Monthly Archives: September 2010

Making ripples

Ripples

The thing is with writing a blog is that you always have the nagging suspicion in the back of your mind that you are repeating yourself. Even more so with a photography blog. Even now, as I type, I have a suspicion that I may have blogged this image before; I don’t think I have, yet the thought is there niggling away at the back of my brain. I suppose it’s because this is quite an old image – from Easter of this year – and therefore I cannot be sure that it’s new to you. Of course I could go back and check but in this case I’m going to rely on my own memory; besides if it is a duplicate I am sure that someone will point it out to me; the blogging community is very helpful in that regard ;-).

I have touched before, in this blog, on the subject of the importance of revisiting old images that you may have passed over before in favour of something else. This is another such case, which may account for my sense of deja vu. But I thought the picture sort of illustrated what I wanted to talk about which is what do you do as a photographer when you suddenly start getting a bit of attention, no matter how small… When I started writing this blog and trying to catalogue my exciting new hobby I only ever saw it as a distraction; something I had to do so that I could look back and see how far I had come. The initial aim as stated was to get better and perhaps at some point of epiphany several years down the track to sell some images. At no point in this journey had I ever contemplated doing this for a living or even doing this to a level at which that idea did not sound anything but ridiculous. I admit, at the start I was buoyed by some initial success. I had an image on a greeting card (which I incidentally have several hundred copies of… still… if only I’d had the foresight to take them to the recent WestFest exhibition)  and I won a small local photographic competition and made the local paper. These events early in the journey (NOT in the Tony Blair sense) did serve to drive me forward but also served to make me a bit cocky and to think that I was better than I obviously was. Which is why, when things then took a downturn, I lamented my many and subsequent failures with a wailing and gnashing of teeth that was undignified and actually a bit arsey.

But then, like the swan in the picture above [note: I am not comparing myself to a swan that would be just stupid and besides I haven’t got the neck for it] I started to make a few ripples which led to a bit of paid work, two weddings, an exhibition and some sales. Of course I still have (and need) the day job but I am reaching a point where people are telling me I also need an ‘on-line presence’ for the photography beyond this blog and beyond Flickr; a point at which I am taking the odd photograph for payment and need to think about setting up a small business and thinking about VAT and tax and shit. This, to me seems like the craziest of all ideas. But at the same time its exhilarating and wild and fun. And I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

I find myself having conversations with people about my ‘work’; there is a still developing idea that involves a non-professional (but brilliant) florist & a non-professional (but brilliant) amateur invitation maker and organiser to provide an unfussy, unhassled wedding service to people that just want to enjoy their big day. I have a photograph on the welcome page of this month’s Cheshire Life magazine which came about from a direct contact from them; and tomorrow I am talking to someone about exhibiting some pictures in a space in my home city of Chester.

Along the way I have had the support of loads of old friends and made lots of new ones; I have used social media where I can (and to be honest this may be where the ripples have emanated from – see previous post here). But I have reached a point where I feel that I need to think long and hard about what I want to do next photography wise. Believe me when I say that I am not a pushy person (you may think otherwise as I sit here shouting ME ME ME!). I find it very difficult – make that almost impossible – to sell myself or to see myself and my pictures as a saleable commodity. I am not good on the phone unless I have met the person I am talking to beforehand. I overcompensate by being loud and sarcastic. In a nutshell, I would give everything to make a living from photography. Yet I also know that the moment it became a living is the moment it would lose a bit of its magic.

I know I am punching above my weight and I thank you all for the encouragement and its going to be interesting to see where this rollercoaster takes me next. In the meantime, the photography is going to remain in the box labelled ‘hobby’; there are a gazillion better photographers than me out there but I’m doing OK thanks to the support and encouragement that I receive via comments to the blog and via twitter. Let’s see how things progress?

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… and I’m feeling good

Dawn harvest

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Hopefully a lot of you will recognise these song lyrics. For me it’s a song that could only ever be sung by Nina Simone but if you only know it from the butchering it received at the hands of Muse then that still doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s a great song. I love Nina Simone. I consider hers to be the finest female voice ever committed to vinyl or tape or converted into bits. She had a great voice, yet was also a consummate musician and she imbued her songs and performances with the political – championing civil rights and highlighting the racism endemic in America in the 1960s. When Nina Simone sings about freedom you know that it’s a freedom that is hard fought and a freedom that is a rallying cry against bigotry and injustice. Her songs, such as ‘Mississippi Goddam’ written after the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama killed four children, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ and ‘How It Feels To Be Free’ are sung from the heart and, for me, elevate her above her more famous peers. The ‘Priestess of the Soul’ as she was known composed more than 500 songs and recorded nearly 600 albums in her career. So why am I banging on about Nina Simone on a photography blog? Well for a start I felt that this particular song fits perfectly with this photograph; it’s the song that was playing in my head when I took it at dawn in a farmer’s field in Northumberland. It’s also a song that now has a deeper resonance and an added poignancy with me as it was chosen by a friend with lung cancer as a song that he wanted to be played at his funeral; it duly was.

But I digress. This is not one of my maudlin posts. In fact it is quite the opposite. I am currently feeling quite energised. I’m pretty sure that a lot of this has to do with finally selling some pictures as covered in my last post. But in general things are looking up on the home front as well, and I may soon be in a position to spend more quality time with the family as well as more time out with the camera. In the past I have been quick to resort to the blog when full of self doubt; it’s been a crutch for me. When I have been down friends have picked me up and urged me not to give up so it seems only fair that I should also blog when I’m relatively happy – it may even give you the opportunity to knock me down again.

Happiness is an odd thing. I read once that its due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and that it is not the natural human state to be happy. If that’s true then I’m glad as I spend more time unhappy/bored than I do ecstatic but I think that is pretty much the same for everyone. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have an innate distrust of people that are consistently happy; in my experience this usually hints at deeper troubles. But that cannot disguise the fact that at this point in time I am indeed ‘feeling good’. The photography is going well – not only have I made some sales but there is potentially another wedding to photograph on the back on the one from Northumberland; in addition I am doing some photographs for an architect in Salford (a job that came about via having pictures on walls) and who knows where that may lead to. I have no intention of becoming a wedding photographer but it fills me with joy to hear that the photographs I took are loved and cherished and appreciated and moved the groom’s mother to tears (I am taking this as a good thing). So there you go. I feel like I am slowly turning a corner and getting a bit more recognition, a bit more positive feeling and a bit more proficient at using the camera.

But to what end?  Well, there’s the new camera fund of course. Which is finally reaching that point at which I may be able to make a purchase. Now I know a new camera will not guarantee further success but I am hoping that it can take my photography up a notch. I look at the photo that heads this blog post and marvel that I actually took it; I certainly don’t think it would look out of place in IKEA or Habitat. This picture is one of the new ones that I exhibited at Westfest 2010 and its one that people seem to like as much as I do. Of course it’s all about the light and having the dedication/stupidity to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to take it. And I think that this is the trick – you can have all the equipment in the world but if you are only taking family and holiday snaps in the middle of the day then it won’t do you much good. It took me a long time to realise that most great photography is primarily about being in the right place at the right time and usually a time when others have gone home or are not up yet. I have finally realised that I need to behave like a professional even if I’m not.

So here’s to a brief oasis of calm in terms of this blog. I am sure the next knock back I receive will send me spiralling back down to earth with a bump. But, at the moment, I am feeling good. Thanks Nina

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Wherefore art thou?

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Time for this blog to tackle the big question, namely ‘Is Photography Art’? The answer of course is ‘Yes’ so perhaps I should re-phrase the question:  Is My Photography Art? This is a bit more difficult to answer. You see, dear reader, I have always without question for my entire life been absolutely, apocalyptically awful at art. I have never been able to draw, or sketch or paint. I have a CSE grade 2 in art and I achieved this by bribing my younger brother to do my art homework for me. I was hopeless. My self portraits were the stuff of legend; they had a Picasso quality but not in a good way; for a start I didn’t even know who Picasso is. Fortunately, over the years, I have developed a deep love of great art from all schools and enjoy visiting a great gallery as much as anything; art history interests me as it is indelibly linked with real history. A period’s art sheds light on a period’s political and social development like nothing else.

So why the rumination on art? Last weekend I sold my first pictures whilst exhibiting alongside another photographer in a small gallery space at WestFest 2010 in Didsbury, Manchester. The idea was that my colourful landscapes would provide a counterpoint to the black and white, grittier images of Manchester taken by my fellow exhibiter Stephen Campbell. At first it didn’t go well. I thought my mistake was that my images were from all over the UK, whereas Stephen’s were from Manchester. My worst fears were realised when someone walked in and almost immediately bought £290 of Stephen’s work. But then, slowly, something wonderful happened. My pictures started slowly to sell. And, what’s more, it seemed that the people who liked my images didn’t buy Stephen’s and vice versa. Not one person bought a picture from both of us. In other words, people know what they like.

By the end of the weekend I had sold 8 pictures which was a result (and all the money has gone in the camera fund jar) but really it wasn’t about the sales. It was about all the people coming in and, unprompted, saying nice things about the pictures, asking questions about where they were taken and what equipment I used. This was genuine interest from the great British public and it felt marvellous. This brings me back to the title of the blog. One interested woman asked me ‘Are you the artist?’, to which I replied ‘No, but I took these photographs’. After she had gone I was castigated by a friend (thanks Thea!) who insisted that this was a stupid thing to say and that, to paraphrase Withnail and I, ‘of course your the bloody artist’. The thing is, this is not something that I have considered before. With my past history of artistic endeavour it seems ludicrous to describe myself as an artist, let alone ‘the’ artist.

Debate has raged for decades as to whether photography is art. The naysayers suggest that there is no innate creativity involved. The camera does the hard work and the photographer is just the lucky soul who was in the right place in the right time to press the button. Others argue that anything can be art (like Duchamp’s urinal and Emin’s unmade bed) and that photography is a natural extension of the artists repertoire. Just as a painter uses brushes and paints, a photographer uses a camera. I can see both sides of the argument and am still deliberating about the big question. If I am an artist then its for the first time in my life that I have excelled at anything creative. But I now cannot shake the knowledge that there are several households in Manchester that as I type have my pictures on the wall because they liked them and want to look at them. This makes me very happy and very proud. This is why I write this blog.

P.S. The picture accompanying this post is another from Northumberland and shows the walkers path over the sands to Holy Island (the poles in the distance). The wooden construction is there to rescue those poor souls who don’t find out the tide times or who misinterpret the information to find them caught by the oncoming sea. The picture was taken just after the tide went out again uncovering the causeway and the route across to the island. Another picture of this was in my exhibition but didn’t sell; perhaps its natural market is in Northumberland?

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Figures in a seascape

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OK, this is going to be a very quick blog post primarily because it’s late and because I have not posted in a while. Many posts ago I figured out that I’m a landscape photographer and hopefully this picture illustrates why. Landscapes are where I’m happier; I have total control over the camera and can set things up. Landscapes are usually predictable. They do not move (apart from clouds) or head off at speed in a different direction. They don’t mind being photographed. I suppose you could say that this is the easy option but I have proved to myself of late with the wedding photography that portraits are not beyond me. I am always drawn back to landscapes and seascapes.

One of the reasons I agreed to photograph the wedding in Northumberland is the opportunity to capture scenery such as this. It was taken on the causeway on Holy Island literally 20 minutes after the tide had receded meaning the island was no longer cut off from the mainland. If you look carefully you can see walkers and the odd vehicle heading across the causeway. But of course this picture is all about that sky and the fluffy white clouds counterpointed by the darkening storm in the distance. At this size I can’t really do this picture justice. It needs to be enlarged printed and framed for the full effect; something I intend to do very soon.

Tomorrow and the day after (Saturday/Sunday 4th/5th September) I am heading off to Westfest 2010 in Didsbury to exhibit some of my latest landscape and hopefully sell a few prints. If you are in the area pop down to 212 Burton Road (Didsbury Life offices) and have a look at pictures both by me and by another talented photographer Steven Campbell. I personally think his pictures are really, really great and the idea is that his striking monochrome images of Manchester will provide an interesting contrast to my colourful landscapes. That’s the theory. I’ll let you know how it goes. Please do come and see us if you get the chance. The above picture is not in my exhibition, only because I have only just downloaded from the camera. I wish it was but maybe next time.

I’ve never said this before (probably because I’m not very good at this sort of thing) but needless to say all the pictures on the blog are available to purchase as prints/wall art. Just drop me a line… OK, its late and I need to get some sleep; this week has been a good week photowise and I’ll hopefully have more to say next post. I also realise that I have not done one of my more personal, rambling posts about life, the universe and everything of late. Maybe this means I’m happy? Never fear though, normal service will be resumed…

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