31 January 2014

Does Art need to be Good?

1. Is art meant to be "good"? in the sense that it is distinguishable from bad, or thin, meaningless, art? Well it isn't meant to be anything of course, but most artists would want, I would have thought, their art to be considered "good" in this sense, in the sense of the accrual of depth of meaning and complexity. If nothing else, it keeps people coming back for more because it keeps giving to the viewer, reflecting different ideas and thoughts back at them - healing, if, along with Alain de Botton, you like. And the people looking at it want to feel good about themselves and their degree of sensitivity and connectedness and attention and depth of knowledge and overall sophistication and so they want their art to have symbolic meaning as well as literal, they want, I want, art to be slightly difficult to decipher; not impossible, not "A Z and Two Noughts" incomprehensible, but just that bit more complex than they are able to understand. Amazingly enough, of course, very simple art can achieve this occasionally, in the process, if one is lucky, giving the viewer a bit of a laugh on the way.
2. Is art meant to be "good"? in the sense that it is pro-life, anti-cruelty, pro-equality, pro-health, that type of thing - does it have to have a political or religious or moral agenda? It would be difficult to make that case - take "Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer" (please, take it, as the joke has it); or the film of "Last Exit to Brooklyn". Neither of these seems to me to offer the viewer something "good" or positive, just as slasher films don't, nor certain sculptures or books or a dozen other possibles. So, no, not, morally good, and we remain with "just" complexity, thought-provoking goodness. And yet, as I write this, I think "actually, you know what, I do want art to be good, in the sense of morally Good". I hated Last Exit to Brooklyn and the nihilism of Henry, POASK. I cannot bear the lazy amorality of the Chapman brothers work (no link - they get me that riled up that I don't want to encourage people to see their art). Probably I should, and I will, examine why, but for the purposes of this post I'll note that yes, I do like a bit of moral goodness in my work - I want to care about the characters, the people portrayed, in the main. Even in still photos, if that makes sense. Anyway, one to come back to later.
3. How much complexity is needed? How many layers to the onion? A piece of Pollock's, for example, looks complex, and people are sold on the idea that the ideas behind it are complex in part, perhaps, because of its spidery, difficult-to-read appearance. But in truth, how difficult is it? One splash on one canvas and that's the idea explained - randomness fused with intentionality all bound up in a piece for a gallery or plush home wall, displayed to be seen and interpreted as Art. Yes, a few layers to the onion there, including the slightly edgy possibility that the viewer is being taken for a fool, but really, truly, you only need to do this once and then move on - does anyone claim that there is more to be gained from looking at two Pollocks as opposed to just one? We get it Jackson, we get it, but what else do you have?
4. So. In a photo, is compulsion to re-view it possible?  This isn't art, nor this, [warning: possibly disturbing content], though certainly compulsive and important to see, albeit that viewing it again and again isn't something one would want to do. So, as well as compulsion, more is needed, more complexity, more depth, more meaning. In fact, if you have all the meaning in one fast hit, you haven't really got art, just representation. And though it can be skilfully done, more meaning, hidden below the surface for the viewer to find, or rather, to keep looking for, that's what's needed. Gregory Crewdson certainly understands this, with his idea that you don't look at a photograph but through it at something else, but what of others? And, of course, for the blogger, what of me? Do my photos have  a depth and complexity that might take out of the realm of the mundane? Mostly not, mostly they are simply representational. But of course I aspire to more; which, being the case, what to do, what to do? I'll leave this up, marinading under the public glare (well, the two sets of eyes) - it helps define and refine. Meanwhile, here's a picture:


Hiraeth.

30 January 2014

Fruit and Veg





R Steinberg, Ex-Photographer, Speaks

So, someone doesn't like Belgium. Nor does that same person like the term Fine Art Photography, a sentiment (the dislike) with which I agree: either it's art, or it isn't. It shouldn't need labelling and the fact that it does deems it oxymoronic. Ultimately his, Steinberg's, dislike of the term appears to have been indicative of something greater, a dislike of, or rather a wearing out of, photography. He's on to other things now, and of course good luck to him. Me? I'm still immersed, still swimming in the waters, sometimes they're cold, sometimes warm, currents come and go. Still afloat though, and enjoying the sea, the see. But I have an inkling of an understanding of where he's coming from I think.

Chillies


Light. Colour. Texture. Drama. That's all you need? I think not, but today it's all I've got.

Chillies


Melvyn at Lamplite Antiques


Continuing the series (of 2? Let's hope not :-)) of portraits of Welshpool shopkeepers.  A lovely guy. 

28 January 2014

The British Journal of Photography Workbook

Hey, look at this - The BJP Workbook - looks great, no? I mean, free? And job leads?

The WORKBOOK gives you a new way to find work with no lead fees or commission fees. 

Hey, that sounds great - what could possibly go wrong?

Well, pretty much all of it. Firstly, it isn't free to actually use - to follow up on the leads you have to pay anything upwards of £26.95 p.m. though this isn't made exactly clear until you have given them your details. And look at the jobs on the front page - at the time of writing the deadlines for applying for the two jobs shown are the 5th and the 19th January. Whoops!

A shame - I expected better from this august publication - I mean, it's pretty interesting, even if sometimes a tad Pseud's Corner (though in fairness you sometimes have to go over the edge in order to know where the edge is). But sleazy internet marketing ploys and advertising claims that suggest an email to the ASA might not go amiss? I'd not thought that of the BJP before.

UPDATE:

I wrote to the Digital Operations Manager and CC'd in the editor and deputy editor; none of them bothered to reply so I'm trying the ASA instead. I'll keep you both posted.

27 January 2014

Wales. January Monday.

 Clockwise from top left: front room, Sunday (I know, I know - it says Monday; all the rest were Monday so stop your maundering); Coed-y-Dinas nature reserve; bus stop and trees, A490; C-y-D pond / nature reserve; C-y-D hide; C-y-D picnic site (? - not sure about that last - it's right by the road, hardly looks appetising, and has an air of classroom about it so maybe that's what it is for?). The reserve is managed by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust - lovely people, say hello to them if you are in Welshpool at any point. And yes, I am aware the above montage makes the place look a little bleak - take no notice of me - Melancholy is my middle name - the reserve is worth a visit, especially, I imagine, in the spring or summer; January really isn't the time.


Guns, weddings?

Coming right up. This photographer, Sergei Ivanov, seems to be going places with photography that haven't been explored before. See, for example, this set. Here is one of his wedding pictures:


Ever seen a wedding picture like that before? Thought not :). Do visit his site - it's a treasure trove of strange and original artwork with some interesting music to accompany your journey into his world. 

Note: I don't often visit Russian websites any more, not since the demise of Allofmp3 anyway, so perhaps the above is only but one of a million examples of such photography - if the internet is riddled with such sites and I am coming late to the party my apologies. 

26 January 2014

Want to find out if you have any sort of deficiency in your ability to see colours?

Here's a neat little test, though I'm not sure if you have epilepsy it would be a good thing to do, so be warned. The test is to see, as the title of this post applies, if you have a deficiency in your ability to see different colours. Having done the test I believe I don't, have a deficiency that is, though of course it isn't going to be 100% accurate and is also somewhat dependent on the calibration of your monitor.

25 January 2014

On Photography

Lately I read this piece by Irwin Wong at his blog.  It reminded me of how hard this photography business is to get right and how, despite the fact that I might want to cast around for excuses as to why I am not more proficient, not more productive, not more creative, there is only one common denominator determining those factors: me. I woke up this morning dissatisfied with my work and was going to illustrate this post with a photo from my X100 and again rail against it and its deficiencies but I decided that I didn't want to add more noise to the internet - my X100 pictures are simply not good enough to warrant publication. End of story. And the reason for this isn't because of the X100 or any other blame-the-tools stupidity. No. Irwin Wong explains it thus:

"It was stupid of me to think that simply carrying around a camera from point A to point B will lead to better photos... Any type of photography, whether it be portrait, wedding or street photography requires discipline and focus to improve and polish. Street photography requires you to be out and about, searching for interesting spots and interesting people. It requires you to ... go and talk to people on the street. This is difficult for me... So I have the choice to pick up my socks, get out on the streets and really try to nail some work that I’m proud of, or I can sit back in my comfort zone and not create anything. Which to me is the equivalent of basically giving up water. So, I guess I really only have one choice then ."
I'm not sure I want to make it as a street photographer ("make it"? What would that mean in any case?), but the same thing applies to my X100 or my D700 work - if I want to improve it is pointless blaming the equipment. I have hardly made a photo I'm proud of with the Fuji but other people can produce great work with it so, if I worked hard enough, then maybe, maybe, so could I. But the key is in the working. It always is. Now, relaxing and letting go as you work, that is a whole different subject. But anyway, the key is to work in a more focussed way, to edit more carefully, to take time, to have courage ("yes Patrick - speak to those people!"), and to have a purpose. Again, this last is another topic worthy of a whole post and for now all I want to do is say that it seems I have to learn all over again that it isn't the tools that are the problem; I have to get up, dust myself down, and start all over again.

22 January 2014

Covent Garden Greengrocers, Welshpool


This is Kevin who runs the local greengrocers. He has a cat that he has taught to stand on it's hind legs when he says "umgawa" and that goes for walks with him in the woods. Kevin wanted to go for a Morrissey look with the rhubarb standing in for the gladioli - not sure we quite got what he was looking for but hey, never mind, it's good enough. Anyway, lovely guy - make sure you buy your fruit and veg independent when you come to Welshpool. 

:-) 

20 January 2014

Iris.


Visual Enough for You?

Why yes, thank you.
I was just now forced to leave my chair and walk around Powis Castle grounds owing to the beauty of the light as the wintery sun leaves the area for another 16 hours or so. Gold trees, glowing red hills, deer (me or them surprised the most? Hard to know), a pheasant that follows alongside everyone for a measured strip of land in the sheep field; the smell of rotting apples coming up from the hedge at the bottom of the orchard; a rainbow. Hard to imagine it getting more beautiful than it is this late January afternoon but I imagine spring and summer will have something to offer, as no doubt will February snows, if there are such a thing.
So, anyway, thanks to all who have made this possible - one winter's afternoon I won't forget, though the photos (of course I took a camera) won't do it justice.

19 January 2014

Wales: A Couple More


Buttington, on the road to Shrewsbury. Nikon D700, 70 - 200 f2.8 @ 70mm, 1/640s, f6.3, ISO 500. The Danes were apparently defeated in a battle round about here in AD890. More here.


On the road to Machynlleth, possibly round about

52° 42.082', -3° 32.586'

though I might well be wrong - no GPS was used in teh construction of this photograph. Very Wales, (pop. 3,000,000) though, I'm sure you will agree. 

Bright Sunshine? OK, well, admittedly the X100 can cope with that...


Ah me, the little Fuji X100. I still so want to like it and yet, and yet... Above is a perfectly nice shot of Shrewsbury*, even very nice - I like the light on the willow tree and the blue of the sky (which I have boosted a little in Capture NX2; I've also taken out a branch, top right). I lightened the area of trees on the left hand side as the shadows were a bit intense there: the Fuji chose a dynamic range setting of 100% - I don't yet know what these are a percentage of, but I do know that 400% is probably going to give lighter shadows than 100%. Anyway, I think I have overdone it on the lightening somewhat but never mind, it's staying as is for the time being. Other settings? Well, OK then - since you ask: ISO 200 (base ISO); 1/1000s @ f11. Auto WB, exposure comp -2/3. And that's your lot. Nice, as I say, but not hard for almost any camera to achieve. Or maybe I'm hating on the Fuji too much? Whatever, I may still be tempted by an X-Pro2; I tried out an X-E2 in a shop today - admittedly hardly a test of scientific rigour, but the focus seemed pretty good and way better than the last time I tried out an X-Pro1. So, I may yet succumb if there is, indeed, an X-Pro2 in the works.

And further thoughts on the above picture? Well, it rather lacks a subject... Perhaps just the willow next time? It's like one of Martin Parr's Boring Postcards.

Below is another Fuji shot - settings ISO 400, f5.6, 1/250s, WB auto, dynamic range 200%. Originally in colour, converted to b&w in Capture NX2. Taken just outside Welshpool - yes, it's been raining a bit here.



* Population 74,000 according to Wikipedia. And £299,000,000 retail turnover in 2005? Sounds like a lot to me but what do I know? Just about nada.

17 January 2014

Near Buttington, outside Welshpool [Warning: Photo Geekery Ahead]


Nikon D700 with 70 - 200mm f2.8G at 135mm, ISO 800, 1/640s @ f5

A little bit dementedly excited this evening as I have got Capture NX2 to work again and, although some say they cannot see any difference between processing their NEFs through Photoshop or Lightroom or Aperture and using the Nikon-specific Capture NX2 software, I think I can and would struggle, I believe, to get the same results from Photoshop. It has been buggy and slow and crash-prone in the past but who knows, maybe times have changed? Anyway, I like the above, even if perhaps I have overdone the contrast a little - I like a bit of richness in my blacks and different tones in the sky - it is closer, to me, to the drama of the view itself, the reality, this way. 

A Pear


16 January 2014

Three Pears

Nikon D700, Nikon 105mm macro, f10, 1/30s, ISO 1000. Dining room table. I was dressed this time. Window light. Photoshop. Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin. This photo is best appreciated whilst listening to something like Cascade by the Future Sound of London, although of course you may disagree. Anyway, Zen baby, Zen.
Whilst buying these props, I mean pears, I got talking to the greengrocer who agreed to a portrait shoot - result! He looks like Elvis Costello with fabulous clothes and a great face. Watch this space...

If you have time for one thing today...

Hey, you're busy. I get it. But, honestly, if you could set aside four minutes and 25 seconds of your time, I'd really strongly recommend going over here and listening to The Game sung by Vera Black and written by her and her husband Luke Bourne. The first time I heard it was like the first time I heard Tracy Chapman singing when she was at Live Aid - shivers, smiles, melancholy, awe - the whole shebang. Yep, Vera is that good. And she should be a huge name in the music world; hopefully, if that is what she wants, one day she will be. Until then, enjoy something new.... :)


15 January 2014

Machynllethian Cabbage

Brassica oleracea if you want to be pretentious about it.

Like a tree, no? Bought in Machynlleth - pop. 2,100 (more here). Nikon D700, Nikon 105mm macro @ f3.0; 1/50s. Breadboard: model's own.
I took a trip to Machynlleth today in order to go to the Museum of Modern Art there. Whilst there I visited a lovely little bookshop - Pen'rallt Gallery Bookshop - they don't appear to have a web presence and I won't link to one of those generic listings sites that are destroying the web but do visit the gallery if you are ever over in this corner of Wales - the staff were lovely to me today and immediately intuited my love of photography, a subject to which they devote both a large amount of stock and exhibition space. On Saturday, in fact, there is to be a talk by Iain Wright, a photographer working in part for the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. I can't find a link to a site for Iain - perhaps this is a Machynllethian thing? Anyway - he's been documenting buildings of architectural (and / or historical?) interest in Powis (the lowest population density of all the counties of Wales - more here), a monumental (sorry) undertaking and about which he is going to speak on Saturday. 
Part of the reason for my trip was to go to the studio of Ian Phillips while I was there but I couldn't find it unfortunately - another time. Anyway, oh lordy is he talented - take a look at his beautiful linocuts here. Whilst I love photography, I'd give a few of my fingers to be able to produce art as affecting and true as his. Influenced by his time in Japan, the pictures to me have just the right level of abstraction; his use of colour is also, to me, right in the sense that he takes the essential colour of part of his subject and extrapolates beautifully from it, in keeping within the somewhat posterised demands of linocuts in general I would think. Anyway, I have clearly reached the limits of  my own inadequate understanding - just go look at his pictures why doncha? They are gorgeous.

14 January 2014

Urbe in Rus; or, Camus on Suicide


Oh my lord what a metrosexual. Excitement this week chez Dodds as I purchased a milk thermometer. No, I'm not pregnant and nor have I made a start on animal husbandry since The Move (time enough for that - indeed, we have already promised to help with the lambing... more on that anon). None of that. No. I simply haven't found a Taylor Street replacement for the caffeine fix yet so I am going the homemade route, aided and abetted by my former colleagues who bought me as a leaving gift a beautiful coffee machine, complete with working steamer (yay!), which, somewhat starved of photographic subjects as I am, I may yet picture on here.

Anyway, the milk thermometer. A necessary adjunct to the machine, IMHO, given the importance of getting the temperature exactly right. I know, I know, all that fuss and bother... but but but when a coffee is done right, yowser! It hits a certain heavenly spot:

"Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?" - Albert Camus

So, anyway, does it work, the thermometer that is? Well yes, thank you, at least so far. Switch off the steam before you hit 60 degrees and on up into the Zone of Perfection it goes (depending of course on the amount of milk - YMMV) - red is the target, it doesn't signify danger.

Thermometer: Electronic Temperature Instruments via Upstairs Downstairs in Oswestry (pop. 15 - 17,000 - more here - you're welcome); it looks a bit Italian IYAM, which is appropriate.

Photo? Nikon D700 as before; Nikon 105mm 2.8 G @ f3.5; 1/200s ISO500 half standing in dressing gown on dining room table. Bit of Photoshop and a bit of Camerabag2.

13 January 2014

Selfie, re-lit


Selfie (with appropriate justification)


Look, I'm sorry about the narcissism, I really am, but there ain't no one else here apart from the cat and I'm just not going down that particular road again. So, here I am, staring out at you. Taken with a D700 and 50mm 1.4D at f11 [why so stopped down? To maximise DoF as I was shooting in manual focus using interval timing on a tripod and it was a hit-and-miss affair], this is cropped down a fair bit and not the most galumphing file ever. What's wrong with it? Well, aside from the cropping, my eyes could be sharper (just as they could in real life of course), a tan would be good, and what is up with that shirt on the right hand side? Anyway, until I can get someone else in front of my camera again, you may see a few more of these. I've some weddings and portraits coming up though, so thereafter you can rest easy. 

UPDATE: "What's wrong with it?" and then I'm off about technicalities? What's wrong with it is that I look so sodding miserable and am frowning fit to burst. Cheer up Partridge - life is a blessing remember?! 

From the A458 at Buttington, just outside Welshpool


Well now, there's lovely. Landscape - not really my thing, but this works reasonably OK I think. I am wondering if I should develop / improve my landscape photography skills and, being where I am, the landscape really does demand to be recorded in some way. I was quite taken with a video I watched yesterday in which Alain de Botton* talks about the purposes of Art, one of which in his view is to stop people from forgetting (although I wonder if it serves more of a function in terms of the artist not forgetting rather than the viewer - Picasso famously said "painting is just another way of keeping a diary"). He cited John Constable and a painting of clouds from Hampstead Heath in London as an example of the artist not wishing to forget, and not wishing others to forget, what he saw. Ever since I was a boy cycling around on Chorleywood Common I've had a desire to record, to literally capture somehow, the beauty of what I've seen, though I haven't always acted on it for a variety of reasons not the least of them being that in the past I didn't know how to do this. Now that I have the time perhaps I should follow through more frequently and share what I see in the best way that I know how, though I don't get the same thrill from a well-executed landscape photograph as I do from a beautiful portrait.

(Were I to go all out to improve my landscape photography I might consider investing in a D800, though it would necessitate upgrading my Mac as well so as to ensure I could process the huge files in a reasonable length of time).


*Alain de Botton and John Armstrong: Art as Therapy - 2013 - available here if you don't mind a bit of tax avoidance. The video can be seen here.

Fashion Blogging

Some rather beautiful things here, including this unattributed picture:


12 January 2014

The Year (and a bit) of Living Dangerously: Turning to Photography Full Time

Hello. Here's a picture:


How easy do you, gentle reader, friend of Mrs Lemon, think it might be to make a living creating such pictures? Not necessarily of beautiful fingers on a beautiful horn, but pictures in general? Well, if you keep reading here over the next 17 months, you might get some insight as this is the adventure / idiocy I am currently embarked on. You might not get a huge amount of insight of course - maybe I'll get so busy I'll stop posting on here. Or maybe my writing won't be terribly insightful. Or perhaps I'll get bored and stop putting down my thoughts. Or any of a million other factors may intercede. But you might find out a little about how a foolish enterprise such as turning professional photographer in middle (stop sniggering at the back!) age might affect one man in the UK at a time when everyone and their dog has a digital camera and fancies themselves as something of a genius with light. 

Here's another picture - this is primarily a photography blog after all: 


The story so far: 

1. Wife offered opportunity to do something in Wales that comes along once in a lifetime. 
2. Husband, me, says "okey dokey, we can't let that pass" so both up sticks from West London (population 8 - 21 million, depending on geographical definition - more here) and land on the Welsh side of the border a fifteen-minute walk from a town called Welshpool (population 6,200 - 2001 Census - more here). House in London rented out. House in Wales rented. 
3. Husband gives up work in London children's hospital, though employers say "Hmm, not sure Patrick knows what he is doing - best give him a safety net to save him from himself" and offer career break. Patrick says thank you very much - very kind. Very kind indeed. 
4. Income nosedives. 
5. Patrick and wife wake up every morning to big skies, much rain, and views of beautiful garden and hills beyond. Partly this is due to the fact that they haven't got round to putting up curtains (not too much need as not overlooked, though temp of room could be improved so some to be sought).
6. Patrick spends a while updating website and learns one of hopefully a number of lessons, namely that, like other creative endeavours (painting, writing a novel - yes - there's one in a digital bottom drawer somewhere - or post-processing a digital photograph), creating a website is a task that is never over, merely abandoned. Many hours into this updating process I have done little other than make the site look a bit more orderly and less dishevelled - it is slightly more easily navigated now, I would hazard, though many of the pictures are the same with a few new ones that have made the grade added. I don't think scores of internet denizens are flocking over there as I type as a result of my endeavours - my SEO skills are rudimentary at best, and probably actively detrimental at worst. 
7. Other lessons from a month of country living? Well, I am only a stone's throw from a shop that sells gun oil, pigeon netting and fur-lined checked shirts that stand up of their own accord so thickly are they constructed. Also, I am still getting used to the idea that updating my website is actually, now, work. This is both positive (working on my photography website, a job? How marvellous!); and negative (well, ok, it looks better, but where's the payoff?). 
8. Other points of note so far: (i) you can't get fresh duck eggs in the winter; (ii) an exceptional cup of coffee that has to be self-made is more difficult to achieve than you might imagine; and (iii) speculative emails offering photographic coverage of music and other festivals don't garner a huge percentage of replies. 
So, there we are - the story so far. Add to this the fact that making it Welsh hasn't improved the focusing shortcomings of the Fuji X100 and you have some idea of what has been going on here of late. That said, I'm foolishly rather interested in hearing about when the Fuji X-Pro1 might get updated.... hope springs eternal. Here's a photo from the former: 


I'll let you know if and when I buy the latter (what'll it be - the X-Pro2?), though income rather than outgoings is the priority at present. 

9 January 2014

Further

revamps at Patrick Dodds Photography - loads more work needed but it is getting there.

On another note, here's one I took earlier (complete, I now see, with dust mark - to be amended in due course):


Does this follow the rule of "better"? Not really, though if one views "better" as "not having been taken by my before" then, whoop de do, rule followed. This, of course, shows flooded meadows down in the Severn Valley a couple of miles from our house.

6 January 2014

Provisional book cover: take 23 ;-)


To have and to hold



The second of these photos / illustrations has part of a picture by R B Talbot Kelly from his book "The Way of Birds" (1937). I don't know why, I just liked it. So there we are. I believe it is a harrier of some sort.

OK. What "better" means

I think what I meant when I said that I would only post pictures that were better than those that went before was that I would only post pictures that I hadn't taken before, that showed something new to the world or, at least, to me. Pictures that were different - new subjects, new treatments of subjects, development of technique, improved technique, new technique - oh the list goes on. So, there it is - The Aim.

Rental Agreements, Old Style :-)


Working on the cover for a short story today and using some old papers of mine as props / inspiration. The cover hasn't come together yet but on the journey this photo appeared. What is beautiful, apart from the handwriting of course, is the quality of the paper and the light falling on the paper through the big living room window I currently have access to. 

3 January 2014

A Welsh Christmas

This is an edited, re-posted amalgam of pictures taken over Christmas 2013; see below for the reason why. Following this post I shall try and stick to my resolution about only posting pictures that I believe are "better" that the ones immediately preceding them, thereby hopefully improving the quality of the imagery on here, though of course this may well also have the effect of decreasing the amount of posts I put up on Mrs Lemon's. For those of you wondering if I am going to hold to the idea of having a new blog to reflect the fact of significantly changed circumstances (see posts passim), today the answer is no but who knows, this may change as I approach the 10 year point of this blog. 
10 years - is that possible? Well soon boyo, soon. 













In the Woods