Sète, April 2011

black and white photography, urban landscape
Sète, Hérault, France, April 2011

Sète, Hérault, France, April 2011

This is another photograph where I am faced with a dilemma. The composition is better horizontally flipped – the tree and the lamppost are stronger, more assertive and menacing. Normally I would have no hesitation in presenting a flipped image, but in this one the van’s registration plate gives the game away.

I appreciate that some, maybe many, viewers will feel cheated by the flipped version – but I have ultimately gone for what looks better – preferring to get the overall feel of the photo right, and have it spoiled by a minor detail, to getting a small detail right whilst diminishing the feel of the photograph.

Three Pin-Hole Photos of the Same Apartment Block

architecture, black and white photography, experiment, urban landscape

These three were taken with a Holga Wide Pinhole Camera in the vertical panoramic format. Lamalou les Bains is a prosperous and bourgeois spa town, with many clinics. However there are certain areas that have suffered neglect and dereliction. Not surprisingly, these are the most interesting to explore and photograph. These flats, at first view, seemed to be unoccupied, but as I photographed them I realised that they were in fact inhabited.

 

Three Recent Photos

architecture, black and white photography, landscape, recent work

These three photographs were all taken in April. Two are instances of one of my more insistent and persistent visual obsessions: how things look when seen through a disrupting screen or obstacle. Whilst this obsession takes center-stage in the two vertical images; in the landscape shot taken just outside the village of Salasc the visual obstacles are emerging from the wings, and act more as a frame than as disruptions.

A Morning at Coloubres

black and white photography, landscape, urban landscape

It is easy to overlook the many small villages that dot the map just to the North of Béziers. The fact that they are built on a flat coastal plain means that their buildings rarely struggle for a place in the landscape, unlike villages in the mountains, where buildings have had to be fitted as best as possible into the often difficult terrain available, making for a more visually interesting environment. And the fact that these villages all center around the single industry of wine production can leave them all looking quite similar to one another.

However, Coloubres has its own character – maybe because it is built on a low, elongated hill. It certainly offers some interesting panoramas (unrepresented here – I’m sorry, I’m not very strong on ‘views’) and has enough quirky spots to have made for enjoyable photographing on the morning of the 5th of April. In addition the light was particularly good – sunny, but with a softening veil of thin cloud.

 

Nine Figures for Holy Week

black and white photography, self-portrait

As with last week’s photographs, these self-portraits were all taken in one session, onto a single roll of film. Consequently the images have a unified look which predisposes them to being arranged in sequences, combinations or grids.

mock-up
When I took these I had no intention of combining them. I had made small prints of a few that looked interesting on the contact sheet, and somehow, out of the disorder of my work-table, the images that make up the last pair came together, upside-down. 

panel 9

I was intrigued and moved by this combination – it seemed to be looking at me as intently as I was looking at it – a quality of religious Icon paintings.  I made small prints of the remaining images and spent a few days mixing and matching them, exploring the various permutations of ‘right-way-up’ and ‘upside-down’ (I use every permutation at least once).

But my exploration was also informed with a sense that the work I was progressing towards was going to be an essentially religious work.

My relationship with Christianity is complex. I am an atheist who believes that a great proportion of what I value in my culture, that makes life worth living, has come about as a result of Christianity and its legacy. I subscribe to Christian values and think Jesus’s life and teachings provide an outstanding example and source of inspiration for mankind (especially when compared with some of the ‘prophets’ on offer from other religions).

With the caveat that the artist is not necessarily the best interpreter of his own work (if anyone should be puzzled by his own work it should be its creator!) – ostensibly these images explore the condition of Jesus and his disciples during the Passion – the use of paired images allows different, often contradictory, conditions (pain, fear, denial, hope, despair, joy, pleasure, loneliness, confusion…) to interact without their diminishing one-another.

By extension, each figure may also be an entry from a ‘Dictionary of Suffering’; not just that of mankind, but of all suffering entities. Indeed, as I was playing with these images the art-works that were most present in my mind were Francis Bacon’s ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion‘ and R. B. Kitaj’s ‘Erasmus Variations‘.

Faith has, understandably, always been central to Religious Art. But just as we never really knew what our planet Earth meant till we had stepped outside it and seen it from space, maybe the art of the atheist whose gaze is nevertheless still turned with respect, interest and concern towards Christianity can reveal and communicate things of value that a believing Christian could not access on his own.

The ‘Birkhead Session’

black and white photography, self-portrait

The photographs in the panel below were all taken in one session onto one roll of film. The panel show all the photographs taken during this session, but their arrangement does not correspond to the sequence of their taking.

These images are the result of long exposures whilst I moved my head, as my friend – and assistant for this session – the Mr Birkhead after whom this work is named – rotated 360° a card set before the lens, from which card a narrow sector (a ‘pizza slice’) had been cut out . This allowed only small portions of the negative to receive exposure at any one moment, giving both a more complex and more defined depiction of head movement.

The 'Birkhead Session', Batley, West Yorkshire, 12 July 2000

The Birkhead Session, Batley, West Yorkshire, 12 July 2000

Unfortunately the negatives for this session were lost during floods in 2014 – luckily, I prior to the floods I had made high-resolution scans of these negatives.

Two More ‘Distant Figure’ & ‘Close-Up’ Self-Portraits

black and white photography, landscape, self-portrait

I thought I’d share a couple more of the pairings I posted last week.

To quickly recap: for the left-hand image above I set up my camera, triggered its ten-second self-timer, ran like crazy for nine seconds, stopped and posed as the shutter was released. The left-hand image shows the full, uncropped image; the right-hand image is what you get when you crop right down to my face (plus a little work on gamma and contrast).

Two images for the price of one!

I find the results quite unsettling, which is good, since I don’t see the point in taking a self-portrait in order to flatter oneself. The unsettling effect may be partly because nobody looks at their best photographed blurred and in extreme telephoto perspective, and partly down to genetics, bad living and the fact that past the age of fifty, one has the face one deserves…

No negative has, so far, given both a good full-frame image and a good  close-up. This is not due to any necessary incompatibility between the two interpretations – but simply reflects how rare successful images are in the normal running of things.

If, say, roughly one in a hundred photographs is successful or worth sharing – then the chances of a negative working both as a full-frame and as close-up is about ten thousand to one! Even if I lower my standards and aspire to one good photograph per roll of film – that still leaves me with less than one in a thousand chance.

However, I have not yet viewed all the ‘close-ups’ of the good ‘full-frames’, so I live in hope of eventually finding a negative that works really well as both.

Self-Portrait: Distant Figure & Close-Up

black and white photography, landscape, self-portrait

For a while, I was interested in photographing myself as a distant figure.

I would place the camera somewhere (on the ground, some ledge or sill, or hang it from a branch by the wrist-strap) trigger the self-timer and sprint as far from the camera as I could in the ten seconds the self-timer would allow me. Then stop and rapidly pose just before the shutter triggered.

I made the first of these distant-figure self-portraits in order to explore what might happened when making massive enlargements from a figure occupying a tiny proportion of the negative, as is sometimes seen in grainy deteriorated enlargements in police or press photography.

But I became more interested in how my distant figure existed withing the wider environment, and thus tended to preserve the whole image. I liked the way that the ‘self-portrait’ element was subservient to the ‘landscape’ element.

However, some of the close-ups were quite powerful, if rather disturbing and (I hope!) unflattering. So certain of these photographs can be presented in two modes – Full Frame and Close Up. Here are a couple of these such pairs.

 

 

I eventually had to stop taking these photographs since my body was suffering from the strain – my last session left me hobbling. I might do a film-full of these in one session – which could amount to five or six minutes-worth of sprinting – quite a lot for a slightly overweight man in his early fifties.

 

‘Le Chateau’, Caunas

architecture, black and white photography, recent work
Caunas, Hérault, France, March 2019

Caunas, Hérault, France, March 2019

Caunas used to be a mining village. It’s name may refer to a perfectly conical, lone slag heap that stands just beyond the village’s outskirts. Despite being a former mining village its setting is quite idyllic – the river Orb flows not too far away, and between it and the village are abandoned orchards and paddocks.

The building in these photographs is locally known as ‘Le Chateau’. It was once the home of the local landowner but now appears abandoned. In the photographs one can see a tower that was designed to be a dovecote. It still functions as such, but its inhabitants are now wild pigeons.

Caunas, Hérault, France, March 2019

Caunas, Hérault, France, March 2019

Lamp-posts at Valras

landscape, recent work, urban landscape
Valras, Hérault, France, October 2018
Valras, Hérault, France, October 2018

I’m in the process of preparing a project for a group exhibition on the theme of ‘connections’.

The theme had me scratching my head for a while. Then one day I looked up and saw something that seemed to perfectly embody the theme: telegraph poles and the overhead wires they carry and which connect us in various ways. 

I’ve long found telegraph poles, electricity poles, and overhead wires beautiful and intriguing. They can be seen as elegant, incredibly tall, thin plinths topped with abstract sculptures consisting of wires, boxes, tubes and hoods holding lights. I hope that I’ll be able to make some photos that communicate the beauty I find in these forms. 

The above photograph was taken at Valras. It had been quite a few months since I last visited this beach resort (I avoid it during the Summer months as it is too crowded and too hot) and I was struck anew how this place always gives me something interesting, exciting and beautiful. 

two Photos of Bédarieux’s Beautiful Viaduct

architecture, black and white photography, landscape

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Bédarieux, Hérault, France, May 2018

Maybe the most spectacular architecture in the town of Bédarieux is its viaduct. A structure consisting of 37 vaulted arches crossing the valley of the river Orb. It was built in order to give the bauxite quarries in the surrounding hills access to the Paris/Béziers mainline, which passes through Bédarieux.

Trains ceased using it a long time ago, but for a long time it served as a short-cut across the valley for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. Now, for safety reasons, even these are prevented from using the viaduct.

I live nearby. It is a simple but fascinating structure, and each time I walk under it I learn a little bit more about architecture. The other day, when the river Orb was in full spate after heavy rains, I observed how those piers that stood in the river, their bases had the shape of a shield laid horizontally, the point of the shield directed upstream. I noticed how this point split the current, and also deflected branches and larger debris, which would have otherwise got stuck, caused accumulations and created a dam.

These photos don’t show the viaducts entire span. To have attempted such a photograph would have been to allow the ‘concept’ of the viaduct to distract me from the (I think) more subtle beauty that Chance, Occasion and Disordered Reality were offering me.

Keen-eyed observers will notice that one of the two photographs has been horizontally flipped.

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Bédarieux, Hérault, France, May 2018