Thursday 27 September 2007

Twelve o'clock high

The control tower at Thorpe Abbotts overlooking the airfield

At the beginning of the 1949 film ' Twelve o'clock high' , a former officer of the USAAF returns to his old airfield where he served during world war II. The memories come flooding back as he sees the old runway and remembers his previous life. As he is thinking back, the camera pans up and passes over the clouds, and a formation of B17s come into shot, the deep bass sounds of their Wright Cyclone radial engines acting like a soundtrack- the viewer is back with him in 1942.

I always think of that film when i visit Thorpe Abbotts and see the 100th Bomb Group museum. If a place could store memories, the museum would be a vast bank vault full of peoples thoughts, stories and recollections. This tower and airfield must have seen the full swath of human emotions from love to despair and yet, in 2007, it is a place of peace and tranquility. A place to remember.

The museum still gets one or two veterans who flew from Thorpe Abbots but old age often means it is sons, daughters, nephews etc who make the journey to see where their relatives flew from. For some visiting veterans it must have been a very strange experience indeed. Many took off from the airfield one day in 1943, ‘44 or ‘45, were shot down and made a prisoner. At the end of the war, the stalag prisoners went straight home. The next time they saw the airfield - fifty years or more had passed.

Monday 24 September 2007

Memory leak

Fakenham Market, Norfolk - July 2007

Photographers rely on computers for a great deal of their work from viewing images to publishing them via the web. Because the computer is so important, i've always some sort of spyware and anti-virus software to help protect my system. A computer virus or spyware attack can devastate a machine and render it useless; this is a double whammy to photographers if they lose their precious digital images too.

Recently i updated the anti-spyware software and found, to my amazement, that after i had updated from version 1.5 to 2.0, i got a 30% increase in processing speed. It seems that the 1.5 version had a memory leak the size of Alaska, so most of my processing power was leaking away.

I'll be keeping a watchful eye on ALL my software updates from now on!

Friday 21 September 2007

Darker meaning

One of the more interesting traits of photography is how the interpretation of images can be altered by time, personal perspective or events. Time is usually a big factor in how an image comes to be viewed but some photographs attain a deeper and darker meaning to reveal an even more disturbing truth.

An excellent example of this can be found at a United States Holocaust Memorial museum online presentation of photography taken by a serving SS officer at Auschwitz. Karl Hoecker served at Auschwitz from May 1944 - January 1944 and documented the life of the officers who ran the death camp. To Hoecker, these images were probably a keepsake, a reminder of happy times with comrades but for the modern viewer, the images take on a far darker meaning.

Many of the people in the photographs became infamous for their crimes; the notorious Dr Joseph Mengele ( seen in the centre of the top image), Camp commandants Richard Baer and Rudolph Hoess ( extreme left and right) were all key participants in the holocaust, and yet they are viewed by Hoecker in these photos as fellow officers, maybe even friends. The horrors they have perpetrated are nowhere to be seen in the benign and relaxed photos but you still feel like you are viewing evil itself.

The remarkable collection of images can be viewed here

The story behind the photo album is covered in this New York Times article

Monday 17 September 2007

Rust in peace II

Another shot taken from the 'rust in peace' series of photographs. The images were shot using a Bronica ETRS loaded with Fuji Velvia 50 transparency film.

Sunday 16 September 2007

Rust in peace

Abandoned tractor in overgrowth - Norfolk

This image has been on my computer for some months. The photo was taken a few years ago near a place i was staying in Norfolk, not far from Norwich. Alongside a road sat a collection of vintage Fordson and Massey Fergie tractors just left to rot. Nature had taken hold and covered most of the machinery with a near complete blanket of ferns. That was way back in 1999; i'd like to think they have been rescued and lovingly restored but they are probably still sat there today, rusting in peace. What a waste!

Thursday 13 September 2007

A sneaky peak

As i said in the last post, I'm currently building a new version of my main photography website. It's been long overdue but i could never get a design that i liked .... until now!

Here is a sneaky look at the main page. The text isn't finished but the images and general layout are complete. I always find it difficult to write about myself and my work so the text may take some time to finish.

A few ideas have been popping into my head and one of the more radical ones is a series of podcasts giving tips and advice about photography - from using photoshop to taking a great portrait. I'm also working on a podcast talking about myself as part of the photographer profile section of the website. I'll be discussing my work, influences, equipment etc.

The new website and podcasts will start in October.

Monday 10 September 2007

In the works

Takeoff from Burham Thorpe airfield, Norfolk

I've finally got a design for my new website and its full steam ahead to get the site built, up and running. Hopefully it should be ready in the next three weeks complete with new galleries.

This new website incorporates the blog and a sales area for my work which i aim to expand over 2008. An important addition to the website for 2008 will be online contact sheets for clients to view shoot results on the same day - they can also view during the shoot.

As i commented in a post a week or so ago, its business review time and one item to dissappear in 2008 are the phone book adverts. Put simply...they just don't work! I've had a yellow pages ad since 2002 and this year i went into the BT book. With both books the cost came to just over £800. For that sort of investment i expect a good return and these ads just haven't earned their keep- they will not be renewed for 2008! For anyone starting in business i would just say, think twice before purchasing an advert and monitor the ads you buy very closely. Ask clients how they found you and note it down. Nine times out of ten it'll be because of a recommendation...not because of an advert.

Friday 7 September 2007

Capture rapture

Reaching for the light

The last few days have seen me testing out a beta version of the new Capture One 4, a great software program that i use for converting my digital RAW files into JPEG and TIFF image files. The image in this post and the previous one were processed using the software.

So far i can say that I've been impressed with the stability (always a strong point with Capture One) and the various improvements incorporated into this new version. The final version is due to be officially released in November.

Looking up

Vapour trail and clouds

This is a common sight over the UK. A vapour trails mixed with white clouds. We get loads of air traffic here in our part of North Yorkshire including commercial and military aircraft. The sky is always busy with something flying about above our heads. This is just a grabbed shot. I looked up yesterday and saw this. Click it!

Thursday 6 September 2007

Profile: Lewis Hine

Immigrants climbing into America, Ellis Island,New York, 1905

Lewis Hine (born 1874) took up photography as a means to an end - to call attention to the poverty and social injustice and to celebrate the dignity of the working man in the modern world. Hine's photographic work is now seen as a unique historical record of early 20th century America but at the time Hine just saw his images as a tool to create public awareness of issues that Hine believed were being ignored. What Hine didn't realise was he was capturing the beginnings of modern America.

America in the early 20th century was still developing as a nation and for many, America was seen as the new world; a place to start again and live the American dream. One of Hine's most fascinating photographic projects was his 1905 Ellis Island work where he photographed immigrants coming into the USA via the clearing station based there. To Hine, Ellis Island was just as important to the story of America as Plymouth rock, the place where the pilgrim fathers landed in the 17th century. By 1900, the USA had received over 9 million immigrants - many of whom resided in the large cities like New York and were from Southern and Eastern Europe. Very few spoke English. Hine's images capture the immigrants faces filled with a look of hope and uncertainty. What awaited them in America is unknown.

In 1908 Hine's photographic work started looking at social issues like poverty and working conditions. The work especially concentrated on child poverty and the large child workforce employed in industry throughout America at that time. This included the children who worked on the streets of America's cities selling newspapers, delivering telegrams or polishing shoes. Hine's images helped social reform campaigners gain the upper hand and legislation followed but Hine's fascination with the workers of America would continue until the end of his life.

Probably Hine's most famous images of workers 'at work' are his Empire State building photographs taken in 1930/31. Hine had been appointed as a official photographer for the Empire State company, the firm responsible for constructing the Empire State Building - his task was to record the whole construction project for the company. For Hine it offered the perfect scenario to capture the men building these towering buildings. His images are just as impressive as the building itself and for many, the images mark the pinnacle of his photographic career.

Hine worked from a mechanical lift and was able to access all areas of the construction site. It is quite commonplace now for construction companies to want to record the building of a new grand project but in the 1930's it was a rare opportunity to be offered such a project. Hine's photography immortalised the working men of the Empire State Building and created striking record of the new America, vastly different to the America he had photographed at Ellis Island twenty five years before.

Ironically these images were taken in the early years of the great depression, when America was in economic turmoil due to the Wall Street crash of 1929 and yet Hines captures a modern America. This was the new modernized America; the superpower that would become the industrial powerhouse that would help turn the tide against the Axis powers.

Lewis Hine died in November 1940 but his work remains a potent documentary record of a modern nation being born. For me, Hine's images convey a respect that was lacking from many of his contemporaries images - many photographers of Hine's era failed to recognise photography as a historical recording tool and regarded their subjects in rather a patronizing light. Even Hine himself didn't seem to realise the historical importance of his work. Hine very rarely recorded the names of his subjects adding some mystery to his sitters. What happened to them? Did they make a good life for themselves? In most, if not all cases, we don't know but their importance as the people who built America was captured for future generations to view and wonder.

centre image :Street Child ca 1910
Bottom image : Icarus atop Empire State Building, New York, 1931
All images © The Estate of Lewis Hine

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Taken images

A remarkable story was emailed to me yesterday, detailing the recent events involving photographer Joe O'Donnell who died recently. It seems the famous images he claimed to have taken as part of his long photographic career were, in fact, shot by other photographers.

The whole bizarre story can be found here

Monday 3 September 2007

120 heaven

Menau Bridge, Bangor, North Wales

Today marks the 119th anniversary of the KODAK name and George Eastman's receipt of his roll film camera patent. Many roll film formats have come and gone but one remains - 120.

The 120 roll film format has been around since 1901 when it was introduced by Kodak for their Brownie No2 camera. Originally 120 film was intended for use in the amateur market but 135 ( 35mm) replaced it some years later. However the format remained a favourite of many pre-war photographers who wanted to take images with superior quality to that of 35mm. French photographer Robert Doisneau took many of his iconic images of Paris using a Rolleiflex TLR (twin lens reflex) roll film camera.

Well over a hundred years later, the film format is still popular with photographers who require quality, speed and portability. This image of the Menai bridge at Bangor, North Wales was taken using a Yashica 124 6x6 camera shooting onto 120 roll film.

I've always loved the square image format; my first camera (a Hanimex 88x) used 126 film that produced square images, so maybe that's why i find the format easy to work with. I'll be shooting a new locally based landscape project using 6x6 during 2008 - more news on that soon.

Welsh wonder

Welsh hills outside the historic town of Conwy, North Wales

I shot this image in 2004 but it lay undisturbed among my vast collection of negatives until earlier this year when i spotted it. A beautiful shot of the rolling Welsh hills outside Conwy, a historic town with a beautiful castle next to an estuary.

The countryside of North Wales is so varied. One minute you can be amongst lush green fields and the next driving down a road surrounded by mountain peaks and sheep!

Saturday 1 September 2007

Future developments

Man on girders -Empire State Building New York, ca 1931 : image by Lewis Hine

Now that its late in the year, I've started thinking about 2008 and how i develop my business further. My posts on the blog have tended to stay away from the 'business' end of the business but this is mainly to avoid boring all of you who read this blog. This is, after all, a photography blog and not a business blog. However every year about this time, i think about the year and try and develop some ideas for the future. What worked and what didn't. Was that advert good value for money? All these types of thing get looked at and analysed for performance.

My thoughts then turned to my blog. Ah, my dear old blog that i have come to love. This blog was one of my better ideas for this year. Not only has it given me an outlet for my thoughts but it has also provided a gallery for my images. I have more subscribers and site visitors than i could ever have imagined. I thank you all.

The image above is by Lewis Hine, a photographer who'll be one of many featured every two weeks in the blog. If you don't know much about 20th century photography or know who James Nachtwey is, then these posts may be of interest. The first Photographer feature about Lewis Hine will be posted this week.

Image © The Estate of Lewis Hine