Friday 29 February 2008

Crossing tracks

Whenever i work on a commission or start a personal project, i always do some research to see what has been done before. Sometimes you come up with very little but in Newcastle's case, a nice section of work is available online; from old images (like the one above) to modern day amateur enthusiasts recording their city for their own personal enjoyment.

My favourite has to be this website which features postcard images from Newcastle's industrial past - mainly the 1930's and 1940's. It's fascinating to look at the old cars, trams and the buildings. Even the people are remarkable, frozen in time as they went about their daily business. I just love the way that nearly all the men in the photographs are wearing flat caps. Those were the days!

The church spire on the left of the image is All Saints where i photographed the graveyard featured a couple of posts ago.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Blog birthday

Yes the blog is one year old today. 12 months ago today i came up with the idea of having a photography blog (most photographers do have one) and posted my first blog entry.

Over the last year I have really enjoyed developing the blog (a constantly ongoing task) as well as posting my experiences and images. It has certainly been a lot of fun and has had a very postive effect on my photography. To all those people who have commented, subscribed, linked or contributed to the blog in some way over the last year - thank you.

Blue and grey

The Sage - a music and arts centre in Gateshead

It was grey and rather bleak looking on Sunday morning when i arrived at The Quayside in Newcastle.It didn't look promising at all but as the morning panned out the blue sky appeared and so did the sun.

You may have noticed over the various posts that i often include a lot of sky in my images - you could almost say that they were cloudscape images. I just like the drama that the clouds, vapour trails and sunlight produce which i use to provide an interesting backdrop for the main subject of the photograph. A lot of the 1940's black and white films used the dramatic sky in the same way which is where some of the influence has come from for my images.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Passing through...

All Saints Church Graveyard, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

'You don't know what is around the next corner'. A popular phrase used to point out life's little games of chance but on a recent wander in Newcastle on a Sunday, it turned out to be quite true. I had just crossed the gorgeous Tyne bridge and was just walking about with the aim of getting back to the Quayside to take a few final photographs before leaving.

The first thing i noticed was the old church building, a rather grand building that was noticeably much older than the new office blocks and apartments surrounding it. The large black doors were covered in dust and people had scrawled their names in the dust as if trying to leave a mark so that history wouldn't forget them. I wandered on a little further and as i came around the corner of the church, an old Victorian graveyard came into view through the black ornate iron gates that covered the entrance.

The place was full of old worn and tilting gravestones that had seen many a sunrise and sunset. Touching one made you feel humble, it made you feel small in the whole scheme of we are!! These stones pass through time, seeing the people and buildings come and go. They will probably be there long after I've gone, maybe offering another photographer in the future something to photograph.

My time in the graveyard was short but i managed to take several black and white images before i had to leave. I will return and photograph this small corner of Victorian history that reflects the dark elegance of the period. It's in places like this that the past comes to life.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Sharp shooter

Crossing the Tyne

The above shot is a grab. I was walking along the Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne and saw this, quickly raised the camera up and click - a sharp image thanks to the quick response of the autofocus system.

During my years as a photography student i hated autofocus but i must admit that I've come to love it now. I don't always use it when taking images and some of my preferred lenses are the older metal constructed Nikon manual AI/AIS Nikkor lenses but autofocus is part of my photographic world. I'm glad it is. Without it i doubt that I'd have got this shot. i just wouldn't have been able to focus in time.

Friday 22 February 2008

Profile: Robert Capa - Part II

First wave of troops landing at Omaha beach 6th June 1944 - Photograph by Robert Capa

Robert Capa is a legendary figure within the photographic world. The influence of his work is felt even now, some 54 years after his death but his own story is just as fascinating as the photographs he took. In part two of this photographer's profile we take a look at Capa's life covering World War II and beyond until his death in Indochina.

In 1939 Robert Capa was one of the most famous photojournalists of the era. His images of the Spanish civil war and in the conflict in China ,where the Chinese were fighting a bitter battle against the invading Japanese, had made him a famous name. His new contract with LIFE magazine gave him some financial security but Capa realised that he needed to get U.S citizenship to be able to stay in the USA, a difficult process that would take far longer than Capa could ever have thought; indeed within months of Capa's arrival, the US immigration authorities were threating to throw him out of America. The Hungarian photographer's grasp of the English language didn't help either. Ed Thompson, the editor of LIFE who gave Capa his contract, later commented that he could barely understand a word Capa was saying due to his thick hungarian accent. His citizenship problems would rumble on for nearly a decade, later causing him trouble with attaining frontline accreditation during WWII.
LIFE may have had Capa on a contract but as World War II started to play out, the magazine seemed reluctant to send its highly regarded photographer anywhere near the battlefront. RobertCapa remained firmly in the U.S photographing domestic stories as across the Atlantic Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain were being fought. It wasn't until the spring of 1941 that Capa was allowed to cross the Atlantic via convoy to Liverpool but to Capa's frustration the Battle of Britain had just about run its course. Initially he requested to go to the Soviet Union and photograph the war on the Eastern front but he heard nothing from the Soviet authorities. During the months of waiting for a visa to enter the USSR, Capa covered rountine magazine asssignments and provided images for a book about the residents of blitz damaged Waterloo Road in the East end of London. Capa's images of one household, the Gibbs, beautifully documented how the ordeal of the blitz had affected the ordinary working man and his family.

Robert Capa's entry into the frontline came in March 1943 when he arrived in North Africa to cover the final thrust against the Afrika Korps and the invasion of Sicily. Due to Capa's Hungarian background, the famous war photographer had found that he was still registered as a 'enemy alien' with the US authorities making the process of accreditation for the frontline a difficult one. The images of the war in Italy are among Capa's best and its ironic that these images were taken on a battle front that is now largely forgotten about by historians and the public alike. His welcome to the war was to witness the carnage left by German boobytraps, usually placed in public buildings like post offices and timed to go off to cause the maximum amount of casualties. It was during this period in Italy that Capa met George Rodger, a British photographer working for LIFE, who like Capa had thought about setting up a co-operative photo agency run by photographer FOR photographers. It was during these meetings that the idea for Magnum started to take shape, mainly due to both photographers unhappiness with their time shooting for LIFE. Both Capa and Rodger would go on to photograph the invasion of France on D-Day.

Rodger's experience of D-Day at Arromanches would be, as he later called it ' a blaze of anti-climax'. Capa, on the other hand, experienced the whole firestorm bloodbath (there were over over 2000 casualties) of Omaha beach with Company E in the first wave of landings. Using two Contax rangefinder cameras, he exposed 72 frames whilst the water but an overexcited darkroom assistant (under pressure to get the images developed no doubt) turned up the film dryer temperature too high which started to melt the film emulsion -all but 11 frames were destroyed by the heat. Capa was understandably furious but to his credit when LIFE mentioned firing the poor assistant responsible, Capa remarked that he wouldn't take another image for LIFE again if they did.
In later years a rumour persisted that the darkroom assistant was none other than Larry Burrows but Ed Thompson, the LIFE editor at that time, stated catagorically that this was not true. Although the loss of the other images was tragic, the Capa photographs that survived are more dramatic for the grain and blurry image quality. The image of the G.I's wading throught water has a upclose look of urgency, a cold sea and the fear encountered when underfire that no other images captured. When the photographs were published in LIFE, the magazine stated that Capa had forgotten to focus due to the terrifying nature of being underfire -much to Capa's fury. Capa's images of D-day and the following weeks of fighting in Normandy remain a definitive record of that historic event. The photographer managed to capture the scale 0f the invasion while uniquely retaining an individual's eye view of the battle. Capa's grainy intensely emotional images taken on the landing craft and in the cold sea are about as close as we can get to seeing what a GI witnessed at Omaha. The experiences that Capa witnessed during the Normandy landings and in later fighting in the Bocage were to have an profound effect on his view of war photography's future.

World War II continued on its course and wherever the front was located , Capa would not be far behind. Capa's beloved Paris was liberated in the summer of 1944, reuniting him with many of his old friends including artists like Matisse and Picasso. The images of a newly liberated Paris show a vibrant and relieved population but Capa's images also witnessed the first dark signs of retribution on suspected collaborators. After the liberation festivities in Paris, Capa continued to photograph the allied army at the front and the preparations for the impending invasion of Germany. In March 1945 a massive airborne force including Robert Capa landed in German. Capa made the jump with the 17th Airborne Division even though he'd never parachuted before, shooting that operation only due to a colleague being too ill to go, creating the spare place that Capa quickly filled. The images from Germany show the bitter nature of the Allies war in the last months of its life. The war in Europe was soon to finally come to an end and Capa had already begun thinking about the future of war photography. The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki reinforced his view that warfare had changed forever with future conflicts being won or lost with just the push of a button. Capa had also lost many of his family in Hungary to the holocaust. It would be several years before Capa could make his way to Auschwitz to see where a number of his family had been killed.

With the war over, Capa returned to America and started work on creating what would become the Magnum photo agency. His experiences of working for LIFE during the war directly influenced his decision to create the co-operative agency for photographers. The main thing that Capa wanted was control over his work and with the newly established Magnum agency he would get that. Capa had by this time gained US citizenship which helped him concentrate on agency work without the worries of deportation. Robert Capa continued to lead Magnum during the early years of the agency, showing a lot of vision, determination and direction. Magnum soon had offices in New York and Paris with a lineup of new, young and talented photographers but Capa was becoming disillusioned with earning a living through photography. Up until his death Capa mixed the roles of Magnum leader and photo-journalist as best he could but at times Capa found the challange of running the Magnum business tiresome. Many believe that he may have ended his career as a photographer had he lived but fate had another plan for him. Capa covered various different assignments during the early 1950's creating more powerful images but he stayed away from being a war photographer until he was sent to Indochina where the French were fighting to retain control of their colony. Ironically Robert Capa only went to Indo-China because the LIFE photographer Howard Sochurek had returned to America because his mother was ill.

On 25th may 1954 Capa was killed after standing on a anti personnel mine near Thai Binh. He was forty years old and the first American journalist to be killed in Indo-China, later to be renamed Vietnam. The legacy that Capa left is not just represented by the images he shot during his short life - he also left a major influence on photography that has remained strong and intact to this day. The Magnum agency that he helped establish still has the reputation as the home to some of the best photographers in the world. The agency needed a strong and tough leader when it was formed and Capa was perfect in that role - his influence over that agency is still strong today. The other major Capa influence is on how photographers work. The Capa quote ' If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough."' is as true now as it was sixty or seventy years ago. The camera technology may have changed but the skills involved in photojournalism remain the same.

Robert Capa is often called a war photographer but he described himself as a photojournalist. His work in Mexico, China, U.S.A, and the U.K provides the proof, if it were needed, that Capa was a great photojournalist capable of creating great images during peacetime but it will be for his images of war during the early/mid part of the 20th century that he will be best remembered.

All images by Robert Capa unless stated otherwise



Top left : Robert Capa - image by Ruth
Middle right : Robert Capa and George Rodger
Middle left : A lone G.I struggling ashore at Omaha beach

Bottom middle right : German SS officer searched by a military policeman
Bottom left : Robert Capa ready for his parachute jump

Bottom right : Robert Capa's final exposed frame on the road to Thai Binh, 25th May 1954

Anyone interested in further reading about Robert Capa's images and life story should look at the Phaidon book 'Robert Capa - The Definitive Collection'.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

A whale's tale

I rather like the points that this post at State of the Art makes about the 'research' whaling going on at the moment. The comments refer to the heartbreaking reuters photo agency image of a female minke whale and her calf being towed up the rear ramp of the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Whatever your views on 'research' whaling, it must be said that this image does absolutely nothing for whaling PR ..... if such a thing actually exists !

Thursday 14 February 2008

Perfect storm

Stormy winter Seafront at Scarborough - 1995

The singer/songwriter Chris de Burgh once penned the rather descriptive lyrics 'The Cafes are all deserted, the streets are wet again, there's nothing quite like an out of season holiday town in the rain'. How true!

The recently posted Scarborough images were taken for a client who wanted to show that the town was a fascinating and memorable place all year round. I needed no convincing - I've always thought that about the place..... and most British seaside resorts come to think of it. Most of these resorts are, in fact, two towns seperated by the seasons, both offering very different experiences depending on the time of year you visit.

The above image was taken during a winter storm. It was rough, wet and probably a lot more dangerous than many of the people walking down towards the sea probably realised. I was definitely not going to follow them as they merrily plodded along the front, the large waves smashing into the sea walls. Fortunately no one was washed away but they were probably just lucky - a large wave could have easily washed them into the violently rolling and frothing sea.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Light fantastic

South Bay at Scarborough

Light is a wonderful thing but sometimes i think even photographers tend to take for granted. The quality of light plays a large part in our quality of life; something which many people fail to realise until they experience a really beautiful sunset or watch the light sparkles dance on the water.

I was walking back to the car when i took this photograph. It was around 3.15pm and the beach had filled with people. I'd never seen so many people on the beach at this time of year but it was nice to see the kids playing, couples walking and the amateur photographers out and about shooting their images.

I watched one young man, about 25 years old, shooting away with his digital SLR/big zoom lens combination, stopping every now and again to take a look at the preview screen. He was that caught up in the moment that he didn't notice me take HIS picture. Oh the fun of photography! It's somewhat diluted when you go pro.

Sunday 10 February 2008

Departing harbour

The Ayesha departing from Scarborough

Clear blue sky. Perfect. It's amazing how some jobs come in and everything goes by the numbers. You get other jobs that seem to have a inbuilt hassle mechanism - everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Today was a good job day..... in fact i really enjoyed it.

Scarborough was heaving with people down at the seafront. Everyone had come out to get a bit of sea air, just as the Victorians who made the town a popular resort, had done over 100 years ago.

The harbour is a favourite haunt of mine for taking photographs and today there was a lot of haze/mist in the distance nicely adding that little bit of mood. It also diffused the sun's rays making the light that little bit softer. As I was walking back, a yacht started to make its way out of the marina. I made my way back to the harbour entrance and looked about for a good place to capture the boat's departure and spotted some people just taking the view in.

Click....... the image was captured!

Friday 8 February 2008

World Press 08

The winners for the World Press Photo contest 2008 have been announced. A gallery of the superb winning images, all shot during 2007, can be found HERE.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Profile: Robert Capa - Part I

Robert Capa's ' falling soldier' image

Robert Capa is a legendary figure within the photographic world. The influence of his work is felt even now, some 54 years after his death but his own story is just as fascinating as the photographs he took. In part one of this photographer's profile we take a look at the early years and the start of Robert Capa's career.

The Robert Capa story starts in Hungary where he was born Endre Friedmann on October 22nd 1913. Endre Friedmann was the first of many names that Capa would adopt over his lifetime. Endre initially wanted to become a journalist but found that the education opportunities in Hungary were restricted by anti-semitism and political matters. In 1931, at the age of 17 years old, Endre decided to study journalism in Berlin enrolling at Deutsche Hochschule fur Politik. He only studied for a number of semesters before events overtook him and forced him to flee.
In 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany which resulted in Endre quickly departing Berlin for Vienna to avoid Nazi persecution. After a brief stay in Vienna, Endre moved to Paris where he met the Hungarian photographer Andre Kertesz and was introduced to photography. Kertesz was one of the pioneers in the use of the relatively new 35mm Leica camera and its use in photography for serious artistic and photojournalism work.

The introduction of the 35mm Leica to the young Endre Friedmann was an important milestone in his life. He immediately recognised its potential for reportage and used the small camera to photograph the political demonstrations taking place at that time. It was during this time in Paris he befriended two photographers, David 'Chim' Seymour and Henri Cartier Bresson who would become important figures within the development of Robert Capa - the photographer. Both would later become founder members of the Magnum photo agency along with Endre and the british photographer George Rodger. It was during his time in Paris that Endre Friedmann learned to work as a photographer. The Spanish Civil war would make Capa famous but it was in Paris that he would learn about photography and photojournalism. Commissions were hard to get though, especially for such a new and inexperienced photojournalist as he was and changing his first name to the more French looking Andre didn't seem to make much difference. He would often have to make the decision between a meal for himself or feeding the camera - usually it was the camera that got fed. Henri Cartier Bresson later commented that they very rarely talked about photography during those early days, when they met up in a local Cafe, but it seems likely that Cartier Bresson and Seymour certainly helped in Capa's development as a photographer.

Europe at that time was in political turmoil as right wing politics started to gain favour. Spain had descended into a bitter civil war and it was to this war that the young Andre arrived in 1935. With him was a young German woman called Gerda Pohorylle whom he'd met the previous year. Both had a passion for photography and each other. Gerda would be the love of Andre's life and partly responsible for the introduction of the name Robert Capa. The new name was chosen to help sell work to editors who were reluctant to buy from the unknown Andre Friedmann. Many editors thought that with the Robert Capa name, they were dealing with an American photojournalist. Fees were often three times higher for Capa's images than for other photojournalist's work and a mysterious infamous persona was built around the Robert Capa name. His images appeared in the big magazines of the era like France's Vu, America's LIFE and Britain's The Weekly Illustrated. Many of the original negatives taken during Capa's stay in Spain were recently re-discovered in Mexico City where they had been taken at the start of the World War II. Capa believed until his death that the negatives had been destroyed in Paris during the German invasion. Included within the collection of Robert Capa negatives are some of Gerda's negatives.

The Spanish civil war made a celebrity of the newly named Robert Capa. The image that really made Capa a household name was the 'falling soldier' image taken during a battle on the Cordoba front. Published in 1936, the image is widely regarded as one of the greatest war photographs ever taken. For many years its authenticity was put into question but recent investigation has provided the name Frederico Borrell Garcia as the identity of the soldier captured at the moment of death. This image propelled Capa into the limelight but the success came at a price. In July 1937 Gerda Pohorylle (who had also changed her name to Gerda Taro) died after being run over by a tank. Gerda had not only been Capa's lover but she had also acted as a sort of business manager, selling his work to editors and negotiating fees on Capa's behalf. She was also rather a good photojournalist and it was while doing this that she was killed. Her loss was devastating to Capa. He had hoped to marry her and he never fully recovered from Gerda's loss.
Capa decided to sail for America in the late August of 1937; his mother and brother Cornell had emigrated to the USA earlier that year. Whilst in New York, Capa was able to negotiate a contract with LIFE magazine that would regularly publish his work until his death.

In part two of this profile we will look at Capa's work from 1939 until 1954 including his infamous images of the Omaha beach landings taken during D-Day.

Part two will be posted in the next couple of weeks.

All images by Robert Capa except where otherwise indicated

Top right : Trotsky speaking to Danish University students - November 27th 1932

Top middle : Supporters of the popular front government - Paris 1936

Centre left : Gerda Taro and Robert Capa. Photographer unknown

Bottom right : Gerda Taro working at the front.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

On message

Church message board - Tadcaster Road, York

Car. Bus. Walk. My three modes of transport yesterday and even though it was bitterly cold, i managed to get a few images on my travels. All because i left the comfortable confined isolation of the car ..... i might do that more often!

I always find these church 'adverts' interesting even though, most of the time, the message is wasted on me. Bad wine? is that a metaphor for sex, drugs and rock n' roll?

Tuesday 5 February 2008

On the buses

Bus passengers await the next stop

Public transport is one topic i would love to photograph as part of a bigger transport project that would include the railway and motorway infrastructure of the UK.

The British transport network is under pressure to improve but ask any of these passengers if they have seen any improvements to the transport system, most would probably say no. It's down to money of course; the roads and railways have been starved of vital cash investment to help improve the quality of the infrastructure since WWII. Some UK cities have, however, decided to take it upon themselves to act and form a transport policy of their own.

York is one of the most car unfriendly cities in the UK. Car owners are actively encouraged to use the park & ride which involves parking your car outside the city and riding into town on a bus. Inner city car park space has been gradually reduced over the last ten years and fees for car parking within the city have gone up markedly. The result? A cleaner and more pedestrian friendly York.