Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Get Out Your Toys And Play.

Years ago, well, decades actually, I had the great good fortune to be permanently seated the opposite side of a crude cubicle wall from an inspiring person. Her name was Louise and she had the most strange (I thought at the time) way of dealing with the creative doldrums. 
It was simple. 
She used to say:

 "Get out your toys and play

Ah the doldrums, that flat patch of sea situated between your eyes, where whisps of Sargasso weed languidly drift by with the detritus of life.

Look, there's a bottle floating by with a message in it . . .
Quick, what does it say?
Come on open it . .
That bottle looks decades old, look, it's no longer clear, the glass has become blasted and frosted with a superb patina.
It's amazing how that cork has stayed intact.
Have you got a corkscrew?
Now, what does it say?
Gosh the papers a bit crumbly . . .
Well, what does it say?
"I can't be arsed!"

Yep, such is the case with the creative doldrums. 
It's a languid laissez-faire that creeps up on you and before you know it, weeks have drifted by while you lie in the sun like a beached whale waiting for something to happen. 
We've all been there. 
If you say you haven't, I don't believe you - it is a part and parcel of the creative process and affects everyone.
But there must be a way out.
Well, I think in part it is a sea of our own making.
And the root cause? 
Well, don't get me wrong, but I reckon you're trying to be too serious

With everything creative, there's that nagging thought - can we be taken seriously? 
Is our photography/painting/writing/music/whatever, of such a calibre that we are unafraid to present it to the world at large? 
Does it have credibility? 
Will people laugh at us/dismiss us/talk about us?
In other words, all this creative stuff I am putting myself into, will it make a mark on the world?

I don't know what made me think about Louise and her mantra, but the more I think about it, the more I think she had a point.
Creativity should be FUN.
Remember when you were young and hours could turn into days with the addition of some felt tip pens, or some balsa wood or Lego or just anything that distilled you, till all there was were the things in front of you and some creative endevour? 
Do you remember how that felt? 
I do. 
I had a jade Staedtler felt tip when I was very young. It had the colour of peacock feathers and produced the most beautiful lines in the whole world. I loved it. It occupied me for hours till it eventually dried up and I couldn't find another. 
Oh well, that was that creative world gone!
Next project? 
A gas mask bag for my Action Man, made out of plasticised leatherette; the sewing possibly the worst ever committed - I would certainly never get a job in a sweat shop - but there was something about it. 
I still have it. 
It's a stupid thing, but has a clarion call of "I did this!" to it. 
It was fun and hard to make. 
It took time, but it was all mine
Our lives are probably littered with such detritus - of no importance to anyone but us.
And that my friends, is where Louise comes in.

"Get out your toys and play!"

Her call, whilst enduring the flat hinterland of a Graphic Design Degree; where projects that should have been done and dusted in a couple of days, stretched into chunks of boredom that lasted weeks, whilst the creative urge was squashed, examined, discarded, reinstated, tweaked, tickled up and finalised to greet the world with a massive yawn. 
Ah yes, the wonders of a creative education at the time - I wonder if it has changed?

Y'see I think part of the drive behind adult creativity is that need to make your pee mark on the lampost of life - that drive to be recognised by other dogs. 
To say, This Is Mine!
Sadly though, for most of us, I think it becomes something other than the original urge to be creative in the first place
I don't know, but it is like a weird psychological thing of having to justify oneself

You know that line from Mark Knopfler?:

That ain't working
That's the way to do it
You play the geetar
On the MTV

Because you are being creative, it somehow isn't 'work' is it?
It's just you playing, but in reality it isn't proper play really, it's a knowing sort of play
The fun sometimes seems to have been left behind and it has become an artful way of making your creative output look somehow vindicated and serious, because you aren't allowed to play any more.

That ain't working.

The doldrums I think stem from this. 
You want your output to look good and right. 
You want it to look like a beacon of justification to a world who just thinks you are playing.

That ain't working.

You become so caught up in wanting everything to be just so, that the whole goal of creativity gets lost in a mist of seriousness and trying to produce something that matches your fine-tuned sense of what a world wants from the justified artist.

Of course, if your creative output doesn't quite match up to this 'serious' artiness, then (quite quickly) things can dry up.

It's an arse of a situation. 
I've been there plenty of times, not just photographically, but musically. 
If you'd asked me back in my 20's whether I was a photographer or a musician, I would have said the latter without blinking an eye. 
But things change. 
The total obsession with making music eventually turned from something that was fun to something that was deadly serious, and when that seriousness was treated by a disdainful world with shrugged shoulders and a hearty 'So What? So fuck!' then my creative urge stopped - it was like falling off a cliff edge. 
I barely played a guitar for 25 years.

"Get out your toys and play!"

Louise's wonderful clarion cry to cut out the bullshit and get back to creating for the joy of creativity - wow. The more I read it the more I think it is a joyous, life-enhancing cry against the psueds and arses who litter the worlds of creativity, demanding seriousness, dryness, concentration, dedication, justification!

That lot have spoilt it for a lot of people - they've turned the basic human creative urge into something that has to justify itself to its own ends. It's not about fun; it's not about the joy of taking a line for a walk or whistling a happy tune in the street - it's grim, psuedo-intellectualism.

I've seen it since I started Art College.

Anyway - you probably come along to FogBlog to read about photography and that's what I'll give you.
I've not been through that big a doldrum for a while (unlike fellow bloggers and pals Bruce, of The Online Darkroom and Marcus, of Marcus Peddle who have battled it recently) but I have thought at times, Is There Any Point To This?
And the big answer is no.
So why continue?
Well, it is hard to say, but I think my answer to you would be, it's FUN
I have no creative expectations whatsoever
Who the hell gives any consideration to a grizzled old snapper on the East coast of Scotland who likes wandering around and hearing the sound of a shutter whilst trying to look at the world in a different and more beautiful way?
I really don't care. 

I just do it for my enjoyment. 
At one time I might have had ideas above my station, but nowadays, nah - that's all bollocks. There's no 'Work' (that dread pseudo-intellectual word) or any of that shite here. This is me, a Leica M2, a 35mm Summaron, some Tri-X, hyperfocal guesswork, exposure guesswork, Pyrocat-HD, a bus, and a dreich City trying to improve its image with the world.
It was FUN
I didn't give a shit about the bus CCTV, my fellow passengers or the ticket person. 
I took out my camera and snapped. I played; got dirty knees and a snotty nose, and loved it.

"Get out your toys and play!"

A Bus 1

A Bus 2

A Bus 3

A Bus 4

A Bus 5

A Bus 6

A Bus 7

A Bus 8

And that's it folks.
Cut the bull.
Cut the expectations.
Pick up your toy of choice and go and get dirty.

TTFN - please remember that the clocks have gone back now and you are still one hour ahead of the rest of mankind.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

pmEZ (postmodern End Zone)

OK, and good morning to you. Firstly I will apologise (again) for the length of this FB. I know, your time is precious . . so is mine.
And I really have tried to be snappy and fine-tuned this time, but when you are drawing together all the threads it is really hard.

Anyway, I've been stuck on anything to write for FB for a few weeks and (I know I am rather late to the table) I seem to have come to the conclusion that photography, my photography, everybody's photography has little meaning in this world.
Everything is running at such a pace.
Visual stimulation overwhelms.
We're saturated in a tidal surge of imagery.
To put it bluntly (and you'd better make sure your Mum isn't in earshot):

What The Fuck Is The Point?

At one time, not that long ago, you'd think to yourself, hmmm, I quite enjoy using Dad's Instamatic/Braun/Cheap 35mm Compact et al. 
You'd maybe speak to someone about it and if you were lucky (and that driven) you'd have a nice camera shop nearby; the recipient of your hot breath and nose-grease as you admired all those wonderful looking machines stacked in the window. 
Maybe some friend of your parents' would say "Look, I know a bit about it" and would help you out with choices gleaned from those well-thumbed, creased corners of Amateur Photographer. 
You'd save your money and go to sleep thinking about, how, if you were lucky, you could afford that Praktika, or K1000, or OM10 or Nikkormat. Your savings were concentrated and your scrimping meant that one day, say on a nice bright Saturday, you could prep yourself, head down to that camera shop and ask (a bit hesitantly) whether it would be possible for you to have a look at your machine of choice.
Of course, the assistant would smell the hot breath and sweat of passion coming off you like a bulb of hot garlic in a blackened room, he'd recognise that feeling, recognise the sweat in your palms as a Nikkormat was handed over.
If the shop was nice and concerned about the sale (and had its own D&P service) they'd let you have a roll of 12 or 24 exposure film and try the camera out!
Of course, they didn't need to tell you how to use it because you knew
But OH, the tactility of that feeling; the solid weight of your first 'proper' camera, the lovely smooth and firm action of a new focus helicoid, and the wonderful light click of an aperture ring. The solid thwack of a mirror returning.
Sheer joy!
The beauty of how the whole world turned from just somethng you looked at, to something that concentrated the vision; every movement of your head (as that camera was pressed to your eye [and the viewfinder cleared after being misted by your hot brow]) turned that world, rendered by a standard 50mm lens, into a work of art.
Every new view a place of contemplation and promise.
It was wonderful.
It was a defining moment.
You went back in, the film was processed, but you knew really that what you had been holding in your hands was now yours.
You'd felt that symbiotic relationship between it and you the moment you held it.
This was it!
Man and machine united in a common goal, and in the back of your mind, there was the possibility that maybe one day, you could be lucky enough to hold that world-changing, mind expanding chunk of metal and glass and sheer human ingenuity, to your eye all the time.
That my friends, and I'm sure you'll recognise yourselves in there, was what it was like.

When I started Art College in 1980, we were lucky. We still had the grant system, and not only that, as an Art Student, you were also given an additional grant of around £120 to spend on equipment. I spent mine quickly, on a nice little Olympus OM10, simply because my brother had always used an OM1. 
My friend Russel spent his on a Pentax K1000 and I think, in hindsight, that was the wiser choice; you simply had to learn the basics of exposure in using one, whereas I with my ultra-modern, new-fangled Auto machine, had to learn what I could and couldn't do by watching the LEDs.
I acquired a Manual Adaptor later and that helped, but it is another story . . .
One chap called Robin in our Graphics class had a really nice Nikkormat - I was jealous as hell of that camera - it was solid, black and totally professional looking
I did love my OM10 though - it was a constant and reliable companion. But again, isn't hindsight a fantastic thing, with £100 at that time (the cost of on OM10, 50mm f1.8 Zuiko and case) I could have bought something nice and secondhand that would have given me a greater picture making experience . . never mind, so it goes.

No matter the choices, there's one thing the hot blood of passion can do and that is to instill a love of something that can last a whole life long.
I spent a large chunk of last weekend looking at film cameras on ebay - it was exciting and it also proved that far from being dead, film photography is very much alive and kicking - maybe more-so than it has been in years.
And why?
Well, to me, because as a process it gives your passion savour.
Like a healthy dose of salt in a bland dish, it kickstarts the juices.
Each piece of film is a finite entity.
You can tinker a bit, but if you are taking this seriously, what you want is an end result, preferably printed in a proper darkroom on proper paper.
It is your little slice of eternity:

"I made this!"

Which makes it all the sadder, that all your efforts are for nought.
I know that is quite a damning statement, but let me qualify myself.
Somehow, somewhere along the lines, a quietly brazen insidiousness has crept in.
Everything in our wonderful modern times is oh, I dunno, a piece of piss.
Look, I can publish my thoughts in a snap, for a world of a million readers!
It is easy, and in the same way, a billion people can document the endless inanities of life in 'photographs' and publish that to a world of a billion viewers just like that.
Notice I have used inverted commas around the word, because they might well be slices of time, they might also well be documents, but are they valid? Do they hold any importance for anyone other than the taker? Are they just meaningless wallpaper, to be thumbed away for the next hundred million?
See what I mean?
You, oh trad-photographer, have pursued a passion, a hot sweat of lust and possibility; you've spent time - so much time, so that you can try and distill yourself into that one variation of approximately anywhere between 1 second and 1/2000th of a second.

You've sliced time and made it permanent!

Isn't that an incredible thought?
Because you found something interesting, you invested yourself in one image
Maybe because you thought that image made a point; maybe you just simply thought it looked good in the viewfinder; maybe you were documenting something from your life that meant something to you; whatever your reason for taking that photograph it is a little part of you.
At one time that might have meant something, but I fear that something has gone.
We've been washed away.
Even the slight hold we had on the world of visual arts up to say 5 years ago, has been vanquished.
I hate to turn this into an Us and Them thing, but it really is like that.
As soon as the world could turn that thing they saw into something shared with a million people, our battle was lost.
I'm sure some people will chime in and say this democratisation of visual stimuli is a good thing - surely the world needs the truth and what is photography anything less than the truth or a truth?
Yes, you are right, I agree with you, but you see, maybe stupidly, I take this personally.
My truth was something I had come at from years of looking at things, sifting through the chaff, trying to find my truth and present it in a form that someone else might find interesting.
Maybe they did, maybe they didn't.
All I know is that, that thing, the thing I loved doing, has about as much meaning these days as a fleeting thought in the mind of a madman.

To put it another way, remember way back - about 40 years ago, when, you were quite often forced to sit through slide shows in other people's houses - the ephemera of their lives projected onto a screen; drinks passed round; laughter:

"Look at . . "

"Hah! you didn't do you?!"

You know the sort of thing, some of it was good, a little bit of it was very very good, but most of it was terrible and more imporetantly, of little interest. It showed nothing new that you didn't already know from your own life.
Fact is, it could often be DULL.
Well, nowadays, take that cosy 1970's living room with its Swirly Carpet, Rounded Collars, Party Susans and Arctic Roll and magnify it by 800,000,000 (average number of active Instagram users per month) and then tell me that the image has any meaning any more.

Weird weather? Nope - meaningless
War? Nope - meaningless.
Fun? Nope - meaningless.
Nature? Nope - meaningless.
Political Unrest? Nope - meaningless.
Social Problems? Nope - meaningless.
Change? Nope - meaningless.
Empowerment? Nope - meaningless.
Beauty? Nope - meaningless.

Every single thing that could, at some point in the not too distant past, have made your turn on your heel and say
"Well I never!" 
no longer exists with any meaning, simply because the power of the image has become so diluted by the vast numbers of posts as to make it a thing requiring no thought, no attention and making it almost more commonplace than the air we breath.
It sounds utterly desolute when put like that doesn't it?
It does, because I think it is.

Speaking for myself, I would snap and print away thinking at the back of my mind, maybe someone, somewhere will look at this image of a tree or a weird shadow and go "Gosh!" but that has passed, simply because they have seen it all before.
I look through the BJP, through the photo mags, through online stuff, and it is becoming increasingly rare for me to stop and look at something twice, simply because the same subject matter has been explored from every angle a billion times already.
My visual taste has been numbed.
The image is meaningless.
It won't become any more meaningless because it IS already!

So where does that leave you and me?
Well, rather than holding up our hands, selling everything and joining a retreat, I think we have a responsibility.
A HUGE responsibility.

And what might that be Sheepy, you pontificating B'Tard?

OK, want to know? Well, it's this:

Yep - in the words of the immortal Robert Crumb, a message from the past, of hippy hope in the face of adversity. Keep your pecker up. Stick it to THE MAN . . .

Keep On Truckin'

You've got to.
There is no choice.
In much the same way monasteries throughout Europe kept the papyrus and parchment of a more learned time safe(ish) for the future during the Dark Ages, then we, as image makers of 'Permanence', as custodians of  'The Legacy' are going to have to do the same.

Now I know that sounds like a load of old shite, and I fully get where you are coming from, but you see the moment your images are digitised, there is no longer any certainty.
Everything I am writing here is unsafe.
Everything you upload to Clouds,  Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, anything that is stored digitally is not permanent. It might appear to be, after all you trust these big corporations don't you?
Of course you do.
And free(ish) too!!
That is very good of them.
But hacking occurs.
If you really want to frighten yourself about data security in the modern age, I urge you to read and subscribe to Krebs On Security.
Yes you can back them up your data to the nth degree (really, can you really really really be bothered doing that again and again, and like Neil's Lucky Gonk, maybe you should employ another Hard Drive just in case the first one fails . . ).
You can print all your images and archive your memory cards.
Good point and fairy snuff - well done that man!.
But the thing is, the majority of recorded human engaged activity these days isn't backed up, it's in the cloud with all the billions of others.
I used to think Solar Activity and EMPs would be the downfall of society, but these days I think that could be largely mitigated . . no, I think of far more worry is the ease with which data can be held to ransom or simply cease to exist at a whim.
Your photos are amongst that data.
I genuinly believe that renders it in danger - maybe not imminent, but all the same, you just don't know.
It is the same with negatives too I suppose and prints - one whim, a billion silverfish, fire, naughty child, poof, they're gone, but, they still stand more of a chance I believe.

Anyway, all this chit-chat is a mere fireside drunken rant aside to the main theme.
I know this seems like a total shoe-horn, but I thought I'd provide a bit of juxtaposition here and show the two extremes of PMEZ photography.
I came across a series of articles on the BBC and Mashable sites and thought I would show a bit of them.
So, first up, the dreaded selfie, technique invented (well sort of) by me and t'missus way way back:

A recent study suggested an obsession with selfies is a genuine condition, called Selfitis.
An urge to take selfies and upload them on social media more than six times a day is chronic selfitis, according to researchers at the Nottingham Trent University and the Thiagarajar School of Management in India.
And Junaid admits his selfie urges can cause friction with loved ones.
"They're like 'can't you go to a meal and not take a picture?'
"And I'm like 'no, I didn't get ready for three hours for no reason'. Why would I not take a picture?"
Junaid says negative comments under his pictures no longer affect him like they used to - but admits to having work done on his face because of the pressure he feels to look a certain way.
"Years ago I never used to look like this. I used to be quite natural. But I just think with the obsession with social media... I want to upgrade myself now.
"I've had my teeth veneered, chin filler, cheek filler, jawline filler, lip filler, botox under the eyes and on the head, tattooed eyebrows and fat freezing."
Junaid, from Essex, says he realises how negative social media can be, but that he doesn't take it too seriously.
"What you see on social media is not the truth," he says.

"Social media is fun using it in the right way. But don't let it affect your life purely because you aspire to be what someone else on Instagram is being... it's just not worth it."

Only 61% percent of social media users believe the selfies they share are an accurate reflection of who they really are.
A new report from Ofcom, which surveyed 1,000 people across the UK, revealed the truth behind our selfie habits.
Almost half admitted editing them before posting and 27% say their photos online make their life look more exciting.
23-year-old Saffana Khan says this is true of her "Insta-life".
"I try to be really fun on Instagram. I try to be 'that' pretty girl - as pathetic as it sounds," Saffana tells Newsbeat.
"I try to seem interesting, probably more interesting than I actually am."
The results of the survey showed that for every selfie shared online, the user would take six photos.
But Saffana can take many more and spend long periods of time taking the perfect photo to post on Instagram.
"I might sit and take photos for 20 minutes, playing around with my phone to get the right angle and the right light to make my features look a certain way," she says.
"I'm not what I look like on social media."

Saffana has 400 followers on Instagram and says she spends an hour a day using the app.
The Ofcom report claims 29% of people spend one to two minutes editing their photos before posting online, but Saffana admits she can spend up to five minutes on hers.
Sometimes, she will filter the photo on Snapchat first and if it doesn't get enough likes, it gets deleted.
"If a photo only has 50 likes I'll wait a couple of days and if it turns out I hate that photo of myself and I don't have enough likes, I'll delete it," she says, adding that she'll check back every seven minutes to see how many likes a photo has.
"60 likes is a definite keeper."

Saffana is a keen gym goer and follows lots of fitness models on Instagram.
A recent study revealed that Instagram was also the social media most likely to have a negative effect on users' mental health.
As a user who spends an above-average amount of time on the app, Saffana understands how this happens.
"Only recently have I got it into my head that I won't necessarily look like the people I follow but that's OK," she says.
"Even now I still struggle with that because it's such a reminder that I don't look this way regardless of the filters and how I can edit my pictures."

Hmmm - lovely and truly informing eh, but I suppose no different to the selfies I took of myself back in the 1970's with a polaroid camera, simply because I could . . but then I've only got a few of those, not 1000's. AND, they're still hanging around like a fart in a lift.
Try saying that of your Instagram selfie in 40 years time!

Next up, the positive side of Instagram.
The Mashable article is a few years old now, but all the same - you can read the full thing here

Instagram has transformed smartphone users into a legion of amateur photographers, handhelds forever at the ready. At its best, the photo-sharing platform captures the transcendental moments of the human experience (the Perseid meteor shower; a sunset over the Manhattan skyline). At its worst, utterly delightful banality (your pancake breakfast).
Critics have condemned "the Instagram effect" as a detriment to the immense care and skill that photography demands. Some argue its easy cropping and preset filters offer an oversimplified view of the craft. But Instagram is continuing to expand, and the pros have adapted to the platform with haste and grace.

"Photojournalism has become a hybrid enterprise of amateurs and professionals, along with surveillance cameras, Google Street Views and other sources," photojournalist Fred Ritchin told Mother Jones earlier this year. "What is underrepresented are those 'metaphotographers' who can make sense of the billions of images being made, and can provide context and authenticate them."

The 14 journalists on our list are using Instagram to take photos with as much sensitivity to context, composition and texture as they would behind a traditional lens. The result is a colorful glimpse into foreign cultures and crystallized moments of pain and joy.

David Guttenfelder, an Associated Press photographer and seven-time World Press Photo award winner, was just named TIME's Instagram photographer of the year. In 2013, on assignment for the AP, Guttenfelder traveled to North Korea, where his Instagram photography offered a rare glimpse into the inner life of a nation normally obscured from public view. He has also photographed the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as well as quaint pastoral scenes from rural America.
In this photograph, Guttenfelder captures a group of North Korean seamstresses at the Sonbong Textile Factory inside the Rason Special Economic Zone. "Nobody knows anything about [North Korea] and what it looks like," Guttenfelder told TIME of his tenure. "I feel like there's a big opportunity and a big responsibility."

Ed Kashi is a photojournalist, filmmaker and lecturer who has recently been embedded in the Middle East while documenting the ongoing conflict in Syria. His Instagram portraits capture the daily life of Syrian refugees, with a particular focus on the children who have been displaced by the conflict. Another set of recent photographs, taken in New Jersey, offer a "then and now" look at the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and the state's recovery.
In this photograph, Syrian children play at the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq.

So, yes, positivity can reign and draw our eye to parts of the world and goings on we could never imagine, but the thing is, unless you physically stumble across these gems, or they are recommended or read about, then what hope have you of finding them in a vast galaxy of so-so-ness?
A crap filter would be a great thing, but it doesn't exist.
The ephemeral nature of digital capture (40 billion thumb swipes a day) means that you might really want to change things with your photos of the truth, but in reality there's not a whole lot you can do unless you are really really lucky. It's Warzones vs. Botox; Injustice vs. Narcissm, Truth vs. Altered Reality.
Do you really stand a chance?

Anyway, I'll leave my final bit in the hands of the American photographer Lewis Wickes Hine, a man, who, though his photographs, did change the world.
And the photos still exist over 100 years later.

"When he became photographer to the National Child Labour Committee in 1908, he set out to capture scenes in factories, mills and workshops that would later be used as evidence to clamp down on child exploitation. He was so hated by the factory and mill owners employing children that he would often have to go about his work in disguise, for fear of his own safety. He was threatened on numerous occasions.

As a result of his photographs, child labour laws in the United States were revolutionised."

Artificial flowers, New York, 1912.

Pennsylvania coal breakers, [Breaker Boys], 1912.

The full article can be read here

I don't know about you - I haven't written this to be provocative, just to make you think a bit about your image making and why, really, you should still be (or even starting to) using film and printing it.
OK - I know it can be a faff, I know it is expensive and I also know that for a large number of people it isn't possible.
But just something physical then . .
How about that?
It isn't hard . . print some of those billions of digital photos you have, get your phone down to a supermarket booth and print those selfies, just do something that means it is out there.
It's a little bit of you for the future, even if it does only end up as a scrap of soggy photo paper adhering to the edge of a skip! 
Just fecking do it.

I suppose, that, the Fuck, is THE POINT.

There. Over and out . . .
Phew . . . How do you feel now?
You can comment at the bottom you know.

TTFN, and remember, Nuts, Whole Hazelnuts. URGH! Cadburys Take Them And They Cover Them With Chocolate.