Photos John Robinson
When Telling a Story, Intercession, Photography and Writing all Play a Part in Getting the Story Out.
Intercession |ˌɪntəˈsɛʃ(ə)n| the Action of Intervening on Behalf of Another: he only escaped ruin by the intercession of his peers with the king. The action of doing something on behalf of another: prayers of intercession.
Photograph |ˈfəʊtəɡrɑːf| A Picture Made Using a Camera, in which an image of what is focused on to light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by Chemical Treatment, and or digital process: A photograph of what is in front of you.
Writer |ˈrʌɪtə| A Person Who has Written Something or who Writes in a Particular Way: the writer of the article. a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a vocation or occupation: she was a prolific writer | he a writer of short stories.
I got into photography when I saw how I could put some light on some of what I saw around me in the city of Johannesburg in the 1990s. I am a photographer because through it I can tell something of what is around me, I am not a camera or photographic technophile. When I saw how I could go into a situation with a small camera and come away with tangible aspects of what was there I was officially hooked. As a photographer, I don’t feel that there is such a thing as a boring situation but there is such a thing as a boring story told.
I then started to write for myself when I needed extended captions and some short-form writing to go with the pictures I was making. Robin Comley said to me one day that in the perfect world our pictures would talk for themselves, we agreed in the end that writing could add some context but we never should double-speak to the viewer as it were. The picture and the text can work alongside each other but never repeat each other as a writer and a photographer work together on a joint job. As a writer, I am picture strong, I can get the feel of what I want in the text. I love working with a good editor can get that feeling all in line alongside my images.
After many years in this craft and after many years of hardship for many photographers in getting stories published in a ‘visual’ world, I have given much thought to what I might actually be in all this…
I am the go-between, the messenger, a soother and sometimes the grit in a shoe. The intercessor speaks for the other, the intercessor speaks to another too. The intercessor goes in between for two parties or viewpoints. Sometimes my work can be soothing like an applied balm, and at other times these perceptions can be uncomfortable truths that also need some of the light of the day.
Like any craftsman, it is not enough to just make nice chairs, for example. The craftsman has to keep a note of how his ‘chairs’ are fitting into the rooms and doing all the jobs that they were intended to do. As a photog, I have to keep a firm hold on my position-at-work as I frame images and link words for others to view and read.
What I Love About Looking at Paula Lycan‘s Work is its Ability to Travel Through Time. These photos feel incredibly contemporary, depicting queerness in a way that is both sensitive and political. But there are also references to the early beginnings of queer photography, the textural and sensual darkroom prints of people like Peter Hujar. Paula’s construction of the visual language of the darkroom also feels like a very fresh take on visualizing queerness. Reclaiming the labor and physicality of the darkroom tangles into the physicality of the body present in Paula’s images creating a poetically intricate narrative. – LENSCRATCH
When Any Camera Intrudes Into a Person’s Space that Person Becomes Normative or in Other Words, Adopts a Pose That They Feel Is the Right Way for Them to be Perceived
Unless you take out your camera in front of an inanimate object or a person without any prior knowledge of cameras and photography there will be a change in your subject when they realize they are being photographed. The photographer has always hankered for invisibility.
When any camera intrudes into a person’s space that person becomes normative or in other words adopts a pose that they feel is the right way for them to be perceived by the photographer at hand. Big setups like those with a camera on a tripod and studio lights will give off a more formal feel from the subject while small cameras and less of a studio setup will give off a more informal feel from the subject at hand. In both situations, the intervention of more of the joint humanness shared by both the subject and photographer can lessen the normative behaviour of the person or people photographed.
If the photographer comes away from behind the camera body by using a waist-level viewfinder and or engages more with the subject, the subject will in turn relax and give more of their spirit to the resulting photographic images.
The subject too must be able to trust the photographer to give of their self into the same resulting photographs.
Drink some coffee.
When photography was born, the early cameras were bulky and very noticeable. The image through the lens was transferred onto a large sheet of glass and from this glass plate, a contact print was made. Candid photography was not generally possible. It was only with the start of production of the small rangefinder camera in 1932 and later SLR cameras that it was possible for the photographer to focus accurately and fast candid photography with a small camera was also born.
With the advent of digital photography, the world is awash with the photographic images of everybody and all their neighbours too. The days of many people feeling the need for the services of a person who understood the art of photography are largely over. Everyone now thinks that they are a photographer in their own right. In this wash of people taking pictures of themselves and their friends, the narrative photographer can at last hide in plain sight. The photographer can be invisible in plain sight in this wash of image takers while continuing documenting life as he or she uniquely perceives.
The Leica M6 camera is a small analogue rangefinder camera, it is what I use for most of my personal photographic work. The Leica M6 is a small quiet rangefinder camera and in many ways, it is just like the first rangefinder cameras of 1932 which could be used without much attention called to its self unlike the bulky cameras of those times.
Alongside my Leica M6, I am now starting to use my iPhone 6 phone camera for some of my personal work too.
With the wash of many people taking selfies with mobile phone cameras in public places, I have found out that I can use my mobile phone camera for street photography with drawing close to zero attention to myself while doing my stuff as a narrative photographer.
In many ways, the modern mobile phone camera is the Leica M camera of its day. My iPhone 6 camera is hiding in plain sight in the midst of all the other mobile phone cameras clicking round about…
People Behave In A Normative Way In Front Of The Camera.
The camera produces a photograph which is a representation of what is in front of the camera lens, this photograph is not a painting that is first interpreted by the eye and mind of the artist and then painted onto a canvas or other surface.
When taking pictures the photographer must feel as at home with the camera in hand, as with the very fingers when picking up a mobile phone for example. Get to internalise the aperture, shutter speed and ISO of your camera and photography. Photography is about the images photographed as brushing teeth is about mouth hygiene and not the toothbrush its self. There are many people around that are more interested in the technology of photography and the camera then the moments seen with it. I feel photographers must keep the main thing the main thing…
Taking a photograph is as much about what is cropped out as much as what is left in the camera frame. A photograph is also about the position of the photographer and the camera introduced onto the scene or moment captured too. When a Photograph is taken the photographer has left some aspects of the scene out of the picture entirely, made other things seem small and insignificant in the background and highlighted other aspects of the scene in the foreground giving them more prominence.
Stop for some coffee.
The act of photographing needs the photographer to introduce into the scene a camera body and lens. This act alone lets the subject know that they are now ‘on camera’ as it were and the photographer is there to record their activities while there. The mere introduction of a camera into a situation can cause situational changes once it is out there… Pierre Bourdieu says the introduction of a camera into a subject’s setting introduces a reaction from the subject, people behave in a normative way in front of the camera. There are decisions that the photographer has made during the moment in time it was captured.
The social documentary photographer Dorothea Lange said that to know ahead of time what you were looking for meant that you were only photographing your preconceptions. Lange said that you should rather work by looking at that which you instinctively respond. Certain moments just catch the eye…
A Moment Caught, Needs Visual Devices to Work as a Photograph…
Susan Sontag said a photograph is a three-dimensional moment in time that is seen and then captured and cropped into a two-dimensional frame. Though the three-dimensional moment is seen by the human eye the moment it is contained in the two-dimensional frame of the photograph it needs visual devices to work as a photograph for the same human eyes now gazing on it in it’s altered form.
The two-dimensional frame of photography is noticed the moment we take a camera up to our eye. The unframed world seen by the human eye is sharply cut into a small rectangle with defined edges and corners that is not natural to the normal human vision. These defined edges affect the final picture. You can emphasise the vertical with a portrait frame or you can emphasise the horizontal with a landscape frame. It is within this vertical portrait or horizontal landscape frame that we position the content of our photograph.
By positioning the main focus of our image using the general rule of thirds, we can be in a strong starting point in photography. By dividing the length and width of the camera’s rectangle viewfinder into thirds we have four points of pleasing visual strength. By placing the focus of the image on one of these points and not dead centre of the photograph the image will have more interest in the human eye.
Drink some coffee now.
The camera just faithfully records what is in front of the lens, the photographer must crop and use the defined edges of the image to hold the photograph together. The human eye can concentrate on an area of interest, the camera cannot…
Along with the edges of the frame and the rule of thirds, the photographer has a list of visual devices that will lead the eyes of the viewers of the photographer’s images.
A pattern in photography is made stronger when it is broken. Without a halt in the pattern, the photographer might as well just photocopy a piece of wallpaper. A crowd scene with a lone flagbearer makes a spot on which the human eye can rest. Without the flag bearer in the swirling crowd, the eye of the viewer will soon drift elsewhere.
A line in a photograph can be a divide between elements, a chain of elements that together form a visual linear link through a picture. A linear element leads the viewer’s eye around the image. A linear element can be straight, curved or jagged and can affect the overall feel of the photograph too.
We live in a world of colour. Photography heightens the effects of the colours that we are surrounded by and to some extent take for granted in our daily lives. Colour can link elements in our pictures. Warm colours like red and orange come out to the viewer while the cool colours like blues and greens move away from the viewer. The light by which we take our pictures is not neutral either, it can be hard or soft. Hard light heightens colour and soft light mutes the same. Colour is reflected by light and by doing so it takes on some of that colour in the end photographed quality.
Contrast is described as the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association. In photography, the strikingly difference can be light and dark, texture, colour or pattern.
In closing we must remember that all of the above are just devices and not the subject of our photographs, these devices well used can make our pictures much stronger but they are never the subject matter of a photograph that has something to say for itself.
Finish off the coffee and have an open discussion.
The Sensor or Film in the Camera is the Light-Sensitive Surface That We Draw On…
Photo John Robinson
Photography means light drawing or drawing with light. The sensor or film in the camera is the light-sensitive surface that we draw on, it’s like a sheet of paper if you like. The camera is a pencil or pen with which we draw our drawings with light or photographs as they are commonly called. Light is the lead or ink with which we draw.
An underexposed photographic image is a bit like a sheet of paper with only faint lines or marks on it. An overexposed photographic image is a bit like a sheet of paper that is black with lines and marks on it. The trick is to let a combination of light, dark and shades between leave an image on the sensor/film that we call a photograph.
The photographer controls the ‘marks’ the camera makes on the sensor/film through the ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings on the camera its self.
As we are drawing with light we set the ISO setting on the camera first. The ISO setting sets the sensitivity of the sensor or the sensitivity of the film we are using to the brightness of the light we are going to work with. It is no use to the photographer if the sensor/film and the light brightness is miss-matched. If the light we are working in is bright daylight an ISO of 100 or 200 is a good point to start. If the light we are working in is general shade or indoors an ISO of 400 or 800 is more inline. If the light that the photographer is working under is low light an ISO of 1600 or 3200 will be more appropriate.
Have a coffee break now.
By first matching the ISO to the lighting conditions, the photographer will have a fuller range of apertures and shutter speeds on the camera at hand to work with.
Aperture or f stops and shutter speeds work in tandem, they work together. For example, A photographer is working in the general shade at 400 ISO at f4 and shutter speed of 1/60 of a second and is getting a good exposure. The photographer can change to f5.6 and 1/30, by increasing the aperture by a stop and decreasing the speed of the shutter. The photographer will still get a good exposure but increase the depth of field and with the decrease of shutter speed will gain more movement in the photograph.
In a second example, the photographer could have changed from f4 and 1/60 by a stop to f2.8 and 1/125 and again get a good exposure but this time decrease the depth of field but increase the freezing of movement in the resulting photograph.
By understanding how ISO, aperture and shutter speed work together, the photographer is in a position of strength and can make a well-exposed picture with more of the depth of field and ‘movement’ aspects in mind. To know more about quality photography, I am at your service.
HIV and TB, And Now Covid 19 In South Africa
Photos and Words John Robinson
Gogo, you kept us strong when we were bitten by the whip, and we are still strong. Though we are not a nanny state people, through you our elders, we are strong. Though we are not of orderly streets and straight lines. In this Gogo, we are strong.
We know of viruses and microbes in our midst. The devastation they cause runs deep on our pathways, soaking our fields with premature endings that alter the ways of our left-behinds totally, but Gogo, you have made us strong.
Gogo, you have done your bit, you have been strong for us. If it is your time now, pass with peace of mind, you have made us strong. What you have taught us over the years is with us now in this new thing. All your grandchildren are strong now.
-I have had an inner peace that the people of Africa will come through the Covid 19 pandemic stronger than many others with better resources. The difference is in our collective strength through the bitter experience with the viruses and microbes of our daily lives… John Robinson
Images Of an Old Lady At the End of Her Life and a Girl Who Is Starting Out on Life
Photos John Robinson
At the time when my mother’s independence failed her, my daughter Erin’s (1) was just developing. These seven images are aspects of an interaction between an old lady at the end of her life and a little girl who is only starting on her life. We are all somewhere between these two points. These images were taken during family visits to the frail care centre where my mother spent the last few months of her life on this earth.
My mother Lin Robinson had an Astrocytoma grade 4 tumour removed from her brain, after the operation, the surgeon said to my dad and I that mom had 3 to 6 months to live. Lin Robinson went on to live another 10 years or so. After one more operation, my mom opted to have no more surgery done in her head. The last years of her life were quieting ones, there were the visible effects of brain surgery and the invisible ones too to be detoured around by the whole family.
My dad cared for mom at their home until the point came where mom had to be cared for in a frail care centre. Lin Robinson always liked to walk around in the garden with her husband holding the flowers that he grew for her. She died in a room with a wheelchair beside her bed and had to rely on my dad to get food into her mouth. The last time I saw her alive she knew that I was taking pictures and she smiled at me, it was too late for words.
I feel that my mother just got tired of what is, my father and mother were people of great faith and she wanted to move into the great beyond.
That night I drove home under a starlit night after taking the last photograph of my father’s hand and my mother’s now dead face.
Depth of Field and Capturing Movement are Byproducts of Aperture and Shutter Speed
Photo John Robinson
A photograph is an aspect of a moment in time. Through the found control of the camera’s aperture, shutter speed and ISO as learned in the Camera & Coffee photographic basics session we can now emphasize a photographic plane through the depth of field and capture a sense of movement in a static photograph. Depth of field and capturing movement are byproducts of the skilful use of aperture and shutter speed in photography.
Depth of field in photography is connected directly to the f stop of the camera’s lens. An f stop of f2 will give a much shallower depth of field then an f stop of f16 on any lens. A wide-angle lens set at f2 will have a deeper depth of field than a telephoto lens set at f2. The closer the focused subject is to the lens the shallower the depth of field is across the range of f stops of that particular lens from the widest f stop to the narrowest f stop.
The depth of field of a photograph aids in where you the photographer want the eyes of the reader of your photograph to visually settle.
A photograph with a very shallow depth of field could have the eyes of your subject in focus but the ears and the background and most of the foreground out of focus. This makes the eyes of the subject the primary focus of this photograph.
A picture with a very deep depth of field could have the eyes of your subject in primary focus plus most of the background and foreground in acceptable focus too, giving the subject context by including more in focus detail of the environment to this second photograph.
The photograph is a framed static moment in time. Skilful use of shutter speeds can make a photograph have a sense of movement too.
The sense of movement in photography is directly linked to the shutter speed in the camera body. Slow shutter speed will record more of the ‘travel’ of the movement while a fast shutter speed will more likely freeze the movement of the subject in front of the photographer and camera at the time.
There is a lot of fun to be had with cameras and movement. There is more than one way to record movement with photography.
The recording of movement is dependent on shutter speed, the speed of the movement and the direction of the movement concerning the position of the camera.
Slow shutter speed will blur movement a faster shutter speed will reduce the blur and fast shutter speed can virtually freeze a moving object.
As an example, I am going to photograph a person riding a bicycle past people on the pavement and cars on a road. The shutter speeds I will use are 15 or 1/15 of a second, 60 or 1/60 of a second and 125 or 1/125 of a second. I will first position my camera so the person riding the bicycle will go from my left to my right.
At 15 or 1/15 of a second, the motion of the bicyclist will be accentuated, there is a broad blur across the frame. In the photograph at a shutter speed of 60 or 1/60 of a second, my person on the bicycle is more distinct with some blur to show the movement of the bicycle to my right. 125 or 1/125 of a second makes the person on the bicycle distinct with little or no blur at all, while the car driving along beside the bicycle is still somewhat blurred in this third picture. In the first picture at 1/15 of a second, some of the people standing on the pavement have no blur at all while the bicycle has a broad brush of blur.
In my second camera position, I want the bicyclist to travel directly to me and my camera. In all three shutter speeds, the blur will be minimal, in photography, it matters how much the subject travels across the sensor or film plane and not towards the camera.
The aperture and shutter speed work together not only to produce a well-exposed photograph but can also produce interest with a combination of depth of field and the capture of movement.
I am outside in late afternoon light with my camera and take a light reading, at ISO 400 an aperture of f11 and shutter speed of 1/25 gives me a well-exposed picture. This combination also gives me with my camera a tripod a deep depth of field with a lot of blur in movement. Or with staying with an ISO of 400 I can move my aperture to f5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, I still have a well-exposed picture. Now, this combination allows my camera to come off the tripod at a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second and reasonable capture of fast movement.
And finally, in this set of options I stick again with a 400 ISO and as I wind down the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second I in an equal measure I open up the aperture to f2 which is the widest in my system camera setup. With this option, I freeze the movement but depth of field wise the focus is now really only on what I have focused the lens on.
If you shorten the time the shutter is open you have to compensate by opening up the aperture in an equal measure.
Finish the coffees and take a breath…