Friday, 30 March 2012

CARTEL PHOTOS

Follow this link to watch the recently-made promotional video for Cartel Photos, the agency based here in Falmouth which represents myself and everyone on the Press & Editorial Photography course. It is a brilliant initiative which allows us students to gain invaluable experience in working professionally and make money from our work. Over the past year alone 'the Cartel' has gained significant interest from major agencies such as Rex Features and Panos Pictures  , who have begun to act as the leading 'tutor' for Cartel Photos. Enjoy.

S

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A thatcher's touch...

Being at home for the Easter break has softened me somewhat - too much free food and a rather comfortable bed can be blamed for that. So much so that it begun to feel like too much of a task even to sit here an write rubbish that most people probably don't care about. So I decided to throw myself out of the house and go looking for a shoot for my most recent of projects based around the idea of 'touch' (an idea which I wanted to base around trade and crafts). Unfortunately where I live is the sticks, and at first glance it would appear that nothing happens at all; a far cry from Falmouth where one is virtually tripping over interesting people and trades. However, after an hour of aimless wandering (which culminated in me sitting in an empty field full of sheep and dropping a Lastolite reflector in a river) I came across Allan Seabrook working on a thatch in the centre of my village. Perfect. 

I put my best 'interested voice' on and introduced myself and explained my intentions. I was photographing the next day, which came as a surprise to me; always the sceptic I was expecting to run in to a wall of bureaucratic excuses and issues with another health and safety-obsessed tradesman who thinks that I am incapable of climbing a ladder without killing myself. Thankfully I was wrong (which appears to be the case with many of my numerous prejudgements), and neither Allan nor the home-owners had a problem with me photographing him at work. A lesson for you kids - never be afraid of asking. Tune in next week for more of my insightful proverbs...

And so begun my first ever foray in to the world of traditional roof thatching... Which started with a quick spin on the interweb...

Thatching is an extremely old and traditional craft which originated in equatorial countries such as Hawaii, Fiji, Kenya and Korea. Thatching - although it is applied and practised in a multitude of ways - is fundamentally the building of a roof using dry vegetation; straw, water reed, sedge, rushes and heather being the most commonly used. Layering the vegetation as to shed water away from the inner roof of a building, it was only way of roofing available to the majority of the UK and Europe until the late 1800s, when the mass production of Welsh slate provided a stabler material which could be distributed on a wide scale thanks to the proliferation of canals and railways.

Now - in the UK especially - thatching has become a matter of choice; that choice mostly being made by the affluent who enjoy keeping a traditional look to their homes, that want a more ecologically friendly roof, or that have bought an already thatched building. In my home county of Suffolk, one of the few counties in Britain which still maintains a significant number of thatched-roof houses, the specialist trade passed from generation to generation is still a viable and lucrative business - the thatch of an entire roof will cost upwards of a few tens of thousand pounds, depending on the tradesman. One such tradesman is Allan Seabrook, who has been a sole trader for nine years.









Allan became his own boss after completing a five-year thatching apprenticeship, and from the couple of brilliantly sunny days I spent up the scaffolding with him it doesn't seem like such a bad idea. A back up plan for if my career in photojournalism goes to the dogs perhaps...



Tools of the trade: a mallet, shears, a metal steak and a ladder are some of the surprisingly few tools required to create a thatch.

Bendable lengths of wood known as spars act as safety pins when layering the straw.

Sharpening a spar

The aforementioned thatching trade is a traditional one, with techniques being passed down by generations of workers and with apparently no set way of style or terminology - for example, Allan finishes his roof with block ridges, the shape of which are specific to each tradesman. To Allan, they are known as 'scollops'; however this is not true for every thatcher, he just got the name from his teacher, and having never written the word down he couldn't even tell me how it was correctly spelt. This style of 'block ridging' came about during Victorian times, whereby having the thatch ridge finished with a cut shape became fashionable - original thatch ridges would be flush to the rest of the roof. 


Allan begins cutting his block ridge, or 'scollop', by cutting away a its outline. 

The block is then trimmed and shaped according to its position on the roof - each scollop must look as level and equally-sized as possible when seen from ground level. 

The completed block. This particular shape was passed down to Allan by his teacher during his days as an apprentice. No two blocks are the same, and each block ridge style is specific to the craftsman.

I have to say this was one of my more relaxed shoots since being at university - having the location about two minutes from my house made things particularly favourable, and with the recent spate of beautiful weather I may have run the risk of getting a tan in the process. As is the life of a country thatcher (see what I did there?).










With a little hope a few of these images may end up in the Cavendish Magazine, a world-renowned publication spanning all aspects of village life...

S

Saturday, 24 March 2012

photojournalism guru David Campbell...

David Campbell


For those interested in intelligent journalism and arguments, looking at the words of writer and producer of photography David Campbell would probably be a good idea. Campbell's aim is to "analyse the contexts that shape visual storytelling, so we can produce better photographic and multimedia work".


Sounds good, and it is. Go figure. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

we're all hypocrites...

As I seem to have somewhat of a hiatus in regards to the amount shoots I am doing at the moment, I find myself thinking more and more about, well, nothing in particular, but everything at the same time. For example, just two days ago I appeared to have a Platonist discussion with myself about whether photography really should be as objective as everyone says it does. Sure, in journalistic photography, putting a truth-less spin on an image - specifically with the use of misleading captions - is pretty much like putting a gun to your head and saying goodbye to your credibility (note the uproar regarding the misleading caption TIME set against the portrait of Afghan woman Bibi Aisha, discussed quite elloquently here by photographer  David Campbell). 

But - and this is a big but given that I appear to be going through some sort of philosophical epoch - I see photography as being a very personal medium. As photojournalists especially, but this can apply to all walks of the medium, we photograph the way we see things, surely? I do. Of course, without the subjects being there, doing what they are doing, there would be nothing to photograph; as Salgado said: "The subjects make the picture, not the photographer"... at least I think he did. Anyway. Ultimately it is the person holding the camera who decides how to photograph the situation and, whether they like it or not, the resulting image must, in some minute way, be influenced by the way they feel about said situation. Take, for example, pretty much the entirety of Martin Parr's work. No matter how much he says that he was merely documenting what he saw and not shooting to criticise or judge, one cannot look at the images and believe that there was not at least a glimmer of judgement involved - otherwise he wouldn't have photographed such subjects as pasty Englishmen on a beach burning there bald heads. There must have been a time whilst shooting the content for, say, The Last Resort when he saw a fat bloke with a bacon sandwich in his hand and thought "Yeah, he looks stereotypical enough". I'm not quite sure where I am going with this subject so I will leave it there. Like I said, it was just a thought.

What I really wanted to talk about in this post was concerning the recent rant I had about a few aspects of photography which get on my wick, namely 'over-networking' and hypocritical exhibits. Now, I met quite a bit of opposition from a couple of people who read the post, and I admit I may have been a tad brash in a few of my statements - being unable to sleep and a throat infection does nothing for my mood - but I still stand firm in my most basic of points. One of said points was that I believe too much time is spent networking (I will use this term instead of 'ass-kissing' from now on). After splattering my blog over Facebook and Twitter I got varied responses, some agreed, some disagreed, and some were indifferent. One person who took particular interest was Holly Hayward, who decided to construct a far more level-headed approach to the argument. I tip my hat to her. She too agreed on "The apparent need for photographers to be accepted and ‘liked’ by other industry members". But as I sat back and watched the discussions flow on both social networking sights, I realised that in writing what I did about 'over-networking', I too was in fact networking, in some small way, myself. After just a few hours my blog post had worked its way around the Press & Editorial Photography's Facebook page; a few family members and friends picked up on it after I posted it on my homepage. From there, my course tutor picked it up as well as my second year mentor Jon Brownhill. Jon subsequently posted it on his Twitter page with the caption "Some more thoughts of a young photographer, probably soon to be followed by my own". Once on Twitter the post was viewed by a couple more second years as well as the second year's main tutor Tom Ingate, who commented "Some interesting points that need discussing". Before I knew it my post had nearly 100 views in just one day and my name was known by a few more photographers, however local to Falmouth.

My point is, if there is any point to this post, I'm not quite sure, that we are constantly networking ourselves by maintaining blogs and websites such as my own. As David White said on his particularly well-known blog Duckrabbit: "You are the mainstream media. You and your friends, and your friends friends. You’re the wires and you are the electricity along which the message travels, and if you want to be, you can even be the message too.". Obviously there will always be the need for physical networking (not too much, mind), but it is an interesting thought nonetheless (my life seems to be full of 'interesting thoughts'). 

Before signing off and posting this blog on to Facebook and Twitter once again, thus advancing my mediocre rise to global photographic domination, I would like to refer back to Holly's post again, in which she pointed out how, to paraphrase, there is too much time spent worrying whether a subject has been 'done before'. As she put it: "if we want to raise awareness, then surely that can only be positive?". I must admit I have had such incriminating thoughts about the project I am doing with the homeless of Newquay at the moment, but upon reading what Holly wrote I decided this: Haters gonna hate. The same can be said about a few of the negative reactions I received from my original rant. 

I'm pretty sure none of this makes sense.

S


  

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Another thought...

Following from the monologue that I posted last night during a man-flu-fuelled rant, I would  like to amend - or rather explain - a few of my points, specifically the ones regarding photographic brown-nosing. 

After sharing and discussing the post with a few of the guys on my course, the point was made by one that I appeared to be saying that I have a problem with being nice in general, and that I should be nice to a publisher or printer or curator just as I would be nice to a barman - because it will get me served first. A very valid point, and so I would like to say that I do not have a problem with being nice in general, although my outlook can be a little frosty at times, that is just the way I am. If a person is worth being nice to then of course I will nice to them. If I am completely honest my post last night was making a rather sweeping statement of a few things I saw that week in London - not all - but a few. Of course, it helps to be civil to anyone in business, that is pretty much what most good business is built upon. I would like to say, though, that if I want to make friends with someone - be it within the industry or not - I would want it to be on the basis of mutual respect rather then where they work. Furthermore, if the work that you are pitching to a publisher or editor, and if the pitch is done well, then it should speak for itself no matter your history with them.

Of course, I have zero experience in the industry at this moment in time and I will probably regret writing all of this. But for now, this is my opinion.

S 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

the thoughts of a young photographer...

Recently I have been engaged in an on-going argument between myself and photography - more specifically, the photography that I am creating. The argument started after I had a discussion with one of my course mates about how they were considering leaving the Press & Editorial  Photography course. When I asked my good friend why she was considering changing courses, her answer was because she felt as though she was spending too much time (and money) photographing things that she simply did not care about and that would ultimately end up counting for nothing; after all, we are not being paid to be at university, and nine times out of ten the work we are completing in this first year will spend the rest of its days glued in to a bloody work book. What we are doing, though, is spending hideous amounts of money on consumables such as paper and film and driving ourselves in to massive debt which we probably won't pay back for another twenty years or so.

Of course, by signing up for university we are putting ourselves in to immediate contact with connections within the photographic industry - two of my three main tutors are industry professionals (Guy Martin/David White), the other being retired from industry work but still has connections in all the right places. In the second and third years we will be given the opportunity to take work placements at such major agencies as Rex and Noor, which will no doubt put us in the right direction to working professionally. But this idea of 'connections' is something that - for some reason that I can't put my finger on - really bugs me about photography. It is something that is evidently important, of course, without knowing the right people, or without them knowing you, how are you going to get jobs? Or get your work printed and shown in the right places?

Connections are fine in that sense - crucial, even. What I cannot stand about the photographic world is the brown-nosing, the ass-kissing, the cock-sucking - however you want to say it. I spent last week in London with my course and a handful of second years, visiting galleries, independent printers, agencies and labs as part of a field trip. Before entering each establishment we were encouraged on nearly every occasion to "be nice" to the people who ran the exhibit, gallery or agency, because they may just remember you for it. Well, apart from making me feel about three years' old, it made me want to hit the next fashionable art curator I saw. Why the fuck should I "be nice" to anyone? If I wanted to get my work printed by a lab or a digital printers, then I would ask them, and they would subsequently take my hard-earned money because, and correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure it would be considered bad business if a company declined a client on the basis of not being their friend. This theme was carried throughout the week; I witnessed, for example, a second year explain to the organiser of Labyrinth Photographic Printing how "he would like to keep in contact" and subsequently handed the man his card... I felt as though I had been transported in to Brett Easton-Ellis' American Psycho, where the metaphorical size of a man's penis is judged by the quality of his card. And that is, really, what photography boils down to - if you have money, then it would appear you can do whatever the fuck you like.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of money, and neither does my friend who sparked this argument. So where does that leave us? Quite frankly I don't know. All I do know is that I will continue doing this course until something happens - by 'something' I am talking along the lines of an internship or similar. Of course, it would be all too easy for me to complain about the ass-kissers if I were not trying in some way to gain connections through methods that do not involve blowing the wind up the ass of a curator. I am proactive about what I do, I am currently under-going a project with the homeless people of  Newquay (and before you sigh and dismiss it as something everyone has seen before, that is something I am well aware of and intend to stay well clear of it). Off my own back I have gotten in contact with numerous organisations who are doing everything humanly possible to help these people, ranging from soup kitchens and food banks to the Turnaround Project, an organisation which accommodates 16-25-year-old people with no home. I am receiving help from an ex-social worker to get contacts within the world of the homeless and we have already begun liaising with a gallery in regards to exhibiting the work once it is finished. It is here, however, where I stumble across the second half of my dilemma: exhibiting.

Nia Haf, a second year on the Press & Editorial Photography course, recently wrote on her blog  how exhibiting work of "death and destruction" can appear to be  rather counter-productive. In her argument she used the example of Guy Martin's Shifting Sands exhibition that was recently shown in Falmouth. The body of work was from Guy's tour of Libya and Egypt in 2011 covering the Arab Spring (see: http://www.panos.co.uk/bin/panos2.dll/go?a=disp&_m=1&_s=1&_ml=Stories&_sl=&_tlid=2&t=gl-loader.html&groupid=13&galleryid=1318&glbid=1824&page=1&si=F89DB5CFCC4A4B4CB0FCCF3818061F&rnd=0.0, (apologies for the ridiculously long link)).

I was present at the private viewing, as was everyone else on the Press & Editorial Photography course, and I have to admit that I got very much the same feeling as Nia did. We stood there with our "expensive beer... in one hand and ridiculously tiny salmon canapĂ© in the other" saying "I really love that frame". We viewed the images, partook in some philosophical conversations and went home after a nice, civilised evening of looking at dead or dying  people in a country so far removed from the UK. As Nia put it on her blog - "Isn't there something a little fucked up about that?".

Yes. I think there is something a little fucked up about that, which is why the last thing I want to do is be a 'conflict photographer'. It is, on a smaller but no less relevant scale, how I am now feeling about my project with the homeless of Newquay. No matter how much I get to know these people, however much I befriend them, there will always be a divide between them and I, between these incredible young people who have had no parental figures in their lives (in the case of the Turnaround Project) and myself, the hideously middle class man from a quaint village in East Anglia who also happens to have a camera in his hand. And then there is the case of exhibiting the work, ergo gaining exposure as a photographer and taking another step toward the hipocrisy that I am ultimately bitching about in this post. But I want to gain exposure, right? Isn't that what we as photographers do? Otherwise there would surely be no industry. I keep telling myself that I am doing the project to (and I hate using this phrase) 'raise awareness' of the situation, to hope that people might be interested in these incredible stories. I truly am interested in these people and their lives, but sometimes I feel simply 'being interested' doesn't quite cut it.

Thus, I have come full circle. I am proactive - but not an ass-kisser - I love photography (it is what I want to do) but in doing a project such as mine I appear to be fulfilling one of my ultimate hates about photography: hipocrisy. I want to empathise with these people and produce a compelling body of work, but at the same time - without beating around the proverbial bush - I do want to gain exposure as a photographer through exhibiting the work, which, more or less, would mean I am gaining from other's misfortunes. Tricky, huh? I guess it really comes down to how I wish to portray these people, and how I do eventually want to exhibit it, but it is constantly at the back of my mind (I then tell myself that there is nothing that can be done about the fact that they are homeless and I am not, and to simply get on with it).

I am fearful of falling in to the pit which so many photojournalists these days have fallen in to and to photograph something that might be considered 'sad', and it seems all too easy to do it. I guess in future I will just have to choose to cover something more light-hearted...

S


  

Sunday, 11 March 2012

recent work for the newspaper...

Gyllyngvase Tennis Courts

This group of pensioners have been playing at Gyllyngvase Tennis Courts for over thirty years - since local resident Barbara Truswell founded the club. The courts - which are currently run by the Falmouth Beach Hotel - are available for public use. Now, however, there are fears of them being taken over by St. Michael's Hotel across the road, potentially putting it in to privatisation, meaning the end of the thirty-five-year-old club.










S

Saturday, 10 March 2012

magazine spread mock-up, MKII...

The revised version of my mock magazine spread, words and all (although I'm not sure if I am 100% happy with them just yet, but the layout is about right). Enjoy!

S






Joe Stinton: a shot in the dark

Last week I completed my story of Joe Stinton, a thirty-seven-year-old blind shooter from Helston, Cornwall. Joe shoots every Wednesday afternoon at Helston and District Rifle Club as part of the Cornwall Blind Association's club programme which started in 2002 (the club itself was originally set up in 1939, and is still used to this day for amateur shooters young and old).

Joe is an incredible man, and an extremely talented shooter; but he hasn't been blind from birth. As I found out upon the second time of meeting him, Joe had his sight for nearly thirty years prior to going blind. An unimaginable event, which took place in 1998, meant Joe would be rendered completely blind for the rest of his life.





Joe is both diabetic and wheat intolerant (two conditions which are often thought to go hand-in-hand). It was around the first anniversary of his marriage that he had a severe reaction to wheat, hospitalising Joe immediately. To help with the reaction - which saw Joe in a coma on the day of his anniversary - he was administered immunosuppressant drugs. However, whilst in most cases people with their immune systems down are required to stay quarantined in the hospital (for example after a kidney transplant), Joe was discharged, and allowed to walk free with a severely weakened immune system. It was then that Joe contracted septicaemia, a form of blood poisoning which, in severe cases, can result in blindness. Joe would never see again.

But he does not dwell on it, and is grateful for having "built up a good life" and "met some amazing people". "I have done a lot of things which I wouldn't have if I hadn't lost my site" said Joe of the fact that, apart from shooting, he has cycled tandem from John O'Groats to Land's End. 



Joe relies on a laser fixed to the gun's barrel  to 'see'. The laser points towards the target, resulting in a high pitched noise to be relayed to the headset; the higher the pitch, the closer he is pointing to the centre of the target. Once all his shots are fired, the target is pulled back to the Joe via the rope and pulley system for inspection.   


There are two disciplines in blind shooting: Supported and Unsupported. Quite self-explanatory, Supported shooting is with the use of a tripod and a chair; Unsupported is with neither. Of course, shooting unsupported is far harder, and only Joe and one other shooter at the club are skilled enough to do it. 


Joe's gun


Joe has been shooting since 1999, stopping only momentarily when his child was born. He has been selected twice to compete in the World Championships, and last Friday he competed, along with the rest of the Helston team (which consists of around eight other blind/visually impaired shooters), at the British Blind Shooting Championship in Wolverhampton.




Keith Busby is Joe's 'helper', guiding him only for manoeuvres which require more dexterity than average - for example: as he moves from the waiting room to the shooting range, loading the gun, and the initial aiming of the rifle.  





Helper Kieth Busby acts as Joe's eyes when initially aiming the gun towards the target. After that, it is all down to Joe.





Keith inspects Joe's target after a round of shooting.


A perfect score of fifty. Joe gets five shots before the round is over; the bullseye is worth ten points. During competition, however, the competitors only have two shots per target, with thirty targets to hit under timed conditions. 







This series of photographs will be edited down to just a five-picture story for my 'Fragile' assignment. My next assignment will be based around the idea of 'Touch'. 

S


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

magazine spread mock-up, MKI...

Easter is drawing ever-closer, and work is piling ever-higher. But all is good, because, for the first time since starting university, I think I am actually on top of it all. This is mainly because I have got in to the habit of paying frequent nocturnal visits to the campus library - as I am now, at 22:30pm - which gives me room to breathe away from the cramped, noisy, humid, tacky, Ikea-furnished confines of student accommodation. 

Anyway. A new module which I have been working on over the past few days is Narrative, and is all about how image and text come together in a holy matrimony of typography to tell a compelling story. The majority of this module is based around viewing and reviewing book, magazine and journal layouts, both historical and contemporary: what looks brilliant? What looks bloody awful? And believe me, there is far too much of the latter. A good place to start with this is Issuu, an online community which allows anyone around the world to upload magazine-style spreads. It is a wonderful tool for self-publishing and is full of inspiration for all thing typographic - I suggest checking it out if this subject is your proverbial cup of tea - see: http://issuu.com/  

The key aspect of this module, then, is to create our own 'mock-up' magazine spreads using images from any one of our projects so far. I will be using images from my recent shoot with the homeless in Newquay, titled Shelter. The first draft of this can be seen below. I am quite happy with the results thus far; however, there is still a lot of room for improvement: I'm not sure if I like the placement of the images on the 3rd page; I am not entirely happy with the title font; one of my negs needs cleaning... You get the idea. And before you read the text and think, "hold on a second, this isn't English", well that's because it isn't. It's what we call in the industry - I think I am allowed to say that by now - 'placeholder text', which is basically a business-ey term for "I haven't thought of anything to say yet". Enjoy.

S


Mock-up magazine spread:


Pg. I

 

Pg. II

Pg. III