As JP Sudre states in Photography A middle-brow Art. “The subject that I photograph is ephemeral… photography alone captures a precise moment… which disappears and which cannot be brought back to life, hence my distress and also the essential originality of my profession. What could be more transient then a facial expression? Within these words of Sudre lies the importance of the cameras we as photographers use. Alongside the importance of the ephemeral moments that photography alone can capture, revisting the technology inherent in the camera systems that we use, as photographers trying to capture these moments, is of great importance too. I as a photographer use a ‘M6 rangefinder camera for important personal projects when possible.
Jessica on a red sofa and Mark Cook with his private garage sales, 2 environmental portraits by John Robinson.
The environmental portrait is a telling photograph of a person or group of people, it gives the viewer insight into an aspect of these people’s lives. In a FaceBook world of hyper happy selfies the environmental can introduce into the conversation a sense of calm and connection between the Subject and the viewer.
The environmental portrait has always been my first love in photography; and I offer environmental portraits in the Durban area done on A3 cotton rag art paper of yourself and or group for ZAR 1000.00 per print.
The relationship between people and their God is a soulful place, belief is such a strong force; and there is very little that can break that system. I know this from my own relationship with God or Abba Father. I commune and walk in this space too.
To take out a camera in a place of worship is not something I can do lightly, I have to be trusted and walk through these flowers with out a hint of damage, each picture will be seen by those in that place and as a fellow worshipper I am not an outsider that can get away and never come back after the stems are broken and petals crushed.
The moments taken are considered first before committed to a place in the public space. I also know of no better tool then a 35mm film based rangefinder camera for this work, there is no hurry in this way of work; and thus plenty of time for the considering of the fall out from my actions on the day…
The men are drinking quarts of Black Label upstairs while the woman folk are rubbing down my host’s wife with peanut butter and tomato sauce in the courtyard at the back of the building in a well humoured anticipation of an addition to the host’s family.
The man talk is of a celebrity visit to South Beach; and there are strong views on this issue: will South Beach be graced to this magnitude or will the area once again be left out in the cold?
The blue walls of this building contain dramas that could feed a T.V. series for a season or two. Outside in “piss alley” the road is controlled by the Congolese, inside the building my host’s brother rules the realities of life. The building has about 14 flats rented to people who cannot afford beach front apartments on the golden mile… Little big eyes and her peanut covered mommy come back from the courtyard and her daddy is shocked by what the women have done to his babe.
The fast beats of tech music fill the background of beer and men talk all afternoon, the brothers are close and the under current of the talk is coping with life and concern that hurt is kept away from the family. Hurt and life is interrupted by asking for this or that tune to be played. Our ‘beer talk’ is mixed with two plates of cake, pretzel sticks, sweets and cookies and a bowl of sugared pop corn from the baby shower in the courtyard.
I place a blanket over the little girl who is soon to be ‘big sister,’ not even strange visitors and cartoons on the T.V. can keep her upright. My bicycle ride home is delayed by a swapping of movies and series for .jpg files of family pics I have done for the host in the past.
My ride home on Lady of Loreto, I named my bicycle after a patron saint of flying, is stopped for the fuel of a mutton curry pie on Maydon Road past the back of the Durban Port to my room in Woodlands in south Durban.
Left to right: Teddy, Jason, Cindy and Leele. 2018, Anton Lembede Street, Durban, South Africa.
Teddy is standing in for Jason and Cindy’s soon to be expected addition to their family, Cindy is now just short of seven months pregnant. I have so much hope for this small family unit, Jason and Cindy have such a strong bond, and are soon to be married too…
A friend of mine has agreed to marry Jason and Cindy when the time is right.
Ken Rockwell writes about real raw photographic files, I have read his thoughts and I have also referenced him in my dissertation The Full Frame DSLR Camera vs The Analogue 35 mm Rangefinder Camera; but here I want to write about capturing real moments photographically and the .ding open source .raw files that I use in my photographic system…
I came to photography in about 1992, I was attracted to the idea that I could just document what people were doing around me in Johannesburg, South Africa as I was perceiving it. I was not and am still not attracted to trick photography, I use photo editing programs for inserting metadata and adjusting the colour, light and shadow of the digital file to as I saw the moment on the day I took the shot; and I do it in .dng files too. It’s very important that photography is about recording and reading real moments that really happened, and not about producing images of over adjusted colours and changing the construction of the original photograph.
The core value of photography depends on the perceived realness of the photograph…
In those days we were all using photographic film for our images, black & white film for social documentary, colour print for press work and colour transparency for most magazines. Digital photography was still in it’s infancy, we did know of the ethical monster that we were birthing at the time. Digital photography has now become to be as much about what can be done to the image after leaving the camera as it is about what was done during the moment within the camera.
Photography has lost the perception of truth in the public eye due to the prevailing perception of the ease of digital manipulation of photographic images in those same public eyes, the same eyes that read my pictures and maybe yours too.
I work all my images as .dng files (open source .raw files) in Adobe Bridge CS5 and I like doing so, many photogs (photographers) like doing the same in Adobe Lightroom. I use ‘Bridge CS5 alongside ‘Photoshop CS5 for all of my work.
Working in ‘raw’ has the reputation of processing ‘flexibility’ and greater image ‘quality’ among many digital photographers, both amateurs and professionals…
A young digitally based professional photographer friend of mine aspires to work with colour film one day, I tell him to just go for it now, but he still thinks that it takes extraordinary photographic skills to work with film.
All my important work is now done on colour print film in the same camera that I did my black & white work up till a few months ago, I have migrated to colour print film from black & white film for ease of processing reasons and because I like the feel that colour print film gives to my photography; plus that 50mm Leica lens can’t be beat for it’s crispness.
My work station is an old wooden desk with a hand crafted A2 Oregon pine light box on the one side, a Nikon Coolscan V ED film scanner running VueScan Professional, a MacBook Pro and a 1.5 terabyte external hard drive. The 35mm film dedicated scanner provides me with A3 124 megabyte .dng files off my 35mm colour print film. The .dng files are stored in the external hard drive and I work the files in the Adobe Photoshop CS5 raw window on my MacBook Pro just like any other digital file. I work my .raw files just like any .raw file coming out of a DSLR camera with the benefit of the extra information that the 124 megabyte files afford me; this plus the far greater latitude that colour film gives me over latitude coming out of a digital camera sensor.
All of this rides on a strip of Japanese made plastic and photosensitive emulsion that I buy and process in the Foto 45 shop in the center of Durban. Oh, and the legal proof that what the reader of my photograph sees is actually what I perceived but not chimped with my Leica M6 on the day…
I love perspective, photography is also about perspective as it is about cropping, to understand something better I have to sometimes walk across and stand in other shoes. Perspective helps me to to see as other people might have seen.
What is photography?
At the roots of the word photography the words light and drawing lie around. Up to the time of the invention of photography people where painting in multi chrome and drawing in mono chrome; and the pointillists or neo impressionists were beginning to paint with small dots of pure colour that where blended together in the eyes of the viewers of the resulting work not unlike the pixels of modern digital photography.
Their world changed and the new black and white pictures of those first photographers pushed aside the non photographic realist artists of the period as photographers went to the front line of war, adverts begun to employ the photographer rather then the painter and more and more portraits of the famous where done through photography rather then artist and paint brush. There was a time when photography just did realism better then the painter with colour and brush of the time. If the technology of the time had permitted and photographers had started out with colour, we might have been known as photo portraitists rather then photographers.
The realism of that period of photography was backed up by the little slip of plastic covered in emulsion that we call the photographic negative; in the analogue or film age of photography the realness of the photograph could be just broken or backed up by the production of the original negative.
Now in our modern digital photography world news wire services like Reuters ask their Photographers to give in unprocessed .jpg files straight from their cameras because of the eroding of the realness in the public eye by ‘over processing’ of image files in the digital news picture industry and in the modern photography arena in general.
Though I too love the creamy colour of the modern digital photograph, I prefer the crisp image that my rangefinder lens provides me with the no nonsense provability that colour film in my M6 camera still gives me and my readers… JR
Me half way up some stairs in Kinshasa, DRC. Photo John Robinson.
As a self confessed visual poet and spirit thief, I will do well as a photographer to make some of my own spirit more available to the people around me.
In a conversation with T-Bone at the BAT Centre in Durban about the tangibility of the substance of a good photograph, I realized that as a photographer I am able to connect with the spirit of others and or the spirit of the moment before my lens but I am hard pressed to share my self with those around me on a daily basis.
T-Bone asked me if there was a tangible transfer of something when a photograph is taken “like in drama on the theatre stage” I said a big yes to his question, T-Bone is a drama specialist at the BAT Centre. I have seen many ‘stiff’ or ‘dead’ photographs to conclude that something of the ‘spirit’ or the ‘moment’ resides in some other photographs. I told T-Bone that a photographic image that speaks to the viewer is the same as the stage drama that speaks to someone in the audience in this sense.
Take my camera out of my hands and I become a bit of stiff too, but I am learning to loosen up on my spirit in the social sense, it’s hard, but I am making headway. I don’t like the word ‘networking’ and I am an useless networker, but I like the word ‘connect’ and as a photographer I understand the concept. By connecting my spirit with those of others, those others may too get a hold on who I am as a person, while I get a hold on something of their spirits. We are members of human race and all have something in common; and it is for us to find out what our commonalities are and blossom together if possible.
As a narrative photographer I am a task master at lurking on the edge of an activity with my ‘M6 and getting away with some of the gold on offer. As a member of the same race that I shoot I am too now more giving of my own spirit to those others around me. It’s like giving back of what I have gotten over the years as a photog; and it’s good for me too. I am freed up to just be me more often, and in front of others too.
They say “live by the sword and die by the sword”… I add to this by saying I can also live more fully too before the end comes as it will for everyone of us.
Photos Jenny Matthews from her book Women and War.
Visual literacy can be described as the art of reading or writing with what is presented in a visual format as against the written word. A photograph is a 2 dimensional crop of what is; and there is a lot that surrounds me…
All of what you are colours how you see all that is around you. I have presented the same picture of a Swedish doctor working in a Sudanese internal displacement camp to different people. These different people have interpreted the same photograph differently accordingly to their world views. One person commented on how thin the people in the camp were, another commented on how pale the medic was and a third pointed out that there are also African doctors working in the Sudan… While the ‘language’ of photography transcends all the languages of the spoken and written word, it’s not an exact language as a photograph can be interpreted in so many ways, it’s a lawyer’s nightmare in this regard. The subtext of a photograph is also affected by the angle of view of the photographer, by what is in focus, in the foreground and what’s small and insignificant and in the background for example. The message of the photograph is affected by many things.
As much as the world view of a reader of a picture filters the message of a photograph, the world view of the photographer also affects their resulting images. I am an African photographer and I have never been to Norway, but I have seen pictures of the Norwegian fjords and pasture lands. This image of the fjords has coloured my perception of Norway as a whole; and if I got to photograph in their country I feel that the images burnt into my mind will affect my resulting images too. The pictures of the Norwegian fjords were taken by my ex wife’s father on his holiday there, the photographs of the landscape were ‘chocolate box’ in essence. I went away after seeing these images of the fjords and pastures thinking this maybe why the Norwegians too donate so much to my Africa. The social documentary photographer Dorothea Lange said that photographers should work by looking at that which they instinctively respond (Dyer, 2005).The photograph is also as much subjective to the individual photographer as it is also truth.
The photograph cannot exist if not for the camera itself first being present in the Sudan or the Norwegian fjord for example. I use cameras to make photographs to message a truth to my visually literate readers but have found out that the presence of a camera itself can alter the very subject that I have come to message to my readers. Jenny Matthews in her book Women and War talks about photographing survivors of a rebel attack in Mozambique, in Matthews’ first photograph the woman looks like a war weary refugee, in her second image the woman noticed the camera and she became the beatific mother, both moments happened, both images are truth. In the second photograph the camera itself changed the resulting picture. The woman in Matthews’ example became normative in that she put forward a face that she felt appropriate for a photograph of herself when she saw a camera pointing at her.
As a narrative photographer I have to have a handle on the dynamics of what surrounds me when I use photography to message to readers of my images…
I always carry my Leica M6 around with me because it has become a habit, it is my comfort blanket of sorts; and there is always a roll of colour film in it and a spare roll in my shoulder bag. Without my camera on me I have no chance of shooting a decisive moment, with my M6 on me I may just be in with a chance as it where. Decisive moments are not only in places of high drama and action worthy of front page news, often the best of them go past unnoticed. The photographer just has to be at the right place at the right time, that place can be anywhere that life is being outworked. But I am not writing about just getting out there and snapping pictures, this is about playing it forward.
I liken narrative photography to walking carefully through a flower bed, I want the telling pictures but without plowing up the space that I am working within.
The other day I took a long walk to clear my head and to put the city behind me; and the beach does that for me. I am working on a body of beach scape pictures, it’s a move from the person centric portraits of my South Beach work to a more environment centric focus of local beaches. I made a dent in the project with a few new images, but then the rest of the afternoon was quiet time for me to just absorb the space around me. I could have loaded a fresh film but the feeling to sit on the outskirts of the day’s activities and just look at what was was stronger.
Cuttings Beach is an 1.5 hour walk from where I stay in Durban South, it is just beyond a cemetery and a wetlands and between the Mondi paper mill and the SAPREF oil refinery. It was a Sunday that I felt that just looking was the better option. A large group of believers in the local Shembe faith were there alongside the normal subsistence fishermen who have made this place a home from home. By just sitting on the side I got to look deeply and enter into a conversation with one of their church elders, I came away with an understanding that will be of use next time I am communicating more fully aspects of the Shembe faith.
That day I made more then one new friend and made concrete for myself the concept of walking softly through the fields of photographic flowers.
As a narrative photographer I don’t want to be so busy taking pictures of all that is around me at the expense of first engaging with aspects of these subjects. How can I my photographs narrate fully if I as the author don’t first engage with the spaces? I want to dig below the surfaces with my images; and my conversations that Sunday opened up these narratives for future readers of photography. Instead of just a picture of an ‘unaware of it’s fate’ chicken on an African beach I can have a deeper outworking, by now knowing somethings more of the goings on of Cuttings Beach, Durban, South Africa.