Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I'm In The Phone Booth (It's The One Across The Hall)

So qouth Ms. Harry when I was but a tender bit of a lad and she was the one girl that every boy at Lockerbie wanted to date. They were heady days, were them 1978/79 days - all exams and hormones and in my case (woe is me) pain and loneliness.
But anyway, enough o' that guff, I think that was the point in time that the British Phone Box became cemented in my being. Jings it was expensive to actually own your very own wired phone in your own house; we had one at home, but I had to really think (and ask permission) if it was OK for me to phone Steve in London on a Saturday afternoon . . . and even when I could it was for a restricted time . . . London was a long way away!
And then I moved to this Lost City on the East coast of Scotland. Being but a poor student, I had to rely on phone boxes for saying hello to all the parts of my family that were roughly a billion miles away (well, they might have been in real terms). 
Yes I wrote letters, frequently, received food parcels from my Mum, received letters from Steve and not so much from the rest of my family, but if I really wanted to speak to someone that wasn't paper, then it was load up the 10p's and head to the nearest phone box. 
I guess you can say that I became acutely familiar with that strange mixture of stainless steel, and business cards, scratched polycarbonate windows and the delightful tangy whiff of the end of an evening well spent inside the box . . . 
(Why do guys pee in phone boxes? Probably the same reason they sometimes pee in their own wardrobes [true story . . not me] anyway, it's utterly disgusting, but when the next nearest box is a mile or so away, you put up with it . . .) 
The bog standard phone box became a feature of my life - a wee lifeline home.

So, a number of years back (after I'd given them up and had owned my own actual phone for a long time) it occurred to me that with the relentless march of personal communication these doyens of British public life were falling into a massive state of disrepair. 
I started looking at them seriously and realised that neglect was really nibbling their edges, so I started photographing them. 
Now obviously I could have made them formal, straight up and down 'portraits' but that wasn't in the slightest what interested me, because (rather like that heady mix of burned cheese and brick hard pasta at the end of a lasagne, or the wonderful carbonised pieces of meat and onion in the bottom of a cast-iron griddle after a well-fired steak) the interiors of these boxes were taking on a superbly gnarly, crusty 'air' of abandonment and reflections and light. 
They were like small worlds of utter strangeness that, though being a part of the general everyday scene, were, in themselves far apart from anything normal
It was this I saw and started to photograph.
I think I might well have been the first in this obsession, because I've quite a ton of photos of these worlds now, probably enough to have an exhibition with, and, more importantly,  I've not seen anyone else doing the same thing . . . stick that in yer pipe and smoke it. 
You read it here first, so don't go nicking my ideas.

Well, recently I've been a bad lad actually - no photographs taken with the M2 since last June which is just terrible isn't it. 
I'd loaded a film (FP 4) last September with a view to taking it to Edinburgh, which I did, but wanting to enjoy the experience and not just keep stopping to take photographs, I managed a scant handful, came home again and carefully stored the M2 away with the film still in it.
And months passed.
A few weekends back I thought I really must do something about it, so, a trip to the home of golf and use the film up, which I did. Results were developed in the now standard for me Pyrocat-HD.

But before I show them, I think I have also discovered the very best way to hold a Leica (in my opinion).
Up till now I've used a wrist strap mostly, and because of the relative lightness of the camera that worked really well.
I've also used a standard strap over my shoulder carrying it at about hip height, which didn't work so well, but then inspired by Ernst Haas and this self-portrait with a Leicaflex I started thinking differently:

Ernst Haas - Self Portait, New York, 1971

I really tightened up the length on my Domke Gripper strap, draped it around my neck and it worked like a charm.
Chest height is good, because you can simply hold the camera as you walk and stop it banging around, but it is always ready to go and not too far to move from chest to eye. 
With your camera fully around your neck, it sort of makes you look like a tourist which is also good. Plus if you get to look even a tenth as cool as Ernst Haas in that photograph then all is right with the world!
This is the way forward to me - I know it sounds basic, but comfort with the camera and also how the camera looks to the outside world is an important thing.
Like this you look a bit of a putz and less of a threat and I really don't think anyone would take you seriously . . . at least that's my opinion.

Anyway, enough of the obvious, here's a few boxy pictures - I've photographed this particular box many times and it always turns up something interesting - this time it's where UV is cracking all the film stickers on the box/booth.

Don't Fence Me In 1

Don't Fence Me In 2

I wanted to find more pictures of this box, but since changing over my system all my filing of scans has gone to pot, so I didn't find them, however I did chance upon these two, which were taken in Edinburgh (about a year ago with the M2 and the Canon 28mm; film was TMX 400 and it was developed in 1+50 Rodinal.)
I love these two, especially the last one, which gives me the idea of a sort of space age rendezvous, and I have no idea why!
One thing you'll notice when taking pictures of phone boxes is that to get in tight, you need a wide-angle and you will also be restricted by the dimensions of the box (ie. the framework of the box will nearly always intrude in some manner, be it a reflection or the thing itself) but it's worth it - focus on your point of interest  inside or outside the box and let happenstance take the rest of the photo . . the results are nearly always interesting.

Don't Fence Me In 3

Don't Fence Me In 4

Well that's about it. I've spared you hours of reading this time!
No doubt phone boxes are in danger in your part of the world too - document them if you have them - they'll not be around for much longer.
And tell them Sheephouse sent you!

TTFN, . . . .

" . . . thus spake Billy Fury, ten years ago . . . ten years ago, that's a long time ago. What is happening now, that's an interesting question. Now what is happening now . . . I'll tell you what's happening now . . . urgh, Jean Jeanie flies on her own man . . . 
We're getting rather frustrated with one thing and another, this is the solution . . . 
Violence, violence, it's the only thing that'll make you see sense . . . "

OK you need to be a Mott The Hoople fan to get that last bit . . . 

Saturday, February 04, 2017

(Elephant Gun) An Interesting Session

Morning . . I know, but it's a metaphorical one, not a literal one.
I am an elephant fan having been raised on a steady diet of Babar and more Babar . . especially that bit in "The Travels Of Babar" where the elephants paint eyes on their bottoms, colour their tails and use wigs on their rear-ends and reverse to the crest of a hill to put the wind up the oncoming rhino army! It's pure gold.

I'd had a number of negatives from April 2016 that I needed to print. I'd sat on them and sat on them and actually wondered when I was going to get a chance. You know how it is - other things get in the way and before you know it time has flown and you're no further forward.
Anyway, frustrated by my lack of photographing in the latter part of last year, I was (over the Festive period) determined to go and see what I could do. 
So, Hasselblad loaded with expired TMY 400 I went out late on one gloomy Monday and came home with an elephant. Now this wasn't in the slightest apparent to me at the time. It was only when I made the prints that it struck me.

More of that in a minute, but firstly back to the negatives from April. As mentioned in FB from last year I'd had the opportunity to photograph at a place I knew very well. It was a childhood playground and exceptionally dangerous, being as it is, a crumbling 15th Century Tower. 
Health and safety would have kittens these days - but back in the early '70's Steve crawled into long lost barrel-vaulted cellars, accessible from a wriggle through old grass and a tiny gap in the masonry, and together we part-climbed the crumbling stonework and just generally footered around. 
In the 1990's when my Mum was still alive, we climbed the 'renovation' and had a lovely flask of coffee and some sandwiches looking out from our vantage point over a part of forgotten Scotland.
These days however it is fenced off all around and literally falling apart thanks in part to the over-use of CEMENT to patch a place that would only have ever known LIME.
(S'cuse me whilst I get my Hi-Viz jacket on)
Lime is a sacrificial binding material and allows movement of the substrate and the passage of moisture and frost and time through masonry; cement is a solid lump of impermeability - fine and solid yes, and initially maybe it looks like the perfect answer, but when frost gets in behind it, the original stonework "blows" and so starts the slide into oblivion. 
It's definitely not the sort of thing you'd use on ancient stonework - just ask Historic Scotland.
It was this (albeit well-intentioned) use of cement that has caused the Tower to age quicker in the past 30 years than it ever did in the previous 300.
I'm not even a builder, but you just have to read about it, and before you know it you can see how totally wrong it is.
Anyway, surrounding the Tower is a wonderful Oak wood - it is quite small, but some of the Oaks are around 500 years old, so entirely comensurate with the age of the Tower. 
I've walked through this wood my whole life from the age of 7-ish and I love it deeply, as one can only love the familiar landscape of one's childhood.
I've only partially photographed it before, and then not seriously and have always wanted to go back with the skill and the gear to do it justice . . and . . . I'm still not there.
How does one capture atmosphere?
Especially an atmosphere leaden with history, dark deeds and a slumbering peace bought by blood and death?
Damn near impossible if you ask me.
You'll see what I mean from the following:

Wilderness Garden
This incredible, dense patch of wildwoodedness grows on the site of formal 17th Century gardens

View From The Motte
The stonework you see is the 'refurbishment' - it is all falling apart now.

I think, in reviewing them, I need to go back again (what an excuse) and expose more than 1 roll.
On that day we were there, we were beset with cloud and snow showers and a rare glimpse of sun  - the below shows the view from the car whilst a shower was on. The snow isn't apparent as it wasn't lying, but it was baltic. The 'flare' is actually a sleet shower passing through.

I was desperate to capture the feel of the place, but have failed I think. 
Never mind eh!
Also. and it has taken me a while to realise this, the Distagon is very prone to flare. I have the correct Hasselblad hood for it and use it all the time, but if you look at the second print, the flare is obvious as 'sun spots' - pentagon-shaped grey smudges. I was shooting into the light there, but I need to be more careful.

The prints were my usual Adox Vario Classic (until I get it finished). Grade 3 to compensate for its age. The negs were Pyrocatted. Meow, Yeow, Mo-o-o-o-w!

And forward 8 months - that time machine is amazing, but it needs new mud-flaps.
Anyway, here's a tip. Unless you are feeling REALLY inspired, think twice about loading your camera late on a Winter's afternoon and going and seeing what you can find with not a lot of time to spare till it gets dark.
You'll come home with mostly shit. 
Well that's what happened to me - basically it was too late out, too little time to execute things, and my eyes and compositional nuance had decided they were going off on holiday to some sunny spot . . at least that is my excuse.
They were a dreadfully disappointing bunch. Film was expired TMX 400 and developer, W-o-o-o-o-W, Yowl . . you've got it.

Weird Day
DOJCA Architecture Building Front Door (And Me)
This would look a thousand times better if the door wasn't double-glazed.


You see what I mean? 
This was round the back of the Art College, just step over the nearly new Marrut film drier, now on its side and in the rain (honest) and slide in beside the knackered and thrown out print cabinets. See that grey/white object on the right? Darkroom sink - decent condition. 
I fecking hate what they've done to photography at Duncan Of Jordanstone - Joe would be turning in his grave.
Anyway, I was unaware of capturing an elephant until I started printing. 
When I saw it, it was just a bit of fake nylon fur draped over a table and that's sort of how it looked on the contact too.. 
I could probably selectively bleach the 'eye' and the highlights on the fur just to make it more obvious. And look, there on the fur, another flarey grey smudge, courtesy of the light at the top of the frame. 
Och well, them's the breaks - it's not every day you get to "shoot" an elephant though is it?

And that's it again folks.
Printing is fun - I urge you all to do it, even if it is making contacts from 35mm film onto tiny bits of paper. You have to do it if you call yourself a photographer - it's the whole point!

TTFN - and remember, if Noddy had paid the ransom, the elephants wouldn't still have Big Ears.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Small Finds And Bigger Questions

I've waxed long about the influence and guiding a certain Mr. Joseph McKenzie had on me choosing to 'do' photography, but I'll take this opportunity to describe it in a bit more detail (if you can be bothered reading) and further what I might have gleaned from the whole thing.

This might well seem rather narcissistic, but you know, it's not every day that one can say that they've stumbled upon some gold is it? 
Well, I wouldn't call this stumbling, but I would say that it was an interesting re-find. You see, all those (36!) years ago, when it got wrapped up into a square of mucho-mucho-acidic paper towel, I think I did have some realisation of its worth. Nowadays, given that Joe died a couple of years back, it's worth is far more.
You see, I have a genuine Joe McKenzie negative. 
Of me. 
But then everyone had them - all my compadres on that "Introduction To Photography" course in those far-gone days were given their negatives too. 
I've often wondered what happened to them? 
Are they still wrapped in bits of acidic paper towel and tucked away somewhere never to see the light of day? 
Have they gone to the landfill of life?
Oh yes, as I said, I still have mine - but how many can still say that? 

So a genuine Joe McKenzie negative - given that he is only now being lauded as the "Father Of Modern Scottish Photography", what's it worth in real terms? He's left one of the largest and most complete archives of any photographer, so is it just another bit of stuff to add to the pile, and, interestingly, is it a McKenzie?
Y'see, whilst it is of me, and whilst Joe pressed the cable release, and relaxed the sitter in front of a room full of other students, the man who set up the lights, the camera, the tripod and processed the film, was Sandy, Joe's erstwhile darkroom assistant. 
So at the end of the day, whose negative is it? 
It is an interesting question isn't it. 
Where does the technician begin and end, and where does the photographer start?
This negative, well, it's a bit of a dog's dinner from the moralistic point of view isn't it.
A mongrel negative as it were . . .
Ruff Ruff Ruff!!!
So, that's the introduction, and here's the offending article - what do you reckon - half sloth, half dachsund?

Like I've said, it was a re-find. 
I'd filed that scabby bit of paper towel in an old colour print envelope alongside some baby negatives of myself that I'd found many many centuries ago, and about 10 years back re-found it and filed it away in some lovely archival negative sleeves.
I knew I'd print it one day, and thought that a very (as in last month) recent negative of gnarly olde photo-bod me, would contrast nicely with smooth, baby-faced, innocent me.

So what's the relevance then Sheepy? Where are you going with all this guff?

Well, interesting turn of phrase, but a good question - y'see, I don't think I'd ever have dreamed when I signed up for Joe's course, that:

A. -  I'd find it as darn interesting and absorbing as I did.


B. - That I'd still be pursuing 'analog' (sic) excellence a whole lifetime later.

I've grown from those seeds that were sown on that afternoon. 
Joe became a sort of friend at college, and I might not have seen him in the 25-odd years until he died (indeed the last time I did see him it was a flurry of Happy Huzzah's and a well-wishing for having started fulltime employment) but I still feel that friendship counted. 
I never waxed mournfully when he died - Joe's staunch Catholicism was enough to render such words as meaningless - and I've never gone on about 'us', but I can still hear his ascerbic (but truthful) and humorous comments about life and the establishment and power; photography and music and poetry.
And I didn't attend his funeral either. I dislike such things, but I like to think in some small way he would have understood.
You see, we got on him and I for all we were as alike as chalk and cheese; he admired my abilities as a 'proto-musician' (sic) and I admired his abilities as a humanist and educator and photographer.
And seriously, sometimes, just sometimes, when I am in the dark and printing, I can sense (call me fanciful if you like) his presence, and that's maybe just down to my choices and my approach which largely mirrors his own -after all it isn't every day that you get to spend a huge amount of time learning from a Master Craftsman is it?
But that's what I did.
And I know! - I was incredibly lucky.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that one man's kindness and advice and care (and he was a big-hearted man - acutely aware of all the waifs and strays [students] that came under his tutorage) can influence one in ways not obvious at the time. 
Be careful with your life-choices - they can fly like cheerful sparrows or fall like rain. 
Joe was kind; he was a good man who believed in helping to elevate people.
And I guess, that whilst FB isn't an all singing and dancing 'do this, then do that' photoblog, some of his good will, giving and influence has worked away at me and I find I really enjoy putting nuggets of practical advice in amongst the shite and whether anyone gains anything from them or not, they're still, to quote Harry "Out There". . .
So, 36 years on - what now? Well, I print better nowadays and I can certainly take a better photograph . . . but I still would love to have the lustrous hair and un-lined fizog that I had then.

What am I talking about?

Erm, this:

Sarge, it's a . . it's a . . .

OK - stop tittering at the back. 
Of course it's A BLOKE. it's just that he looks a bit, how shall we say, feminine.
Those were the days when I was wearing Boots grey/black eye-shadow (for the Pete Way, solid and steaming chic look). My hair hadn't really been chopped since the Paul Weller incident, and indeed that was the start of my whole DIY haircut ethic.
Being objective now, I would say I look like a member of Girlschool (the NWOBHM band) circa 1980 . .
This was taken in 1981, and I was not quite 20 years old.
The flash was snooted and it was taken in one of the studios on the ground floor of DOJCA.
The thing I have really noticed is the quality of the image.
The film is Tri-X (Kodak 6043) developed in D76.
The camera?
Ah yes . . the leatherette house-brick with a lens - a Mamiya C330F with a bog standard 80mm.
Nuthin' fancy I think is what they say, but the quality?
We used Mamiyas for all MF work - I well remember the rut in my shoulder from carrying a canvas Nikon bag laden with a C330F - they were sturdy and almost unbreakable though, so that was why they were chosen. And like I say, nothing wrong with the quality of image at all.

Anyway, bring on the FFD button, 'cause we're scooting to the 21st Century.

The Nut In The Yard - Semi-Self Portrait With Rollei.

Yes, I know, it is hardly flattering, but that was a 4 second exposure in a gloomy twilight. it was taken in my backyard with the Hasselblad and 60mm Distagon (hence the massive legs!).
I had one frame left after all those chair pictures and I was determined to use it, so it was in, and out with the Gitzo, a rough squint at the focus screen, and a quick meter reading. I placed the exposure on Zone VI (for white skin) and for reciprocity added a couple of seconds and got 4 seconds at f5.6.
I then went and grabbed the Rollei, got a stick, beat Alec Turnips out of his room, screwed the cable release into the socket, pressed the mirror-lock-up lever and told him what to do.
The reason I look manic is because I was determined to be still for 4 seconds.
It sort of worked.
Quite a contrast to the preceding photograph though.
Ali says I look so much like my Mum it is unreal(ly weird).

Anyway, it was developed in Pyrocat 1+1+100 and printed on some ancient Fotospeed RC, as was the previous portrait.

Portraits are funny things, being formalised slices of time when done like this. You're not quite sure what will turn out. 
In Joe/Sandy's I can see a quiet lad from a rural background just moved (again) to the big smoke and maybe hopeful of pursuing an artistically satisfying course in life. 
In mine, I see a bit of a nut - 30 years of 9-5 but not having to have made any living at all from following artistic endevours. I can be creative me without thinking about the bottom-line and even though it's never got me anywhere, I can publish FB with impertitude and am FREE TO BE ME
Snap, print, write, strum, draw, whatever. 
Jack Of All Trades. 
Of course a supportive family helps and I have mine - Ali has been a solid and inspirational source and has never once questioned my pursuing of artistic endevours, no matter how seemingly trite, or flighty and inconsequential they are. 
You can't say fairer than that can you?

So, that's this bunch of narcissism over and done with - I had to get it up here though - like I say, that negative raises some interesting moral questions, and, like I said, it's not every day one can say one owns a negative made by a legend is it?
There'll be less navel-gazing next time - not sure what it'll be about, but I'll try and make it a bit more interesting

TTFN and remember to ask yer Mum how many beans make five.

(Bean-And-A-Half, Bean-And-A-Half, Half-A-Bean, Bean-And-A-Half.)