Posted on March 23, 2017 by under
Today I went on a press tour of Derby’s FORMAT 17 photography festival.
The theme – HABITAT – is complex and wide-ranging and has, I feel, been a little over-intellectualised, which I suppose is to be expected in the photo exhibition world, but it has at least led to a great variety of work on show.
There is something else I expect to encounter in a photo festival.
It lies behind the idiom: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’
This refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image.
However, what I find with the photo art world is that more often than not a picture can only show its worth WITH a thousand words.
Indeed, as the curator of the QUAD exhibition said as she prepared to show us the assembled images: ‘I need to say a few words because these works need contextualising.’
I do tend to rail against photography that contains wordy, elaborate explanation.
One exhibition here tells me that ‘the images discover a place where documentation becomes appropriation, transformation leads to reconfiguration and all expectations disappear before they arrive… if photography as a medium is capable of change, acclimation and physicality, it will speak natively to a life in flux.’ Is this the kind of text that clarifies a work? Or obscures it?
As with previous FORMAT festivals, the work on show provoked contrasting emotions for me.
When it comes to exhibition photography, I am always conflicted.
I came to photography through the camera club world and eventually became a commercial photographer.
Throughout my absorption in photography, I have come to view good photography as a marriage of adept technique, astute composition and fine pictorial qualities.
For me, Wolfgang Tillmans – the only photographer to ever win the Turner Prize – is as fraudulent a photographer as Tracy Emin is an artist.
So, it will come as no surprise that some of my favourite images shown here from FORMAT 17 (so far, at least – more to see in the next few weeks) have strong aesthetic qualities:
Liz Hingley’s exploration of the world of brass band music in Bolsover produced some fascinating images, especially the face of a young player reflected in his instrument.
Sheng Wen Lo’s depictions of polar bears in captivity are powerful and concerning.
Laurent Chehere’s images of houses in the sky delightfully summons up both Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchhausen and Pixar’s Up.
Julia Fullerton-Batten’s Feral Children images are like stills from an epic movie, all based on real cases of children who have grown up isolated from human contact. In the image you can see, this boy lived on the streets from the age of four for two years. He developed a relationship with a pack of wild dogs, and shared the food he begged with the dogs.
Best of all, though, from an exhibition entitled Balkan Trails, is the image of a young Syrian refugee, looking terrified and alone… an image I just couldn’t tear myself away from.
So, that’s FORMAT so far… more to explore and discover.
Like previous FORMAT festivals, I have found exhibitions that range from the impressive to the impenetrable, the powerful to the pretentious, the beautiful to the baffling. Maybe that’s how it should be.
One more thing… why are we seeing videos and installations?
This is a photography festival and, as such, should show the power of the still image over the moving image.
Posted on October 24, 2016 by under
I have just finished processing all the photos of the scarecrows from the Duffield Arts Festival weekend and, as the official photographer, I am in deep despair… I didn’t photograph them all! I captured only 68 out of the 73.
I kept saying to people I met on the trail: ‘If the official photographer can’t photograph all the scarecrows, then who will?’ I am now searching for that who!
I would be in a deeper slough of despond were it not for the fact that it was going to prove mightily difficult to photograph all 73 when only 61 were flagged in the official trail booklet. I had been told that there were late entries but I also heard that some people decided to enter into the spirit of the contest with an unofficial entry and made up their scarecrow almost literally overnight.
So, which five scarecrows did I miss and who has a photo of them? If you can identify which ones are missing from my gallery, do let me know.
Posted on September 23, 2016 by under
I was delighted to act as the official photographer for the first ever Duffield Arts Festival. As it took place over one weekend, I got a strong sense of the life led by a blue-arsed fly.
For a first-time effort, the festival was a pronounced success with a wide spectrum of activities and events – concerts, talks, workshops, exhibitions, craft stalls, a ‘piano-thon’, a photo, art and short story competition, and a scarecrow trail which was key to the success in that the streets thronged with people, especially families with young children, all seeking out the scarecrows. It was great to constantly bump into strangers and start chatting about the trail. It really helped bind the local community.
As the official photographer, I felt I had to photograph all 73 scarecrows but I wonder if I got them all because not all 73 were listed in the trail map! I do hope I have captured them all – if not I may need to request other peoples’ photos – as I would love to create a giant montage of the scarecrows to be displayed at next year’s festival.
There will definitely be a second festival so well done to Jonathan Leach for creating it – and what a fantastic effort from the many volunteers who worked behind the scenes.
There were a few glitches – some acts failed to show, the talks at the library were moved to Ecclesbourne School at the last moment and William Gilbert School didn’t open on the Sunday after a very quiet Saturday – but these were outweighed by all the positives, including a superb Saturday night concert featuring the Duffield Singers, Derby A Cappella and and an exhilarating new women’s choir from Belper – Ignite UK.
Let’s ignite the second Duffield Arts Festival!
Here is a selection of my favourite images from the weekend.
Posted on August 27, 2016 by under
I was commissioned by TC Harrison Ford at Pride Park in Derby to take some night shots of their dealership frontage for an advertisement in Derbyshire Life magazine.
This was both a satisfying and frustrating night.
Satisfying because I took the required shots. A fairly clear night brought me a deep blue sky and I was delighted with the shots I got.
The frustration came out of waiting for night to fall while watching, to my left, an absolutely spectacular sunset.
I then wanted to be somewhere else, namely in an idyllic countryside location, not in an industrial park!
However, I then thought: ‘I might as well take a few shots of the sunset and put them in my skies folder (every photographer should have a skies folder).
I also made sure I took a few shots of the TC Harrison building at the same time.
That way, I would have the building in just about the right light for me to slot in my sunset shots in the sky above the building and for it to look authentic.
All I had to do to give the image more veracity was to warm up the building, courtesy of two Photoshop filters.
Ok, the sun wasn’t setting behind the TCH building but who but a fussy meteorologist is bothered?
In the end, the shoot was more satisfying than frustrating in that I have given my client more than requested.
Essentially, I have told TCH they have a few bonus pictures and they can use those another time – and I may get some more work from them as a result!
Come to think of it, they may like the sunset pics so much they’ll use one of those for the ad rather than the blue night pics. We’ll see…
Posted on August 5, 2016 by under
Having had the good taste to use one of my Duffield images for their new ale Duffield Amber, the Town Street Tap Room has now put six of my Derwent Valley images on the wall of its recently-opened micro pub.
Thanks to the Tap Room manager Jamie Traynor for his good taste.
So, I offered to take some photos at their official launch yesterday (Thursday, August 4th).
The Tap Room or Micro Pub is becoming increasingly popular.
As defined in Wikipedia, it’s ‘a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks.’
Who wouldn’t love a pub like that?
Like many micro pubs, the Town Street Tap serves beer straight from the cask in an open view cellar.
There is no bar, so when you walk in, you need to gaze up at the choice of beers, and then give your order to one of several staff members, distinguished by their trademark apron.
The Town Street Tap also serves ciders, perries and wines plus snacks.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the launch evening where the ribbon was cut by Derbyshire cricketer Chesney Hughes.
Posted on July 13, 2016 by under
I spent a fair part of Sunday shooting the 10th Belper Food, Real Ale & Craft Festival.
My pride in Belper soars with each passing year and, in spite of a rainy start, there was still a substantial turnout and midday arrivals were eventually greeted by sunshine.
There were the usual 100 plus stalls, a remarkable figure considering the first event in 2007 attracted 24.
As I needed to take several photos of stallholders, it was encouraging to find that quite a few of them were attending the festival either for the first or second time.
As the stallholder bookings increased, it was decided to place several stalls in the Memorial Gardens.
What a great move: it created space for crowds to sit and laze on the grass as well as provide an extra performance space.
Furthermore, as my photo shows, this enables Belper to show off its floral displays, especially as this is the month when the East Midlands in Bloom judges descend on Belper to judge its Bloom efforts.
Proud as I am of the event, it’s disappointing that the new Belper Town Guide, which is 100 pages long, doesn’t even mention the festival. How could they fail to mention the town’s biggest annual event?
Also, I was told that although Node 56 did a wonderful job organising the live music -a showcase for many Belper acts – not one of the performers received a penny for their efforts. They never have. When I look at the 100-page Town Guide which has at least 75 pages of ads, and the 68-page Festival programme, which has about 60 pages of ads, and then consider the money coming in from over 100 stallholders, surely the Town Council could make a contribution?
Posted on May 21, 2016 by under
I visited a fascinating art installation at Belper Mill: Part of the Fabric, created by Tan Draig, OBE.
At first sight, it’s a web wrapped around the pillars supporting the cast iron structure of Belper’s North Mill.
Remarkably, this maze is one long continuous thread, enough to weave a man’s suit out of.
As Tan told the Derby Telegraph: ‘The idea of the web is that it reflects the tight spaces that the mill workers laboured in.
They were constantly surrounded by noisy machines in great long rows, all running with miles of cotton threads that were being spun, doubled and finished.’
This woven ‘tunnel ‘ ends in an opening which contains a free-standing structure.
Visitors are invited to write about a favourite piece of clothing on a strip of cloth which they can then be attached and form part of an interesting collection of textile related tales.
I was fortunate to find a couple who were wandering around the installation, clearly fascinated by it.
I also added a slightly surreal take on the installation by creating my own art: a subtle movement of the camera as I hand held it in order to create a sense of a haunted past.
As you’ll also see in one of the photos below, there are minuscule figures representing mill workers – 500 in all.
Posted on April 21, 2016 by under
As the Queen marks her 90th birthday, I am reflecting on the time when, as the official photographer for the Derby Cathedral Quarter, I was commissioned to shoot the Queen’s visit to Derby Cathedral for the Royal Maundy. This is the annual tradition whereby the reigning monarch gives a purse of money to the elderly – two people (one male, one female) for each year of the monarch’s life. As the Queen was 84, there were 168 recipients.
I don’t think I have ever been so anxious about a photo shoot. This was one of the biggest days in the Cathedral’s long history, and the sense of responsibility starting weighing down on me. As I had about two months’ notice of the event, it enabled me to spend many sleepless nights worrying myself daft. For one, this was press photography which wasn’t me at all, and this was going to be much more demanding than a wedding shoot. After all, you can always say to the bride: ‘Do you mind kissing the groom again? I didn’t quote get the shot.’ However, you can hardly say to Her Majesty: ‘Do you mind shaking hands with the Bishop again?’
What’s more, photographing the Queen was only part of my worries. I had to take photos of the crowds, the Maundy recipients, VIP guests, everyone associated with the Cathedral, plus the Yeoman of the Guard who turn up in all their finery and are responsible for the Maundy purses.
I fretted and panicked – a bit too much because I was close to turning the job down due to the strain I was under. I had to pull myself together. I started to feel better when I asked a fellow photographer, Ian Daisley, to help me out as, logistically, I realised I couldn’t shoot the entire occasion on my own. He eased the pressure. So did the weather. The forecast was good and, thankfully, the sun shone all day. I had a feeling God was looking down on me, as it rained the day before – and the day after.
My anxiety was quelled after taking one of my first photos of Her Majesty as she entered the Cathedral. She had a smile that suggested she was positively looking forward to the occasion. I thought: ‘She’s really up for this’ and, as I looked at that image on my LCD monitor, it made ME smile. ‘I’m up for this, too’ I decided.
It was still a tough, demanding shoot. I was one of only four photographers allowed inside the Cathedral. We were not permitted to use flash and could only photograph Her Majesty as she distributed the purses walking up the middle aisle – and even then, we had to stop shooting as she came within a certain distance. Because of the low light levels, I used ISO 1250, f2.8, from 1/125 to 1/200 sec.
I relaxed a little more as I checked a satisfying set of shots following her first walk up the aisle. My best photo of the Queen gifting a purse came in the second walk up the other side of the aisle.
As my camera caught it, the Maundy recipient seemed to be cupping Her Majesty’s hands, savouring the moment. It was a humbling moment knowing I had captured one of the proudest moments of this guy’s life. Maundy service over, we stepped outside for the regal walkabout.
What I like about the photo right is that the Queen is already clutching a gift of flowers and although a bouquet of cheap flowers in a cellophane wrapping is ready to be thrust at her – and this happens all the time to the Queen – I captured a look that shows an unflappable display of dignity.
Her smile seems genuine. Or maybe it’s well practised and this is the Queen at her most professional, knowing that photographs are being taken.
Whatever the case, you have to admire her.
What I like about photo left is that she lets slip her calm, smiling walkabout demeanour when presented with a gift by a man who, I was told later, ‘follows the Queen everywhere.’
I was also told that she knows this man well and he always showers her with gifts.
I would love to know what her gleeful look tells us about the particular gift he had bestowed on her that day.
My favourite photo is this last one – for many reasons. I was pleased that in the heat of the moment I took a chance and panned the shot, knowing that it might not have come off. But boy, it did! Again, Her Majesty’s smile is genuine. Maybe it’s the fact that the formalities are over for a while and lunch awaits down the road at the Derby Cathedral Quarter Hotel. I love the fact that I have captured not only her smile but also a blur of waving hands and a flurry of Union Jacks. I even got the reflection of faces in the bottom of the frame, and was delighted with the sense of movement just in those few horizontal lines across the picture.
After the day was over, I processed the photos and, buoyed with what I’d got, suggested to the Cathedral that they issue a souvenir booklet. It didn’t generate any extra income for me but I was proud to see my photos in a permanent form for public consumption. The brochure sold well.
I never thought of myself as much of a Royalist but that experience enhanced my respect for the Queen. I had never got so close to Her Majesty before and was surprised at how I felt such nobility and presence. When I give photo talks to Women’s Institutes, the reaction to these photos reminds me how privileged I was to capture this day.
This shoot was good for me: in the year that followed, I was commissioned to photograph Derby visits from Princess Anne, Prince Charles and Prince Edward. Where was this leading, I thought? A call from Prince William about a certain wedding in 2011? I would then be well on the way to completing the set!
Posted on February 23, 2016 by under
As a Trustee of Heage Windmill – and the guy who runs the website – I get to take a few photos, which is always a pleasure as the windmill is such a beautiful sight.
Not at the moment, though… due to a severe case of wet rot in the main timbers, the sails had to be taken down and sent for repair.
I tell you: a de-nuded six sail windmill is not pretty to look at.
However, thanks to the volunteers who launched the Trouble at Mill Appeal (TAMA) – and, of course, those who have donated to TAMA – there is light (and wind) at the end of the tunnel and it looks as if the sails will be turning again when we come to open on Saturday, March 26th.
Here’s a set of photos when I visited the factory site where we’ve been allowed to carry out some of the essential work.
The volunteer team have disassembled the shutters on the old sails, cut out the dead wood on the whips, and painted all of the sails and shutters. It’s a long painting job as each of the six sails needs three coats. At the time I took these photos, 15 had been painted.
The job then is to reassemble the shutters on the old sails and, as each of the shutters have been sponsored – with each sponsor allocated a number – those numbers need to be re-stencilled.
Posted on February 14, 2016 by under
With my projected photo book of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in mind, I spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon photographing at Derby’s Silk Mill as six teams combined in the 2016 What If? Machine project.
Running since 2012, What If? sees the design, build and operation of a Goldberg / Heath Robinson ‘chain reaction’ machine.
Rube Goldberg and W. Heath Robinson designed contraptions with a simple objective but which were simultaneously ingenious, over-complicated and makeshift.
Remember the board game Mousetrap? If so, that will give you the idea.
This is a splendid, fun project involving – as you’ll see from my photos – whole families.
What If? is also a nod to Derby’s engineering heritage and it’s entirely appropriate for the Silk Mill with it having been re-energised as ‘The Museum of Making’.
Although my photos can’t show the six machines creating a chain reaction – that’s for moving film – hopefully they convey something of the eccentricity and ingenuity of the contraptions, not to mention their absurdity.
Mind you, as you’ll also see from the faces, all the teams took it quite seriously. There was some intense minds hard at work but it was smiles and cheers at the end.
Here is a gallery of some of the photos. If you want to see all 95, click here to go to my website gallery.