the American Wild West to the pharaohs of Egypt for their chosen themes.

These Kalbaryos are folk art of the first order. Utilizing a range of materials from the time honoured papier-mâché to polystyrene, the 20th Century’s set builder’s material of choice. Along with the tradition building materials of bamboo, ply wood and timber through to bricks and mortar that call on the trade skills of the residents which when combined with the artist’s skill with the brush produce settings worthy of an off Broadway production.

Into these artistic expressions are placed tableaux of life size mannequins, dressed in fine raiments, depicting scenes from Jesus’ last days on earth. The Samahan also construct floats to carry their tableaux in the evening street parades that are an integral part of the Holy Week celebrations. More often than not, these floats, which are carried or pulled along the parade route by the people power of the Samahan members, carry their own power supplies to illuminate the scenes depicted.

In the weeks leading up to Holy Week, streets become impassable to vehicles as the construction takes place. Scaffolding is erected, frames are built and clad, sculptures several meters high are constructed, water features are incorporated, lights are installed as the chosen street corners become bee hives of activity. When Holy Monday, the start of Holy Week, arrives the activity goes up a notch, the Kalbaryos must be completed by Wednesday evening.

For its arrival heralds the first street parade which wends it way through the barangay incorporating every Kalbaryo in its route. The devout carry crucifixes for installation in the shrines and a selection of the tableaux make the journey accompanied by the Makati Marching band. It is now that Christ’s Pasyon, the marathon chanting or singing of the poem of Jesus' life, passion and death, which is recited round the clock, begins and continues through to Good Friday at each of the shrines.

Maundy Thursday sees thousands of people from all over Metro Manila descend upon the Poblacion barangay. They wander the streets admiring the diversity of the art on display. There is carnival atmosphere in the air as excited children run and point, adults ooh and ah, street sellers hawk their wares and camera flashes bounce off the walls of the Kalbaryos. As evening descends, the throng of spectators’ increases until streets like A. Mabini, which has 5 Kalbaryos scattered along its length, becomes a sea of people happily mingling together and jostling each other as they view the artistic endeavors of the Poblacion residents.

On the evening of Good Friday the big parade of the week, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, winds it way through the streets of the barangay. Replete with marching bands, hundreds of people carrying candles, the black draped, bare footed mourning women who silently pass two by two along with all the shrine’s tableaux on their floats. This procession takes a good hour and a half to pass any given point. Meanwhile the crucifixes in the Kalbaryos have been draped with a black shroud which will remain in place throughout Easter Saturday.

After Saturday’s midnight mass, at the parish church of Saint Peter and Paul, effigies of Jesus and Mary are carried along different streets to meet for the Salubong outside the Poblacion Sports complex. There, a temporary stage has been erected upon which a choir of children dressed as angels await their arrival. The statue of Mary has her head shrouded with a black cloth and before a crowd of several thousand people packed into this impromptu town square it is removed when she meets her son. Blue and white helium filled balloons bare her shroud into the dark heavens above.

Eight to ten hours after this two a.m. meeting, many of the Kalbaryos are builder’s rubble. They have had their 4 days in the sun and over the following few days any trace of their existence will have vanished. Except perhaps for a painted section of road way and memories recorded on cell phones and tourist cameras.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An American in Lebanon

Marc Nader took his first snapshot on the spur of the moment back in 1963 when he asked a friend to lend him his Kodak Brownie to take a picture of a regatta on a heavily overcast day. When he looked at the resulting 3x3 print of those colorful sails against that dark cloudy sky he was amazed at how such a simple plastic box could produce such a beautiful image. That was the very moment when photography became his second passion [Marc is also a music writer].

In 1970, he graduated from Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris and decided to embrace photography as his full time career. Ever since, for almost 40 years, Marc has been a commercial and fashion photographer in France, Lebanon, and the US. But he considers himself primarily a fine art imager with his eyes always open to the beauty around him waiting to be captured. He also teaches photography in the Department of Architecture & Design at the American University of Beirut.

You can see more of Mark's work here

Monday, September 22, 2008


The web site www.pissedpoetpics.com is no more. Over the next few weeks the interesting parts, the guest galleries and some of the essays from pissedpoetpics will be transferred onto this blog. Should a phoenix rise from the ashes you can rest assured it will be announced here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Lensbaby effect without the Lens or the Baby.

For selective focus shots the lensbaby has taken a firm hold in the industry. This lens with its flexible tube allows the photographer to have one section of their image in sharp focus whilst all the rest has a soft blur. All those minimal depth of field shots in food, lifestyle, travel or health magazines in recent years more than likely were created using a Lensbaby. Which is great if you have a camera which allows you change lens, but if you have a fixed lens camera this effect is just a pipe dream.

Well not anymore.

Here is a recipe to create the very same effect using your digital editing software with results that equal or may even surpass those made with the Lensbaby.

The image at the start of this post was made using this recipe.

Being a Photoshop junkie I will use their work flows although I am sure other editing software can achieve the same results.

Step 1
Upload your image and do your usual post production editing to tweak it to your look. My preference is to shoot in RAW and upload at 300dpi, I like lots of pixels to play with. This recipe will work with other resolutions but, as always, the more pixels you have the smoother the end result.

Step 2
Select your focal point. Using the Radial Blur Filter, in PS that is Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Select the zoom option in draft mode at about amount 18. The result will be pretty ugly but it makes it quicker and easier to see exactly where your focal point will be. Position your cursor on the central dot in the 'blur center' screen, left click your mouse and then position that dot over the part of the image you want to be the focal point. Apply to the image and see how close you are. This will take a few attempts which will require you to step back through your history for each attempt.

Step 3
Once you have found your focal point step back again in your history select the Radial Blur Filter and change the mode to Best and adjust the amount down to what looks good to you whilst staying in zoom. I find that a range of 7 to 12 works for me most of the time. Apply this to your image.

Step 4
Without stepping back in history this time, open the Radial Blur tool again and select spin at an amount of 2 or 3 and apply it to the image. You're almost done.
Now sharpen the image, I like to use USM at around 100 for this. I also add a touch of noise to smooth out any jaggies that may appear, in PS that is Noise>Median set at 1 to 3 pixels.

Crop (if necessary) and you are done.

Please note that different amount settings in steps 3 and 4 will produce different results with higher settings producing a more dramatic effect, so play until you have the look you want.

Not too difficult and you have the Lensbaby look for your photograph without the use of the actual lens or the need to buy that expensive DSLR body..

Saturday, September 20, 2008

End of an Era

Polaroid Corp ceased manufacturing the Time Zero film in December 2005. An era of 28 years of Altered Polaroid photography had ended.

Michael Going has long been internationally recognized for his innovative work with Altered Polaroid SX-70. Cited as the 'Master of the Manipulated Polaroid' (Photo District News), Michael was first celebrated for groundbreaking editorial essays in Sports Illustrated, Time and many other publications. His unique work has been profiled in leading graphic and photography publications including Communication Arts and American Photographer. Since 1978 he has created a vast body of work including essays on Paris, New York City, Los Angeles, the Ballet and numerous other subjects. Going makes large limited edition prints of his work that are in museums, corporate and private collections. The photographs shown here are from his Los Angeles series.

Hollywood Mural .......................Sinatra Mural

Universal City Station..................Hollywood & Vine

Bulldog Venice Beach..................Muscle Beach

Day Glo Luci................................Blue Shoes

To see more of Michael Goings work click here

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Power Play (The Photographic Art of Alain Bali)

Alain Bali is a photographer obsessed with color, so much so that he invents his own color rainbow. Currently utilizing Photoshop's CMYK channels and the blur and contrast tools he creates his images from photographs captured on film.

Prior to being rescued by the digital darkroom Bali shot in black and white and colored his images with the use of chemicals thus avoiding the standard "canned colors" designed by Kodak and company. He searched old chemistry books and pulled out toning formulas, intending to colorize black and white paper, sandwiched together 4x5 black & white films and used a Chloric and Nitric acid mixture to carve the gelatin to apply organic dyes in layers. The result was amazing one-off prints that were never reproducible.

Bali was introduced to photography through his father who took so long framing the family snapshots that the subjects wandered away. He took over and taught himself camera technique, to always be prepared, to be fast and which the best angles were. At university he studied philosophy with his doctoral thesis being on "the image as language".

Growing up in Europe Bali was immersed in strict concept of art photography being black and white, taken on Tri X film, processed in D76 and printed Agfa Bromura #3. Color was regulated to documenting reality, not Art. A major influence for Bali at this time was William Klein for whom he printed the master's images from Tokyo and New York. Bali was able to spend days in the darkroom working on just one image, wasting boxes of paper until the 'perfect print' emerged.

In 1983, Bali left France and moved to the US and current resides in Los Angeles where for the last 15 years he has been shooting movie posters. He has made his living for all of his working life from photography and philosophizes "If you intend to live off your photography, you have to shoot like a mercenary and be flexible enough to cope with lame art directors."

Fortunately these days are behind him and now he can concentrate on his art as seen here and on his web site www.alainbali.com