Saturday, December 31, 2005

Invisible people

There are four people in this picture. However, before you spend too much time searching in the bushes, or questioning my arithmetic, let me explain what I mean. The American photographer, Anselm Adams maintained that "There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer". So, if we add you and me to the two at the bottom of the photograph, that makes four!

But don't let my flippancy get in the way of the serious point that I think Adams was making: namely that the appreciation of a photograph - or any work of art - involves an unspoken dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Moreover, the experience of appreciation will be determined by what each party offers to the process - that's why we all see things differently.

In this photograph of the Orangery (now Butterfly House) seen from the Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, Lancaster, I spent quite a time waiting for those two people to appear and break the symmetry of the scene. Now don't get me wrong, I like symmetry: but sometimes it can be boring if it isn't overlaid with something that disrupts it. Furthermore, I felt the view needed a focus in the foreground to counterbalance the dominating presence of the building.

Nevertheless, I guess some of you will see the people as irritants, unwelcome guests that throw the photograph out of balance. That's the thing about art (and I don't claim that this photograph is great art!): the unspoken dialogue that it prompts is different in every instance. And when it's shared with someone else it can leave us a little wiser.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ah, the great outdoors

"I have two doctors", said the great English historian, G. M. Trevelyan, "my left leg and my right." And who can deny that a walk in the mountains is good for the body and the soul. The trouble is they are so high!

This representation of the Lake District mountains stands on the sea front promenade at Morecambe, Lancashire. The idea is that you stand back from it, in a raised position, and compare the view across the bay with the scheme laid out before you, and in so doing find out which bit is which. It's a panorama information board writ large! I get the impression that it isn't very popular because I see few people making use of it. Perhaps it's the rusting iron finish (deliberate), or the fact that it blocks your view and you have to go out of your way to use it properly. But it's probably because most of those who might use it are to be found a couple of hundred yards further along, having their photographs taken next to a slighly larger than life-size sculpture of the late great English comedian, Eric Morecambe.

I took this photograph of my wife in front of it because it makes for a strange image. I'd also noticed that by judicious placement her figure could produce both a shadow on the edifice and a reflection in a nearby puddle. Our walk that day had been along the shore. But, seeing the names here before us I was reminded that it's a while since we were on top of Helvellyn. Perhaps next year!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The graffiti over our heads

Aircraft vapour trails are a significant irritant to the landscape photographer. Only rarely do they add something to the image. Removing them in post processing is a chore, and isn't quite as easy as it might seem. However, when I came to photograph a public sculpture on the promenade at Blackpool, Lancashire, I decided to incorporate them as a sort of graffiti background that enlivened an otherwise fairly simple shot. The sculpture in question is "Desire" by Chris Knight, and it is one of a series by different artists intended to add interest to the southern seafront.

And now for something only slightly connected to the above - a helpful hint for those who wish to stimulate conversation at a flagging party or dinner! Suggest that cheap air travel and the tourism it propagates are unmitigated disasters - then duck! You can throw in as many arguments as you like about the environmental cost (the carbon emissions for each passenger on an average length flight equal those of a year's average use of a car), or the extent of the subsidy that we all pay (no duty on aviation fuel), or the noise pollution inflicted on millions, or the essential hollowness of the tourist experience as compared to travel ("The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see." G.K. Chesterton), or even the white graffiti scrawled across our skies. Whatever you say, no matter how good your arguments, or how eloquently you express them, I guarantee that at the end of the "heated" discussion you won't have converted a single soul. And I'll leave you to reflect on why that might be.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Warning - this photograph's terrible

How do I know this is a terrible shot? Well, I've visited the photography forums, and they tell me that if it isn't sharp it's no good! And this one is distinctly blurred.

Seriously though, too many visits to certain kinds of photography websites can be detrimental to your photographic health. I'm talking about those sites where posters speculate and salivate over the next whizz-bang camera that may be just around the corner. Or agonise endlessly over which is the best of the two cameras they've narrowed their choice down to. Or where they discuss ad nauseam whether camera X has more noise at 400 ISO than camera Y. Or - well, you get the idea!

Now I'm not saying that a decent camera and a decent lens aren't important, or even desirable. But isn't it the snaps themselves that are the whole point of the hobby (and profession) of photography. And isn't it the case that most digital cameras made these days are capable of producing good images. Moreover, it's surely a truism that the eye behind the camera is more important than the camera itself. Visiting the forums I get the impression that there are a lot of unhappy photographers around who've lost the plot! Remember, digital photography is all about composing an effective rectangle of shapes and colours - and it's creative and fun.

So, back to the rubbish photo above. This was one of those take it or miss it situations. It was the end of the day, hazy, there wasn't much light, and the fishing boat "Albion" was coming quickly up the Wyre Channel off Fleetwood, Lancashire. A long zoom was on the camera, and the possible ISO, exposure and speed meant camera shake was a distinct possibility. I had no tripod and no usable support on the beach. So I braced the camera to my face and fired off several shots. I'm glad I did, because the combination of vessels, gulls, haze and low lighting combined to give me a photograph that I like, that's resonant of an age gone by, and that isn't (I think) rubbish. What's more I can live with the blur!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Primary Colours

Sometimes a photograph presents itself and you just have to take it! Last summer I was standing on the tip of Roa Island near Barrow-in-Furness. It's a great location for the photographer: there are buildings, boats, sea views, Walney Island, a lifeboat station, and Piel Island with its medieval ruined castle. I'd photographed these and was looking round through a zoom lens just before I left when the two small yachts and the distant mountains came into the viewfinder. Given the blueness of the hills what were the chances of the yachts being red and yellow - giving the three primary colours. Such an opportunity doesn't come along often. The image called me and I knew I had to try and get a decent photograph out of the view.

I couldn't get to the point that I wanted in order to creat a balanced composition, so I took a number of shots from where I was, using a range of focal lengths. The final image, above, is a slight cropping of the best of these.

For those who know this area of north-west England the strip of land behind the yachts is the spit leading to Foulney Island, the highest peak is Ingleborough, and the peak above the red yacht is the more distant Penyghent.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Selective Viewpoint

The classic viewpoint for photographing the exterior of English churches is from the south-east of the building. This angle usually allows the structure to be best seen and understood. Furthermore, the characteristic English church has a tower at the west end. Consequently in this view the eye is drawn through the photograph from the east wall with its large window, to the dominant tower, taking in a projecting south porch on the way. It is a very satisfying composition. I have an interest in church architecture (see my Lancashire Churches website), and consequently have hundreds, if not thousands of photographs taken from this angle because they best summarize and record the architecture of the building.

The photographer looking to compose an interesting picture involving a church does well to look beyond this viewpoint. Sometimes the context of churchyard and trees can be used. Another device is a view of the church and churchyard through the lychgate. Often, however, a part of the church can be selected, for its own interest, and because it is representative of the whole. That is what I tried to achieve in this photograph of Old St John, Pilling, Lancashire. The avenue of yews and their associated shadows make a contrasting frame for the main entrance with its sundial, the window and the modest bellcote on the roof.

If you would like to know more about this church click here.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, December 25, 2005

I'm with Mark Twain on this one

"Golf is a good walk spoiled" said Mark Twain. I think he was right, though in saying as much I know that I invite the wrath (or pity) of the golfing fraternity. Being someone who enjoys a good walk, though with a camera and my wife rather than a golf club and a caddy, I have passed many courses and wondered at the people struggling to "control a ball with implements ill-adapted for the purpose" (Woodrow T. Wilson). I'm sure I completely miss the point. Or perhaps my life has a different point that I pursue just as frenetically!

The other morning as I passed Knott End Golf Club, across the River Wyre from Fleetwood, I looked over the course and took my first golf photograph. It wasn't the subject that grabbed my attention, but the light falling on the undulating fairway, the silhouetted figures, and the striking sky. It invited a conventional one third ground, two thirds sky approach, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome.

The only problem with the photograph is that there is now a print hanging in my study, and the subject may prompt my friends or visitors to think that I've got a new hobby - and that would never do!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Touching the Past

On the cover of Gordon Winter's book, "A Country Camera 1844-1914", there is a photograph of Robert Morvinson, carrier and shoemaker of Stallingborough, Lincolnshire. It was taken in 1857 when Mr Morvinson was 82 years old. The author notes that he was therefore born in 1775 when the United States was still a British colony, and Bonnie Prince Charlie was still alive. It seemed remarkable to me when I first read this, and it still does now, that I can look at a photograph of someone who was contemporary with those events and people.

Thoughts of a similar nature came to mind when I was looking up some information about my photograph of the steam yacht, "Gondola", which still carries tourists up and down Coniston Water, one of the lakes in the English Lake District. I was surprised to read that its daily journeys began as long ago as 1859. And, though it was out of service from 1936 until 1980, it continues today doing what it was designed to do all those years ago. It occured to me that the poet, artist and writer, John Ruskin - a figure who seems very remote today - would have seen the "Gondola" regularly from Brantwood, his house overlooking the lake. He may even have travelled in it - though it was probably too "new-fangled" for his sensibilities!

On the morning I took this photograph I took others which captured the blue of the water, the fine painting and gilding of the yacht, and the autumn colours of the lakeside trees. They are good enough record shots. This contre-jour shot, which almost looks black and white, is the best picture however, and better captures the spirit of a journey on Coniston Water.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

The Power of Colour

No, not the deep blue of the sky. Nor the shades of white, grey, yellow and blue in the clouds. And certainly not the creamy white of the Morecambe and Heysham Yacht Club Race Office. To see the power of colour click on the photograph to view the larger version, then put your finger over the red life-belt below the building. The blocking out of that small red shape changes the photograph significantly. It demonstrates how, in the right context, a tiny amount of strong colour has a significance well above its weight, adding richness and interest to a composition.

My photograph was a small reminder of the first time, in my teenage years, that I became aware of this effect. It was in the semi abstract painting of "Le Forte de Antibes" (1955) by Nicolas de Stael. The only version of this work that I can find on the web is on a record sleeve. Here the power of a small red square (a buoy?) is immense - cover it up with your finger and see.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, December 23, 2005

Photography and Reflections

This blog is about my photographs and the reflections that they prompt in me. Every image we make with a camera has the power to provoke thought - sometimes about the subject in front of us, and sometimes about an apparently unrelated matter. We'll start with this photograph that I took the other day in my kitchen. It is a reflection of me in the top of a cafetiere and prompts this thought - I'm starting to look old!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen