Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Transformed Man (And Other Tales)

Well - what can I say folks except, I am sorry to have neglected you, and hello again. It has been rather a long time hasn't it, but I'll put it down to a necessary need to pull back from writing this every week - it was too much and I felt my creative juices being squeezed dry - for me, when something creative stops being enjoyable then I have to immerse myself less. 
But anyway, that's enough of lousy excuses - I am not going to be publishing this on such a regular basis, simply from the fact that there is only so much one can write about and continue to stay interesting!
So, onwards.
I met someone on the bus a couple of weeks back - I hadn't seen him in a long time (nearly 8 years) - time had changed him - he looked old, and yet when I tickled his memory it was surprising what he was capable of recalling. His name is Malcolm Thompson and he was (and is to an extent) someone who has made their entire career from photography, which is no mean feat. In recent years he has been a printer and processor, as well as doing course work on a monochrome photography course at Dundee's famous DCA.
I like Malcolm - he can appear curmudgeonly at times and yet, underneath that surface is a passionate and experienced photographer capable of not just superb images, but some of the best printing I have ever seen. I asked him how he was doing and he said he'd retired, though he still held an informal portfolio session at the DCA (has asked me to go along . . not sure whether I will or not . . I am not a great fan of these things) and also still had his wee darkroom going at Meadow Mill, and then he said, 'Well, I can't do anything else.' And it struck me then, that his commitment to the photographic image was so total that any other way of earning a living had never occurred to him . . 
Oh Lucky Man! I thought, for that has never been the case with me, but that being said I am still rather proud of my 'amateur' status, because, strangely the only thing amateur about it is that I don't have to earn a crust from my efforts. I can just about do anything I like and the only people apt to comment are myself and my wife, and, should there be any of you left after such a break dear readers, yourselves.
Anyway, back to the grist.
Before I took my break, I had a roll of Delta 400 in the M2. 
I'd broken it out for a trip to St.Andrews extended that to a Sunday wander and then decided I would finish it off on my walk back home from Ninewells Hospital where I had had to have a cytoscope examination (surely the most strange feeling that one can ever inflict on one's urethra and bladder . . short of trying to stuff peanuts up there . . but I digress). 
I had a marvellous time on the walk back, just snap-happy snapping away at anything that took my fancy.
The walk took me through Balgay Cemetery, a place I have walked in ever since I arrived in Dundee some 33 years ago. It never ceases to surprise and that day was no different, with a drear mist popping in and out off the Tay. There was something strangely beautiful and silvery about it, so I went and took some photographs in a place I have walked past millions of times, but never entered . . a waiting room for funeral services.
It sounds quite formal doesn't it, but is in fact just like a wee rural bus station waiting room!
The light and the windows though rendered it magical and rather surreal, so I set the LeicaM2/5cm Elmar at 1/125th of a second and approx f16 and started shooting. 
I even did the unheard of and went and asked a Parky if I could take his portrait . . .anyway.
Now actually from this film something happened which I haven't really found before . . 
I entered the realm of sequences. 
However these were simple, two photograph sequences, rather than elaborate narratives. 
When I developed the film I was rather struck actually by how they seemed to group themselves together on the film, and so have paired a few of them below in what I think are nice little duets (and one triptych) of light and form.
Sequencing is an art, that I have long felt I should pursue (and as you can see below, I definitely haven't got there yet, but it is a start).
A sequence, no matter how loose, separates your precious creations from being 'just' a collection of photographs and takes them into the world of visual narrative. Now if all this sounds a bit artsy-fartsy, worryeth not, I am not going to go all pseud on you (I hate 'art-speak' more than most, having been on the end of it at college) but a sequence isn't artifice, it is a genuine and valid photographic principle, and one which is all the more valid in these days of a billion-images-everywhere-you-turn-anyone-can-take-a-photo-innit.
I mean, face it folks, we (that's you and me I am talking about} have become about as relevant to the modern world as Catweazle.

Spot the difference - both now irrelevant to the modern world (though Catweazle always was . . I suppose that was the point of the program!)

Catweazle discovered the telephone . . or 'Telling-Bone' in a particularly memorable episode, and Mr. W.Eugene Smith created sequences of photographs (and remember a simple sequence can easily become an essay) that are lyrically beautiful and masterworks of craft and an advanced visual perception.
But now everyone carries a camera wiv 'em, innit.
We as photographers are seemingly redundant, because we have nothing to say to anyone except other photographers. Who gives a monkey's nuts about the fine monochrome photograph and print these days? Other photographers. That's about it, or so it seems.
This hit home to me over the holidays when, whilst photographing around the DOJCA building, a back door popped open and out came this young cove and we started chatting. He was awfully nice actually - I believe his name is Phillip Vaughan. Anyway, we talked for a while about cameras and art and it turned out (as far as I could tell) that DOJCA no longer has anything to do with 'traditional' photography. It is all digital and they don't use film, this being said, he did say there was a hunger amongst students to explore film . . but (and this is my own take on it) it is considered as arcane to the practice of art, as a plate camera would be to your average smartphone toting man or woman in the street.
Anyway, rant over, the whole point of what I have just said is that the art of sequence is vanishing, and I for one feel it is a great and solid shame.
Sorry - had to get that out - onwards with the shiite now.
I'll apologise in advance and say I am sorry to say that the images below aren't from prints - I have run out of chemicals and need to stock up and have spent all my recent pocket money on camping gear (more of that later) - so they are scans from my schiite scanner (verticals on the negs are correct, verticals from the scans are not . . grrrrrrrrrrrrr . . some tweaking in Irfan was necessary)
Anyway, comments welcome. Oh and the Delta was developed in good old (very) 1:25 Rodinal. Quite a remarkable lack of grain for such a supposed 'fierce' developer (the scans look rough because the scanner is simply incapable of dealing with anything remotely contrasty, without making everything look lumpy and flat).
The thing about the duets is that they weren't conscious at all, my eye just seemed to pick out similar things at relatively concurrent pieces of time and ordered me to make the photograph. 
This is actually where the method I expounded in 'The Ralph Gibson Experiment' came into play. I won't repeat it again, but knowing that you can pretty much count on the film's latitude to deal with everything except the grossest errors of exposure, you can set up at (in Scotland and on 400 EI film and with decent daylight) 1/125th of a second and f16 and just concentrate on composition and things come out pretty much OK. It is a weird thing actually, because by the rules, it shouldn't work, and yet it does.
I think Mr.Gibson should actually be lauded for his discovery, because not only does it work, but it works well.
Anyway, see what you think.
Here's the contact first of all - heart on my sleeve and all that . . warts n'all.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Contact Sheet

And here's the duets - I rather like them, even though they are a diverse bunch.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 2 & 4

And on

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 12 & 13

And on

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 18 & 19

And then a little tryptich

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 20, 27 & 21

I am sure that every single man-jack of you has at least two or three photographs that could go together to make something more than just a single photograph. The above aren't great, but I enjoyed making them, and the fact they are on the same film was a surprise to me - they could be better arranged, but if I start farting around I'll never get this FB posted. So how about doing yourself a favour on a rainy afternoon when there's nothing better to do. Lay out a selection of your bestest prints on as much floorspace as you can allow,and grab a coffee or tea and have a mull over them and see if you can't come up with some duets or trypti or something longer and more narrative. It will set you apart from the also-rans, and might just get your brain thinking about the images you make in a less random, clearer fashion. Not nagging . . but give it a go.
Then see if you can't pursuade a loved-one to comment.
It isn't a skill learned overnight (or in my case at all) but it is something worth doing. Let me know how you get on.
And at the end of it all, wondering how I was going to use up my final few frames I had another go at a 'Leica snaphot' except this time the camera was in it's open ever-ready case around my neck, and all I did was set focus and surreptitiously release the shutter. I am not very good at this though, because shake came in again and yet it led to the photograph I like the most from this session and the one I named this Blog after - The Transformed Man. And no, this isn't a nod to William Shatner's album, this is a title from a 1950's Sci-Fi book, but unfortunately I can't remember the author's name (Alfred Bester?). 
Anyway, the pic suits the title.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
The Transformed Man

And that's it folks - FB over and out - hopefully it won't be as long next time.
Take care, God Bless and thanks for reading again


  1. Good to see you back again, Phil. This is a very interesting post. I like the triptych best of all - you can't beat a bit of haar. Mention of Malcolm Thomson took me back a bit. As a judge, he once described some prints of mine in a Dundee Photographic Society competition as "enlarged beyond their resolution" or something similar. They were 8x12 prints from 6x9 negs - or the equivalent of 6x4 prints from a 35mm neg! He never recovered in my eyes after that. :-)

  2. Thanks Bruce - feels funny to be back in shoes after wearing sandals all Summer if you know what I mean . .
    As for Malcolm - told you he was curmudgeonly, and sorry to hear he was even more so towards you!
    Ah, the legendary Dundee Photographic Society . . never even been remotely interested in joining or thinking about it . . the only clubs I have ever joined have been to do with fish . . and they weren't the Blackness Road Pudding Supper Club either.

  3. I joined the DPS so I could see up close prints from visiting lecturers like Tony Worobiec, Glyn Saterley and Leigh Preston. The only other good prints I saw were once a year at the Scottish International Salon, or whatever it was called, in Edinburgh. The DPS was good from that point of view but I then discovered that you didn't have to be a member to attend the talks so I never joined after the second year. Then I got fed up sitting through all the club stuff on lecture nights and didn't go back. Now, it would be a 25 mile round trip to visit their club nights and I can't be arsed. There are a couple of clubs in Carnoustie as well, believe it or not, but I can't even be arsed going to see them! The name's Arsed, Can't be Arsed. :-)

  4. Fully understand Bruce.
    I am a member of Scottish Photographers (not a club, more a collection of photographers) and I've attended one of the Fife meetings, but they've now moved to somewhere in deepest South Fife, which is too far . . .
    There's not a Dundee 'cell' . . .hmmmmm
    Ms Farsey-Arsey

  5. You say:

    "We as photographers are seemingly redundant, because we have nothing to say to anyone except other photographers. Who gives a monkey's nuts about the fine monochrome photograph and print these days? Other photographers. That's about it, or so it seems."

    I was amazed at the reaction to a print of mine done on Ilford MG Art paper - the change from polite "nice" to gobsmacked "Wow!" was palpable. People do appreciate good photographs, printed well.

    I could go off on one about how photo editing software will emulate HP5+, the faded look of 1970's Kodak, hyper saturated Fuji, or whatever. But that's the point, it's just virtual, an approximation, a fake, something a bit like something. In the same way keyboard can make a sound like a guitar, it ain't a real guitar. My cry to people would be if you want the look of HP5, why not use the real stuff, for pity's sake?

    There are philosophical discussions to be had about the nature of traditional photographs, but the actual real tangible presence of a print made with care on quality materials still speaks to human beings today. To quote that great philosopher of the 20th C, Madonna, "We're material beings in a material world..."


  6. Julian - you are probably right and it is great to hear some people appreciate your wok, that's a good thing. The only people I've had admire any print I've made have been Ali (my wife), Joseph McKenzie (now deceased legend), Malcolm Thompson (who said I had produced a very "fine" fine print, which utterly gobsmacked me as he is a hell of a printer) and some friends at Scottish Photographers meetings . . this being said, I've never exhibited or really shown prints around that much, so maybe that explains my despondency.
    At the last SP meeting we had some people from Glasgow through, who knew and worked with Thomas Joshua Cooper - I think, though because there was a lot of art-speak going on I couldn't be sure, that I managed to stop them in their tracks. I had a few large prints made with the Hasselblad on some ancient Agfa MCC, and the art-speak paused for a couple of nano-seconds! Maybe I should get my shite together and get out there - it would be an interesting experience.
    Have you got a site with any of your prints on? Would like to see them if you do.

  7. Julian:
    "you are probably right and it is great to hear some people appreciate your wok"
    they might even appreciate your WORK as well . . .

    Personally, I've never had a wok appreciated by the general public, even back in the glory days of Ken Hom and the whole 'yes, you can cook Chinese food at home' period when vast swathes of cheap woks flooded the country rendering older, hand-hammered woks as arcane artifacts from a forgotten time . drone . . . drone . . . . drone . . .



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