Sunday, 28 October 2007

Limited creativity?

Helmsley Castle, North Yorkshire

An education in an art form limits your creativity! A somewhat big statement and one i came across in a craft fair in Helmsley of all places. A photographer from Leeds was selling her work and her artist profile leaflet stated that very fact.

After reading that and some of the other 'words of wisdom', i actually came away liking her work less than when i 'd initially seen it. She had some terrific work but her attitude to photography and her fellow photographers stank! Maybe it touched a nerve with me - after all, i did six years in the very photography education system that, she said, limits your creativity.

No, i think that what really irritated the hell out of me were the massive presumptions she was jumping to. Photography is for us all to enjoy and each photographer has their own way of seeing and creating images. Its what fundamentally makes photography such a diverse and popular art form - you can show people the world as YOU see it. There is no right or wrong way to do it and there are many ways of learning image making - it all depends on the individual.

Photographers, whether professional or amateur, photography educated or self taught, can all make huge contributions to the art of photography. The IMAGE and only the image matters -if the photograph is a great one, the educated/ self taught bit just becomes an irrelevant detail.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Profile: Edward S Curtis

Sioux sub chief Red Hawk - Oasis in the Badlands, South Dakota, 1904 - Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis was born in 1869 in the US state of Wisconsin, the son of a preacher who visited his widely scattered flock on day long horse and canoe journeys. The introduction to the great outdoors and the common sight of native American Indians tribes people like the Winnebago and the Chippewas, had a huge influence on the young Curtis. He took up photography at an early age using a home made camera, acquiring knowledge from the text book 'Wilson's photographics'.

In 1890, the battle of wounded Knee took place marking the beginning of the decline of Indian culture - Edward S. Curtis was 21 years old. Around the same time, Curtis lost his father and he decided to move to Seattle to work in a photographic business; it would be a business that he would eventually take over. Although Curtis is best known for his images of The Native American Indian, he was held in high regard as a landscape and portrait photographer. Later in his career he was summoned to the White House to photograph the President's son.

Up until 1900 Edward S.Curtis worked primarily as a commercial photographer photographing landscapes, people and accompanying the Harriman expedition to Alaska where he served as the official photographer. It was during this expedition that Curtis became interested in the different ethnology's of the northwest coast and the Indians in particular. Curtis decided to photograph every tribe in the United States - a massive undertaking for any photographer. Eighty tribes of North American Indian were photographed over a thirty year period in a project which Curtis regarded himself as an artist and a scientist. The images cover a broad range of subject matter from portraits to landscapes; the photographer recognising that the land played a vitally important spiritual role in an Indians life. The portraits are just beautiful pieces of work and the faces of the sitters are amazing to look at. Many show a sad resignation, as though they know that Curtis is photographing the end of their way of life. The Navaho girl image is especially haunting - she is a beautiful girl and yet she had such sad looking eyes.

Over 40,000 negatives were taken but Curtis didn't stop with the still-image. Stories, legends and myths as well as tribal histories were all written down and recorded using the early Edison wax cylinder sound recording system. The Indian tribes had no written language and relied on the spoken word to pass on tribal histories. More than 10,000 songs alone were recorded and documented.

With the Native American Indian project well underway, Edward S. Curtis managed to get sponsored by the railway tycoon John Piermont Morgan but due to the immense size of the project, it was a constant battle for Curtis to remain financially solvent. Curtis received no financial support from any official body or government organisation during the whole project - most of the early work was financed from personal funds. It is estimated that the thirty year project cost around $500,000 in total but some estimates have the figure at $1.5 million - a significant part of the costs coming from the 17 people that Curtis employed during the thirty year venture.

The project was finally finished in 1930 when the final volume of Indian tribe images were published as part of a limited print run of only 25 sets of 30 volumes. Some 300 original prints were also made. The end of the mammoth project led to Curtis suffering severe emotional and physical exhaustion from which he never fully recovered. In 1952 Edward S. Curtis died at the age of 84. Such was the lack of interest in his work at that time, that The New York Times obituary for him came to just 76 words - a sad reflection of how Curtis and photographic history was viewed during the 1950's.

The images were rediscovered during the 1970's and the work of Edward S. Curtis has amazed and delighted photographers from all over the world ever since. Curtis recognised that the native American Indian traditions and culture, he was viewing, was facing annihilation due to the increasing demands of the modern world. Curtis knew he had to document it before it was all over - even it it took a lifetime to do so. To his credit he produced a thorough piece of work that continues to influence photographers to this day. His work offers a fascinating insight into the traditions and life of the Native American Indian.

This post forms a series of three looking at photographers who photographed unique cultures -many facing extinction. The next photographer in the 'photographer profile' series of posts also recorded a unique culture faced with annihilation. He's a great photographer I've only just come across recently. Roman Vishniac photographed the Jewish culture in central and Eastern Europe in the late 1930's before the holocaust. The profile on Roman Vishniac will be posted in November.

Edward S. Curtis Links


http://www.edwardscurtis.com/

http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/

http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Curtis/

http://www.afterimagegallery.com/curtisnew.htm


All images by Edward S. Curtis

Top image - Edward S. Curtis

Image 2 - Chief Joseph, or Hin-Mah-Too-Yah ("Thunder Traveling to Loftier Mountain Heights"), was a hereditary chief of the Nez Percé. In 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered with these now-famous words: "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." Photo taken in 1903 by Edward S. Curtis

Image 3 - The storm -Apache. In the high mountain of apache land just before a storm breaks.

Image 4 - A young Navaho girl

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Autumn gold

Picnic in the park, York

The light just seemed to be perfect on Sunday morning. The autumn light was delicate and golden - exactly the same as it was two weeks before when i was taking images.

York was very busy for a Sunday. An international market made up of stalls from Italy, France, Germany and many other countries were busy selling their wares to the large crowds. The sights and smells, combined with the sound of French and Italian music, made a small piece of York seem very continental indeed.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Pavement drawing

Lizzie's pavement drawing

This is another photograph taken from my year in York project. A school outing had been to the Barbican Centre and had left their mark - the pavement outside the centre was decorated with brightly coloured chalk drawings.

The day to day activities of city life were starting to take their toll on the pictures but the lively colour drawings still remained vibrant and bold, adding that bit of colour to the drab looking pavement.

A new gallery is being constructed to display the images that will be updated on a regular basis. The images will also be available to view on the Richard Flint Photography MySpace page.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A year in York

Looking down at Bootham Bar

I've just started a new photographic project that will run an entire year with new images being taken each month. The subject matter is the city of York - one of the most photographed cities in the UK. The photograph above is taken from the first series of images for October.

The project has just one simple rule: the images must be taken within, on or in sight of the old medieval city walls. The walls stretch around most of the inner part of the city and form an important part of the city's identity. The project is to be shot digitally and in colour.

The first gallery of images for October will be uploaded soon.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Macro world

Green mushroom

Its amazing how you see the world differently when you look a lot closer at things. This mushroom was growing in the garden lawn and looked pretty ordinary, but focus in close with a Nikon Macro lens and a whole new fascinating world opens up. The textures are just superb - it almost looks alien - and the mushroom was only three inches (75mm) tall! Nature at its best.

New domains

The new Richard Flint Photography website has been online for a few weeks and has been getting some very favourable comments about its design. More work on the website will continue over the winter. The website has also been given two more domain names for future promotional use.

The main RFP website can now be accessed via the two brand new http://www.richardflintphoto.co.uk/ and http://www.northyorkshirephotography.co.uk/ website addresses.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The eye, the heart, the head

Cley next to the sea, Norfolk

London. Early 1950's. The Magnum photographer Ernst Haas is discussing what makes a good photographer with the legendary war photographer, Robert Capa. Haas suddenly turns towards Capa " Do you know the arab oath?" asks Haas. Capa remains silent as Haas explains. "The arabs swear by three things: the eye, the heart, the head - that's all you need to look for in a photographer".

I don't know if the arab oath Haas quoted is real but it certainly makes it much easier to define what makes a good photographer.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Ways of seeing

Saturday morning 10:25am - Chesterfield Market, Derbyshire

On the motorway coming back from a family get together, my eyes looked across towards the distant twinkling lights of Sheffield and i thought it is so sad that cameras can't see things like we do. I wanted to capture those twinkling orange and green lights there and then but i couldn't.

The human eye is a very clever piece of kit. It can filter and process light brilliantly, function in very low light levels and colour correct with ease. I have no doubt that digital cameras will develop at a rapid pace and who knows; maybe one day the camera will start to work more like the human eye but its a long way off.

All of us have seen images that we couldn't take due to any number of reasons. We miss that moment and the photo has gone - a dreadful feeling for a photographer. I've always wondered what it would be like to have eyes that could take photographs or video. Photography would take on a whole new dimension.

Friday, 12 October 2007

On approach

Cessna coming into land - Burnham airfield, Norfolk

I sometimes wish that I'd started my photographic education much later. I was a bit of a photography purist at college and university, my views on colour photography, photoshop/digital imaging and certain photographers were, shall we say, rather negative.

The purity of the image was all that mattered to me. NO cropping, NO digital manipulation and not much time for colour work either. I wasn't alone - my HND documentary group were of a similar mind. We were like a photographic Taliban who couldn't be swayed from our staunchly held views on photography and photographers. What I can't work out is whether it was a reaction against the tide of progress or because i was naive. Both i think. Photography was changing at a fast rate and i didn't like it.......at least i thought i didn't!

It's been nine years since i left university and in those nine years photography has changed immensely. I came out of a film based photographic education into a world that was starting to go digital. Yes we did have computers and a digital camera on the degree but film was still the main medium. These days universities have photography students who know nothing of the pre-digital days. Darkrooms, enlargers and film are things of the past to many of those student snappers.

As for me? Well, in the nine years, i've become more aware of photography as an art and my approach to viewing photography has changed too. I've freed up my perspective and my photography has improved as more of my work is influenced from new directions. I think getting older has played a large part in the process. I've mellowed with age and my photography and music tastes have mellowed too. The youthful purist constraints of my photographic Taliban days are long gone.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Horse to water

Horse making its way to the water for a drink - Salthouse, Norfolk

The coastal road from Hunstanton to Cromer goes through the small but busy village of Salthouse. There are a couple of places to eat so its a stopping point for many people travelling along the road.

In this photograph you can see the sea defences in the distance which are popular for walkers who stroll along the long coastal path. The path stretches right along the north coast, weaving its way around and through the marshes, reed beds, clifftops, sand dunes, towns and villages that make up the diverse north coast of Norfolk.

I've always wondered what this part of the Norfolk coast would be like in the winter. Maybe the whole ambience of the place changes when the last of the tourists leave. One day I'm going to find out.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Coastal dwellings

Houses on the coast at Weybourne, Norfolk

A few hundred yards along the coast from where the last image was taken are these houses, perched on top of a slowly crumbling cliff face. There are five houses in the row, some looking a bit weather beaten which wasn't surprising, but all unique houses with broad spectacular views of the sea.

There were one or two tell tale signs that the houses had been used by the Royal Navy. Near to where the pillbox was located were the concrete remains of a gun emplacement - maybe the navy used the houses as an area HQ.

The end house nearest the sea has lost some of its garden, five or six feet of the stone garden wall hanging precariously in the air over the end of the cliff. Was it years or just days since the cliff face gave way? You couldn't tell; but there can be no doubt that eventually these houses will suffer the same fate as the garden wall. When? That's anyones guess.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Perfect peace

Weybourne mill with WWII beach defence in the foreground

Weybourne beach was an place in Norfolk that I'd never visited, even though I'd passed the road entrance many times before. The beach is typical of the Norfolk coast - secluded, quiet and peaceful. The perfect place to escape the modern world.

One rather interesting feature of the coast are the wartime pillboxes that stretch along the entire coast. To the casual viewer they seem to be placed at random but they were built as part of a sophisticated layered system of defence to protect the Norfolk coast from an invasion from Germany. Pillboxes were also constructed at various strategic points inland (i.e road junctions and bridges) to try and slow the advance of the enemy troops.

Norfolk was the nearest part of the UK to Nazi Germany and it was thought, until the invasion of France, that a German invasion of Britain come via Germany. Norfolk had the flat beaches ideal for amphibious landings and later those beaches would be used by the allies to practice for D-Day.

Fortunately the invasion never came but the pillboxes remain a potent reminder of the Nazi threat that Britain faced in 1940.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Developing problems

Down by the Ouse

The blank look on the face of the shop assistant said it all. Anyone would have thought that I'd asked for a small nuclear weapon by the puzzled look he gave but all I'd asked for is a bottle of Kodak TMAX developer to process some film. " We don't stock liquids anymore" he said in a matter of fact kind of way. A photographic shop with no dev !!!! The saga of the high street photo retailer continues down its sorry path.

Over the summer, the UK based photographic retailer Jessops announced that it was closing over 80 stores with the loss of 550 jobs - 26% of its stores. To be honest i wasn't surprised as the store has declined over the years from the great stockist of photographic materials that it was, to the Jessops of today - a store that stocks virtually nothing. The amount of times I've been in to purchase some materials and found that they had none or only a fraction of the items,that at one time, they would have had in abundance. Yes i could use the website ( and i do!) but that adds postage costs and delays to the order; some things you want immediately.

Film has been swept out of the Jessops chain, to be replaced with digital. Fine but the problem with digital is it is self sufficient as a process. You take an image on your camera, take it off the camera and wipe the card to start again. Nothing needs to be replaced or replenished apart from batteries, and only then if you can't recharge them. Film was much more friendly to the retailer as chemicals, film and photographic paper all had to be replaced - Jessops was the place to do that. In their defence i suppose the retailer has only gone with the market but to me, a photo retailer should stock both film and digital supplies to support both forms of photography.


During the summer i purchased a new camera bag from a rather good independent photographic shop called Dents of Chesterfield. The shop has everything from film to digital cards and they stock LOADS of bags, chemicals, books, gadgets etc. Jessops should look and maybe learn a thing or two from them.

Lost in thought

Lost in thought

This guy was in a world of his own. Just watching the river and the world go by on the Low Ousegate bridge. Several people stopped, had a quick look and were off again but this fella took his time and just stood taking in the view.

I took one frame of him lost in his thoughts, trying not to disturb him but he was in a world of his own. Why rush! It's a sunday morning.

Sunday morning snap

Sunday morning in the park next to the river Ouse, York

It was a beautiful autumnal morning today in York. The light was gorgeous - very delicate with a hint of gold in its rays - almost like the golden leaves on the trees were reflecting the light back.

I decided to have a wander around to see what i could photograph. I didn't take that much, maybe twenty images at most, but i got three or four images that i really liked. This is one of them.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Back in the USSR

The Soviet made Kiev 60 6x6 camera

A Russian made camera in North Yorkshire. Hmmm. Its odd how things can just turn up and in a shop that I have never visited before but there it was....a Kiev 60 6x6 medium format camera in near perfect condition. It was found in a local charity shop of all places, sat on a seat, in its box with a few bits a pieces including filters, a teleconverter, light meter and a carry case. Price £70. Bargain i thought after a quick look.

The first thing you notice is it's size. It is a massive camera - very similar in size to the Pentax 67. The image to the left shows it up against my Nikon F3HP. The second thing is its HEAVY. Its an all metal construction with a distinctly solid feel to it that reminds you of soviet era tanks. Soviet cameras were built to last and unlike many modern cameras, you get that solid construction feel - the only drawback is the weight. The lens is an 80mm f2.8 Volna-3 that has a clean and simple construction. It looks quite a good lens and i look forward to viewing the test image results for sharpness and clarity.

The camera instruction book states that the camera was manufactured in 1992 but the design of the camera seems to reflect an earlier period; maybe the 1960's or 1970's. Soviet camera design has always been misunderstood as being outdated, which to some extent it was, but soviet cameras were designed to function purely as tools. If the camera takes good images, why fix it if it already works! Technology can fail so keep it simple. Rather refreshing in the current 'upgrade everything' world of today.

Most modern cameras rely on batteries to operate which is great if you are near to a shop that stocks them. The Kiev 60 doesn't. The shutter is mechanical and goes from B to 1000/sec. The camera can take film speeds from 6asa through to 3200asa and there is also a flash adapter to help with lighting. The Kiev's TTL uses batteries for light meter readings but i think I'll use my accurate handheld Sekonic lightmeter when using the camera.

The thing i like the most about the camera is the viewfinder which will be great for framing portraits and landscape shots. It's quite a dark viewfinder to look through compared to modern cameras but adaquate for viewing subjects under most lighting conditions. Will i use the Kiev 60 on jobs? ahhh......no.... but it will get used for some personal projects. I will be posting the results from this remarkable camera on the blog soon.
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