Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Add to Set

I WAS privileged along with a posse of other photobloggers to be part of the Add to Set exhibition that is currently taking place in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. Among those participating in the month-long exhibition are Iced Coffee, Alan in Belfast, John, Good on Paper, Claire. Here's what I wrote about it before and you can also read the Trans Belfast blog on the event here . On two walls there is an ecliptic mix of everyone’s images and it was interesting to hear people’s reactions to the pics not knowing who took the image. I was delighted at one stage that one woman pointed out one my pics and then another one which was a couple of prints away.

that one there

Wall 1

Before the exhibition was officially opened (second floor of the Waterfront do go see it if you have a chance) there was a panel discussion on the future of photography.

I am late coming to this as it happened last week but I have been aware that I should put something together from the event which was informative and fun, so here you go. While this is certainly not a definitive account of what was discussed in the event, these are some of the thoughts that stayed with me afterwards.

The panel discussion featured Pennie Smith, John Baucher and acting Photo editor of the Irish News Hugh Russell, (who incidentally 22 years ago took a pic of me for the Irish News when I was in a school play which I still have somewhere). Also on the panel were two people from Belfast Exposed.


There is a discussion on Flickr about the contribution from the two Belfast Exposed pimping their organisation rather than really getting into the debate. And while I would agree to a point, I also think some valuable points were made by them concerning deletion.

[I have to say as an aside I do have a fondness for Belfast Exposed having run into their darkrooms in occasions in the past for emergency printing as well as taking part in some of their masterclasses. While this was a few years ago I don't know if photographers find it as accessible as it used to be.]

So do we delete or not? Say you take a load of pics and only use a couple. What happens to the rest, what do you do with them? Personally I have them all clogging up my puters both in work and at home. I filled a work PC within a year of pics until there was not enough memory to even delete a word document. At that stage I bought a spare hard drive, now they are all sitting in that.

I have been thinking for a couple of years now (and all the while taking more and more images) that I need to sort them, somehow. At one stage I would ask some of the news photographers that I come across what do they do for storage/archives, so far I haven’t gotten a solution but I imagine the last thing they would do is delete images. After all in that regard there are bound to be instances when images can reveal different things over time. This is one problem that I will have to overcome at some stage, as I cannot rely on Flickr or Pix.ie as an online archive, though I do to some extent. Pennie also raised this in relation to her back catalogue of work, and the huge amount of work involved in digitising it, which up to now she hasn't done.

Another point raised in the debate by Hugh Russell is that we no longer print and to a large extent that is really true. Unlike before when film was the order of the day images were printed, now we snap even more and they sit in a hard drive, we no longer print pictures.

There is no doubt though that companies such as Blurb and Shutterfly, which both provide a reasonably priced service can help to change that. If you are in the States you can print through your Flickr account and maybe that is something that Pix.ie could do here.

DSC_0004 The kite flying pages

Pennie Smith revealed that despite being a music photographer she hates music and she still uses film. While she can see some benefits to digital (such as pushing in low-light conditions) she prefers film. She also spoke about how her images are bootlegged all over the place, including in the Trans Belfast brochure.

'Dogs don’t buy newspapers', Hugh Russell said at one point recalling a former picture editor referring to publishing an image of a dog in the paper. You only need to look at what local newspapers, generally, put on their front page (cute kiddies) to know this to be true. He spoke of how the content of images has changed in Northern picture desks in recent years, less troubles therefore less hard news. Like many of the others he spoke of how a photographer should know film to master digital photography.

Interestingly while he uses digital all the time in work, if he is doing something like a family wedding or special event, he uses film.

I have to say as well there is nothing like being in a darkroom, from the smell of the chemicals to the actual process of printing your image. It is also worth noting that being the best photographer in the world doesn’t mean you can print an image worth a damn. I was once told it takes seven years to become a master printer, it is an art form in itself.

I loved printing from the first time I tried it and I am not in the slightest inferring that I am in anyway a master, far from it. Being in a darkroom makes you realise your mistakes too, such as a badly exposed image. If you have exposed an image badly, it shows up massively in the printing stages. A little knowledge is also a dangerous thing, the more you know about printing, the more you realise that a print you did before and may have loved, is actually a shite print, with little contrast, or whatever. I know this from experience ;)

“If you are good in the darkroom you’ll be good in the lightroom,” Hugh added.

Which brings me to the digital bit. Digital has made photography accessible which is the key for me. I have darkroom equipment but at one stage couldn’t do anything with it because I just couldn’t afford it. Therefore my film camera sat unused and unloved. I kept thinking at some stage this would change and I would get my photography mojo and money to do it.

But it wasn’t until I got my digital camera that this changed, all of a sudden I could snap what I wanted. I didn’t have to eek a roll of film out, being economical with every shot. After all each frame literally costs money, so why shoot something in 36 shots when it can be done in three or four frames. Not so with digital, hence the ridiculous amount of images I have clogging up my hard drives.

At the end of the day, however, a badly exposed shot is still a badly exposed shot whether it is digital or film. Just because it is digital does not mean that you have a magic wand that will enable you to take better pics. But at least you can kinda tell whether or not you have your shot in ways you never could before with film.

I am still learning with digital. In some ways things were clearer with film, for black and white expose for the low lights and in colour expose for the highlights was the general rule. Now I find myself taking shots a little darker in attempts to not blow out clouds or the white detail. Bracketing is also my best friend.

So I suppose on one hand, the message from the panel that you should know film to know digital is spot on. But at the end of the day a good eye is a good eye and all these other things can be learned. So don’t be disheartened if you have come to photography via your digital camera, just learn your craft, keep trying and keep snapping. And to quote Eve Arnold who once wrote in an autograph to me ‘make all your negs be in focus’ or indeed jpeg or raw images.

Stumble It!


John Braine said...

That's a great shot too. Would be perfect for some ad or poster that needed a photo to depict 'fun'.

Moochin Photoman said...

Great blog.....time was against us on the night but i would add that composition and content (the eye) is very important, a shit shot is still a shit shot no matter how much darkroom and photoshop wizadry is applied to it.
There is only one way to learn and that is by practice.
I've since learnt that BX weren't that happy with their involvement either. As for BX it is now so far removed from the community ethos that set it up, it is more concerned with their archive and bringing photographers over to exhibit, which as i have noted elsewhere is no bad thing. However they are alienating others in the sector with their attitude so perhaps i am a lil biased against them.
I used to work there 11 years ago and now i doubt very much if i will ever have any involvement with them despite being an experienced photographic facilitator. I don't like that they gain copyright from the participants so that they can sell on images for their own gain(ie pay expenses of visiting photographers).
and breath John!!!

Alan in Belfast said...

Having namedropped the BX website, I had a look that night and subsequently caught the last day of the Bonfires exhibition over in BX the next day.

Wonderful portraits of bonfires, each bonfire similarly framed in its urban environment, with whited out skies ... and only one shot blurry!

But the nerd in me dragged me across to the cupboard under the stairs to look at the iMac with the selection of digitised archive photos - many from 20+ years ago.

I was surprised that as an archive, there was so little information. Very few shots even had the photographer identified - never mind the year. Was it a pile of negatives, rather than an archive?

Anyway, I'll continue being an amateur snapper.

Was good to meet up with so many online faces at the launch. Red Mum - Sounds like it was worth the trip up on the bus?

Marcus Mac Innes said...

Would you believe we (Pixie) have been in negotiation with various printing companies for nearly a year now. Typical case of old school vs new school. Meetings are 4-6 weeks apart rather than a few days, which we find absolutely frustrating. Do you want to do this or not!

I love the style of the Add To Set exhibition, even the name is cool! We are in the early stages of planning an exhibition in Dublin for Pixie users and we will definitely draw some inspiration from this!

Great post! See you soon!

Manuel said...

you went out with my brother in law......oh and lovely pics.....

Red Mum said...

@John Braine - thanks it was good fun, delighted one of the pics shows that.

@Moochin Photoman, I should have said a shite pic is a shite, composition wise and exposure wise... And now the fog clears I could not work out where I knew you from back at the photomeet in Belfast last September, it was from Belfast Exposed, all those years ago. It is a shame that the community aspect to it has gone. A big shame.

@Alan in Belfast, it definitely was worth the trip up though I slept in completely the next morning :)

@Marcus it wouldn;t surprise me at all that you have negotiating for a year for online printing. Hopefully it will come together for you, I would be well on for that as it can be a pain in the arse to upload a gaggle of images to sites like shutterfly instead of being able to click a 'print this' button on pixie. You;d think they would jump at the chance, anyway.

I thought the name Add to Set was cool too. And would love to see something similar with pixie. there are certainly more than enough amazing images to choose from.

@Manuel,who has been talking? ;) And I seem to remember your brother-in-law was into his photography until some of his lens were, eh, liberated!

Nolene said...

As an amateur in love with photography I enjoyed reading this post. Im so grateful for digital. It opens up the possibility to experiment with images for those of us without access to a darkroom. Suddenly, creative photography has moved from being the realm of a select few to being available to everyone with a camera. And, should I admit it???...thank heavens for Photoshop which brings the darkroom to my living room!
A walk in the park becomes something special when Ive got my camera with me, and oh the misery when I see a potentially great shot and Ive left my lens at home.
Yes Redmum, I agree with you on how much there is to learn and discover about photography and subsequent editing. And I know exactly what you mean when you mention the number of images that end up clogging your hard drive. Every so often I go on the digital equivalent of a cleaning frenzy. Delete, delete, delete!
Do you post on Flickr? There are so many amazing images there. Im constantly humbled when I see the most amazing shots and yet (like all photographers) inspired and hopeful that the next photo I take will be The One.
Great blog..keep up the good work. p.s I came by your blog via All Smoke and Mirrors.