2010_365341 - Streaming

Judging Photography – a humanistic approach

Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists of the last century, proposed that there are three core conditions for a successful, growth-promoting relationship. Can they apply to appraising photography with a camera club audience.

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366 2008 - Pictures That Choose Us

Why do a 365 Project?

So you have joined the (post) new year photography party and decided to embark on a 365 Project. You’re not alone. It’s THE thing to do, right? But have you thought about why you are doing it? Read more

2009_365265 - Worthing Shelter

Beating the Photography Blues

Ever had the photography blues? Down. Depressed. The kind of feeling that has you thinking you’ll never make a good photo ever again. What can you do to get out of it? Read more

2008_366010 - Digital Darkroom

So Digital makes it easier … ?

Does Digital Photography make life easier, or does it just bring less certainty and more complexity?

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2007_206046 - Going Fishing

Judging Photography – The Person Behind the Image

How connecting with the person behind the image gives us much more of an appreciation for the photographs they make.

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A Pythonesque view of a family holiday

TTL is pretty unhappy.

All the years I’ve been complaining that rubbish weather follows me to Scotland and Snowdonia (where, of course the mountains generate their fair share of rubbish weather anyway). And now it follows me to Norfolk. Not only did it lash with rain and blow autumnal gales off the North Sea, it didn’t even get light! I’m convinced the sun didn’t even rise.

Black Sabbath’s song seems darkly appropriate for this awful summer: “Look out … the sky is falling down … Look out … the world is spinning round and round and round … Look out … the sun is going black, black … Look out … it’s never ever ever coming back … Look out

And during OUR week away, yes you’ve guessed, Snowdonia, Scotland and any other place we could have chosen to go to were basking in pleasant sunshine, whilst to the east of a line from the Wash to Bournemouth was draped a large wodge of dark, wet rubbishness. This was the week we chose to have a camping break! “Serves you right”, I hear.

OK there are some legitimate reasons why I’ve chosen to spend more time in Europe lately, and the weather is just one of them. To appreciate some of the others I need to ask you to remember Eric Idle’s immortal rant in Monty Python’s travel agent’s office (and, yes, I CAN say the letter ‘C’) :

I mean … what IS the point of holidaying in the UK when it never gets light and rain hammers endlessly at your tent, letting up just for long enough for you to get halfway to the bog before giving you yet another soaking. And your campsite is full of 4x4s with armour plating and blacked-out windows, and hypersonic children who scream all night and throw missiles at your tent, which is incidentally the only one left standing because the wind has blown most of the others most of the way to Little Snoring because nobody knows how to pitch their cavernous, five-bedroom monster-domes with their fragile bendy poles and tiny skewers for pegs, which pull at the slighted gust – they don’t do it properly here do they, not like in the mountains ..!

And then you go find something to do in this half-lit flatland, only to find that you need another bloody mortgage to try the ropeway-through-the-trees attraction AND they want to raid you of the last penny you own for the privilege of parking your car whilst you do so. So you try the local, traditional English seaside resort with its amusements and cockle shops and bargain shops and Hotels de Paris, and you tramp through the puddles to the seafront to pose for a family picture knowing that there will be no faces visible in your picture because they’re all wrapped in the hoods of their rain jackets and bent over double into the howling gale. And on the bandstand some middle-aged Robbie Williams clone is karaoke-ing to an audience of ten and pretending he’s playing to fifty thousand at Reading festival, bless him. If you don’t like him you could even pay for the privilege to stand in the drizzle up to your ankles in mud on a nearby farm and listen to an Abba tribute from Aylesbury with their too-tight-trousers and false hair and their own son-et-lumiere bleedin’ lightshow.

And the beaches are flanked by caravan sites and empty car parks, and when you do try to park you have to give yet another £3 to a licensed bandit in a gun-turret waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting driver encroaching on his territory – he’s got quotas, you know – and you can’t negotiate with him, oh no, even though you’re unlikely to be there more than five minutes before you’re soaked to the skin and freezing to death. The wildfowl are hiding so you can’t even indulge your ornithological fetish, and the only people besides you stupid enough to be out here instead of beside a fire are ubiquitous teenagers with short skirts and high heels, and a bunch of golfers (they’ve paid their membership, oh yes!) in pseudo-cags and earnest shoes for whom you have to wait in case they hit you on the head as they they bat their little balls over the path you’re walking on, which is far more likely than them getting anywhere near the green somewhere in the dim and distant fog, because the wind just blows the things straight back whence they just came.

And then there are the endless gift shops full of useless tat (aka high-class crafts) that you could buy to remind you that you were here lest the inexorable damp that has crept into the very core of your soul should ever let you forget. People pack into art galleries showing you photographs of this place when it is beautiful and gorgeous and lovely, which will not be whilst you’re there, perish the thought, because you know that the unwritten rule of any holiday says the weather will only be beautiful and gorgeous and lovely on the day you leave.

Fish and ChipsAnd because you’re at the seaside you can’t resist some fish and chips can you? Across the road in the near darkness at 6pm you stagger into the chippy next to the amusement arcade and the junk gift shop with its giant inflatable banana still flapping uncontrollably in the maelstrom only to find they’ve got no Cod (cos Cod is a delusion, according to a book I read, or is extinct you know, or something, so I heard) and the Haddock costs you your remaining arm and leg (cos it will be extinct soon enough) and, bugger me, they can’t even do hot drinks today, presumably because it is freezing cold and they’re overstocked on ice cream they over-ordered in the forlorn hope that the sun might show its little face sometime and which they can’t sell because there are bugger-all people in this town besides you. And then you slip on some greasy mashed chips left by the family who was there before you were, and you amuse yourself for a while by a tank of bored-looking orange fish who think they will be next on the menu (when all the other fish are extinct) and plead with you (anthropomorphically) as soon as you put your nose on the glass to release them from this dull existence into the even greyer harbour. Best fun you’ve had all week!

So two days before you’re due to leave you’ve had enough of being beaten to a pulp by your sons at chess, of reading by torchlight at midday whilst mopping up drips and huddling round your camping-gaz lamp because it is the only thing in this god-forsaken universe at the moment that looks capable of shining and giving out any heat. What’s left but to beat a battered, soggy, depressed retreat? You’ve got no photographs, no money, no sanity. And the campsite says “we’re sorry you’re quitting”, as if they could arrange the weather any other way, and you sense they’re smiling slightly smugly because you’ve paid for a whole week and they knew all along it would be like this. “And the pubs were selling Watneys Red Barrel and cheese and onion crisps and calamari and two veg, and we sat next to a party of people from Rhyl who kept singing ‘Torremolinos’ …” And so it was. Refreshed? Maybe …

PS: I’m sure Norfolk is beautiful, really. When you can see it … PPS: See the pics on Flickr

Galen Rowell killed in plane crash

I am prompted to write by the very sad news that world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Galen Rowell and his wife Barbara were among four killed in a plane crash near his home town of Bishop, California on 11 August 2002. It is all the more poignant that he should lose his life in this way having achieved so much in mountaineering where many others have perished. Galen Rowell was the biggest influence on my photography, and his work has been an inspiration to me. Back in 1986 I had been making photographs in the UK mountains for some years, and I knew that I was producing some reasonable work that pleased me. I was entirely self-taught, and I loved the wilderness. Central to my self-teaching were books of images; I was consumed by the expedition photography of Chris Bonington and Doug Scott, and the passion for experience of John Beatty, George Brybycin, and Freeman Patterson. These photographers were concerned with conveying the atmosphere of the wilderness, the sense of place and the situation of nature. At the same time, I struggled with the arid, overly-technical, photography-for-its-own-sake approach of ‘How to…’ text books and many ‘experts’. When Galen Rowell’s seminal book Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape landed in my lap, I knew I had found the expression of everything I was trying to reconcile about my own approach. The photographs were a revelation; I had never before seen images of the wilderness that captured its essence in such a sensitive and beautiful way. They revealed colour, atmosphere, form and spontaneity. They revealed Galen Rowell’s great passion for nature and its fragility. And above all they revealed a ‘dynamic landscape’ where light is the thing. For me, even Ansel Adams’ images, whilst technically beyond comparison, lack this feeling of excitement and involvement, of being at one with the land. It is often said that real learning is recognition of something you know. ‘Mountain Light’ influenced my approach in a huge way, and also confirmed it. I also admired Galen Rowell’s insistence on travelling light, and his use of 35mm equipment. Still today I come across publishers who insist on medium to large format for reasons of technical quality, and in so doing happily accept images that are emotionally mundane. Galen Rowell not only demonstrated that superlative technical quality is possible from 35mm, but also that content speaks the loudest. Ian Evans (www.mountain-images.co.uk) said to me immediately on hearing the news that:

… in a world where mediocrity rules, one receives little encouragement in the pursuit of perfection – and perfectionists are often treated as eccentric… people like ourselves, who admired [Galen’s] work, should strive ever harder to ensure that the standards he set will continue to be maintained. We can never be his equal, but we can ensure that his influence lives on.

I will certainly aim to do so, and to share my work through TTL. Although I am unfamiliar with her work, we should not forget that Barbara Cushman Rowell was a photographer too, and partner in the Mountain Light Gallery. Her contribution will undoubtedly be missed also. There are many highly-talented nature photographers whom I admire, but Galen Rowell was, for me, the finest outdoor photographer yet. I will always be thankful that he was able to share his vision and philosophy with us, leaving a lasting legacy of images and writing and environmental work. He will be sadly missed, and the world is a poorer place for his loss.