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.)


  1. Much food for thought there Sheepy. That's about the only comestibles I can allow myself these days, what with a sedentary lifestyle and all that.

    Ah, those pictures of us when we still had our lives before us, the world at our feets and anything was possible...

    I have been counting beans avidly but tend to get lost round about 3 or 4 and have to start again

  2. Thanks Julian - yes, fresh faced and ready for a hard world? Hmm. I feel sorry for young folk actually; life was always hard, but the railing you had to do when you were young and had relatively (in modern terms) little, I think, helped you. Nowadays, a lot of young people have literally everything on a plate - there seems to be precious little teenage rebellion, and I am wondering whether that actually hobbles them for dealing with the realities of the modern world. Who knows . . it's really early and I have just awoken, so it could all be shite!
    I wouldn't like to return to the world where gangs of yobs would want to kick your head in - that was awful, but I still feel something has been lost.

    Aunty Jane came up with the bean phrase, she also once said, when asked her age: "I'm as old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth"

    And yes, it is an interesting conundrum isn't it for those photographers who use assistants? Who is the photographer? Is it the actuation of that slice of time that defines them, or something else?


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