I am pleased to announce that one of my photographs will be part of this year’s Disability Arts Cymru Open Exhibition. It will be on display at Celf o Gwmpas at Centre Celf in Llandrindod Wells until 30th August where there will be a public event from 3pm to 7pm (please click here for more information).
My photograph is not one of the pieces that will be traveling to subsequent venues, but I hope that people use this opportunity to view and support the work of the other hardworking artists. They have been asked to interpret the exhibition’s title of ‘On the Edge.’
I am very pleased to announce that my photographs are currently displayed at the Oriel Q gallery in Narberth. It has been running since the 5th May and was supposed to finish on the 16th June. Luckily for those who missed the exhibition, I can gladly confirm that it will finish at the end of July instead!
As of 2017, the National Museum of Wales has recently established a gallery dedicated to photography with different exhibitions happening every few months. The first of these shows features David Hurn’s unique collection of photographs which he built up from swapping prints with fellow photographers.
Hurn has had a long history of being a photojournalist having first risen to prominence after his documentation of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. During the 1960s, he photographed the celebrities of the day such as Sean Connery, Jane Fonda and the Beatles. He became a member of the Magnum photographic agency within the same decade. His images not only record events, but also captures a sense of humanity within situations. A great example of this being Hurn’s picture of a retired gentlemen at an MG car owner’s ball. A portrait of an elderly man dressed in formal attire who you would assume might present himself in a proper, maybe even aloof, fashion. However, Hurn depicts him as joyfully playing with a balloon which successfully contradicts this idea.
Hurn’s collection for the exhibition has been decades in the making. Given his Magnum membership, it would make sense that some of the work featured in this collection are from fellow members. That said, there’s also prints from photographers that Hurn admires (such as Sergio Larrain), his peers (Don McCullin) and those more recently established (Clementine Schneidermann).
This order of influences, colleagues and newcomers is one of the exhibition’s strengths as it provides a historical narrative that illustrates the progression of documentary photography. However, perhaps more noticeable is the content of the exhibition itself. There are photographs in Hurn’s collection from very prominent figures in photography’s history. There are pictures by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson (an image of painter Henri Matisse in his studio), Elliott Erwitt (an amusing portrayal of a bird and a tap), Martin Parr (a sunbather in New Brighton) and a few others. The experience of viewing prints from these influential individuals is very different from looking at the images in a book and on the internet. It is the equivalent to meeting someone you’ve only heard about in the flesh and becoming star struck.
There’s also the personal touches that the prints themselves bring. On some of the photographs are signatures from their respective photographers as well as friendly messages directed to Hurn (Cartier-Bresson, in particular, had stamped his own print). A notable example of these intriguing traces is a developer stain on a print by Bill Brandt which makes you feel as though you are privy to the darkroom process. Again, such insights are usually absent from reproductions.
In addition to this, it is worth praising the positives of the exhibition space itself. Instead of going with the stereotypical white cube model, the walls are grey. This should be dull, but compliments the work well because it is understated and doesn’t distract from the images. There is also a relevance in that it brings to mind the black and white imagery seen in early documentary photography.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few positive aspects of the space as, when looking around the room, the flaws eventually become obvious. The first evident problem is when looking at the Cartier-Bresson print and knowing that it has been hung too low on the wall. This does save space for other photographs, but it makes reading the image a challenge. Yes, you do feel very fortunate for having viewed this print, but no one wants a bad back in the process.
However, the difficulties with the positioning of the photographs do not stop there. After viewing the Cartier-Bresson print, the other photographs follow in a nice neat line until you reach the wall opposite to the doors where you are confronted with about twenty-five pictures. There are diagrams and captions on the walls to either side of the work to help identify the photographs but having that many prints in one part of the room prevents a proper analysis of the exhibits.
Specifically, one of the problems is that some of the photographs have been hung too high on the wall in order to accommodate for the rest of the work. Some people visiting the gallery would probably like to look at some of the pictures up close to study the details and really read into the images. With a few of the exhibits, this would only be possible with a stepladder. It is also not helpful to those with bad eyesight who might feel discriminated against in such circumstances. As a result of this need to hang so many pictures on one wall, once again, there are also photographs that have been positioned too low.
The two plaques that accommodate these images are also problematic because they work against the convention of having one label contextualising a single picture. Diagrams as well as words are used instead which are certainly helpful, but create a disconnect within the dialogue between image and text. Basically, you find yourself looking at the photograph, then either looking to your left or right to see who made the picture through text and diagram. If such information were not important, it would feel like an awful lot of work. The usual method of having a single plaque alongside each picture might be an improvement in this case.
What might also help the presentation of the exhibits is to either find a bigger room or edit down the photographs to a more manageable number. The determination to fit as many pictures as possible into one space is admirable, but it can be to the detriment of viewing the work.
In addition to the positioning of the pictures, there are other areas that need to be improved upon within the exhibition. What could be considered a minor complaint is that beveled frames are used which can border on slightly decorative. Fortunately, if the frames were not black, this would be a major distraction from the pictures. Straight frames would be a safer and preferable option, but as they are, they are a minor departure from the norm.
The lighting around the gallery was also strange as it seemed to verge almost on spotlighting the photographs and making the rest of the space seem a bit dim. It would have been interesting to view the gallery with brighter lighting. Spotlighting the work is understandable (you obviously need decent lighting to view the images), but it is not as though visitors are going to ignore the exhibits.
It is arguable that these flaws are evidence of a fledgling gallery space. After all, it is the National Museum’s first foray into a gallery solely dedicated to photography. Conversely, this is the National Museum of Wales and, with that kind of prestigious reputation, you do expect a certain standard.
On a personal note, I feel it is worth discussing what stood out for me in terms of the work displayed. Given that this exhibition wouldn’t have been possible without Hurn, it is important to focus on one of his pictures as well as someone else’s.
With this in mind, a memorable photograph by Hurn features a sign within the Arizona desert. I immediately gravitated towards this image because of my interest in the landscape genre and how it was telling a story of that area. Within the picture we view a location that looks like it could be out of the western genre of film. Rocky hills, scrubby bushes and cacti present the idea of a land that is dry. This is combined with mostly light tones in the photograph and you have the impression of a hot, dusty and sun-bleached wilderness. However, this illusion is shattered by the inclusion of a sign in the composition that reads “COME SEE.” The capital letters are so bold within the overall picture that it disrupts your reading of the landscape depicted and forces you to consider what the sign is communicating.
With my interest in humanity’s effect on the landscape, I believe that Hurn’s photograph is about people trying to capitalise on nature with the words “COME SEE” almost feeling as though it is enticing you into experiencing the wonders of nature at the cost of any damage done to the terrain. In fact, quick research into this photograph clarifies that the sign means that housing and shopping malls shortly will be built on the land. My analysis of this picture, although not completely accurate, is still pretty close to the truth.
Another photograph in the exhibition that I took an interest in was by the Magnum photographer Mark Power. In the past year or so, I have been influenced by Power’s work in my own practice so I felt lucky to see one of his prints. The photograph in question depicted blue girders suspended from what looked to be the ceiling of a factory. The story behind the picture was that Power had been commissioned by Airbus to document the construction of their A380 passenger plane.
The caption for the image gave me enough information to know that there was some type of production line in progress. What actually attracted me to the picture was how visually fascinating the subject looked. Power had found an intriguing composition within a potentially drab environment. Certainly, the photograph represents a factory ceiling, but the various columns and supports combined with the girders create this chaotic criss-cross effect. This type of image can only be obtained by carefully and patiently observing the environment before pressing the shutter release. Power’s objective style also helps, not only for Airbus’s promotional purposes, but because it allows photography to be used as a descriptive tool as opposed to an over-dependence on aesthetics.
The success of the exhibition rests on the photographs displayed. It is appropriate that, to celebrate the opening of the National Museum’s photography gallery, the first show would be dedicated to the work of influential figures in the medium’s history. There is a sense of feeling fortunate about viewing such famous imagery within the one space. If you are willing to overlook the gripes (improvement will probably come from each subsequent exhibition), you are treated to the history of documentary photography from the perspective of an individual who has witnessed and lived it.
Overall, I highly recommend Swaps as there is something in the show for anyone who is interested in photography. The variety of work displayed will prove influential and thought-provoking to any level of photographer as well as being fascinating to those with an appreciation of reportage imagery. Let’s hope this opens the door to more photographers swapping their prints in future.
Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection is on at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and runs until the 15th April.
I’m pleased to announce that three of my images are currently hanging in a gallery space in Chepstow. The gallery is run by the Forest Upcycling charity and is located in Station Road. My photographs are being exhibited alongside the work of other talented artists so please come down to the gallery, take a look and support this good cause.
Continuing exploring the equipment I have used for my practice, this entry will explain the steps taken after buying a second-hand camera and lens. This is specifically in relation to modifying the tools so that they are suitable for use in the field.
Upon further research, I discovered that the Speed Graphics cameras were once popular amongst press photographers (the famous photographer Weegee used such a camera in the 1930s and 1940s) partly because of its focal plane shutter. I confess I haven’t used this camera’s focal plane shutter yet, instead relying on the leaf shutter in the lens.
This particular camera has a wire frame for composing images before shoots and a damaged rangefinder. It probably dates from the 1940s and, interestingly enough, has been painted black possibly for covert operations. I also find it fairly easy to use for a 5x4 camera due to its portable design.
With the camera, I also bought a 150mm lens with an attached board and a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens. My next challenge was to find additional equipment such as a lens board for the 90mm lens and a thread for the camera to sit on the tripod.
The following images show the features of the Speed Graphics.
To use the Speed Graphics for landscape images a board was still needed for the 90mm lens to actually go on the camera. As lenses of such a focal length might not have existed when the camera was first built, or Super Angulon lenses were probably not compatible with the Speed Graphics, a lens board had to be found. The first board I bought was wooden and fit into the front of the camera, but wouldn’t stay in place as it was slightly thick. The second board made of aluminium was too thin and sat too loosely in the camera. The lens board obviously had to fit correctly to be light proof so an alternative was needed.
Having tried two different lens boards, I decided to make one from scratch. I bought a ring used to fit lenses to boards and some wood that was thick enough to keep the light out. A hole of the correct diameter was drilled into the middle and a lip was cut around the edge of the board. This particular stage was quite difficult because several attempts were made to get the lip to the correct thickness otherwise it would not properly sit in the front of the camera.
Eventually, I finally managed to get the lens to perfectly fit to the camera. Unfortunately, the wide-angle lens attached to the camera prevented the Speed Graphics from closing because of its size. The only solution to this problem is to remove the lens when the camera is in transit.
With the lens board constructed, the last step was to paint it black for absolute protection from light. For this, I removed the board from the lens and covered it with a few coats of matt black paint (as glossy would be reflective). With the paint dried, I put the lens back on and took the camera out into the land to make pictures.
For this post I have decided to offer a “behind the scenes” look at the man’s effect on the landscape project (see my “welcome” post for information on this). Here, I will provide a long, but detailed insight into what tools I have used and what processes I have been through to get to where I am today.
Of course, it won’t be a serious landscape project without a large format camera. Specifically, the first two cameras I borrowed and used were a monorail camera and a field camera.
I knew I wanted to shoot with 5x4 film in order to capture the detail in the type of subjects that I would intend to photograph. I decided to borrow a large format monorail camera with a tripod to get used to this new kind of photography.
I realised I couldn’t just use the equipment without knowing how to work it first so I began to familiarise myself with the settings of the camera (believe me, practice beforehand helps). I started by making sure I knew how to work the tripod which was different from my own as it could take the weight of a monorail camera and had a specially designed head for the rail.
One of the biggest differences to me that a 5x4 camera has to any 35mm or 120 camera that I have used so far is that the aperture and shutter speed settings are located on the lens. This took some time for me to get used to, but I didn’t find it as difficult as trying to alter perspective in the camera. The image below shows the lens for the 5x4 camera. Notice that at the top of the lens is the switch to release the shutter, on the side of the lens next to the apperture pointer is the lever to cock the shutter and at the bottom is the switch to preview compositions before exposure.
In the images above we see the aperture in the lens closed and open. This can either be done through the lens preview switch or releasing the shutter (using the shutter to open the aperture should only be done when exposing film). To avoid making any fatal mistakes, I have had to constantly remind myself not to leave the aperture open just before making an exposure.
As the picture below indicates, all dials must be set to 0 before using the camera. This is so that the settings can be gradually changed if need be to improve the image for things like correcting converging verticals. The image below shows the dial used to adjust the vertical angle of what could be the front or back of the camera (as I recall, there are dials on both the front and back of the camera).
The settings in the above photograph are also set to 0. The numbers below the lower red dot indicate the different angles for horizontally shifting the camera back while the higher red dot is where the camera back can swing from left to right.
The ground glass at the back of the camera is where the image is composed. For those more used to a digital SLR, think of it as a big viewfinder, except back to front and upside down. What I liked about the ground glass on this particular camera is that it had a grid that helped to divide an image into thirds which was useful for me and helped with the composition of my pictures. What would happen is that the film holder would sit in front of the ground glass when film was being exposed. The camera back in this picture was in vertical mode for portrait photographs so I needed to turn the glass on its side for landscapes. On top of the camera back was also a spirit level which was obviously used to tell the photographer whether the camera, and thus the image, was straight or not.
Something else I borrowed, and I am still using, is a loupe for when I compose pictures. I place the loupe on the glass and look through it to see if the image is in focus. If it isn’t then I adjust the settings on the camera. It’s times like this I realise that I have been taking the auto focus option on my digital SLR for granted. By manually focusing I have had to put a lot of faith in my eyes.
The photograph below was made when I was making my first 5x4 image earlier this year. When using the camera at a silica quarry, a wider lens needed to be used with appropriate bellows and a shutter release cable had to be attached to prevent me from moving the camera while exposing film.
The camera produced some good results which I was proud of. Unfortunately, it also proved to be a cumbersome tool to use, as it needed to be driven up to the location. The camera and the other tools, except for the tripod, came in a big, metal case that proved quite heavy to lift. From this experience, I knew that the Toyo-view monorail 5x4 camera couldn’t be used for photography on mountains so I set about looking for an alternative which I eventually found.
Needing a more compact piece of equipment, but not wanting to abandon large format photography I decided to use a 5x4 field camera. I didn’t really want to fully commit myself to buying a field camera until I was familiar with the controls so I borrowed one out of the university stores.
When I felt ready to use the camera I set off with the relevant gear. This picture shows the contents of the camera case I took with me that day. Not only did I take along the camera and a lens, but also a loupe, a shutter release cable, dark slides, focusing cloth, an ordinance survey map, a notebook, a pen, a light metre and a sun compass (for placing on the map to give an idea of where the sun would be in a certain time and location).
The first place I took the camera to was a spot in the Brecon Beacons where motorist would either stop and admire the view (by taking photos) or have some food from the snack van. I was in luck when a bus full of tourist showed up in my image and from this I felt I could make a photographic statement on tourism in the Beacons.
The next area I visited was the Ponsticill reservoir where enthusiastic amateur photographers would go to make images (you know, tourists and camera club people). By photographing the reservoir, I wanted to comment on the fact that people need to use nature for their own purposes. In retrospect, I was probably a little too impatient to photograph the subject so some compositions might look worse than others. I will have to remember to take my time when making these images and not rush. A large format camera knows when you’ve made mistakes!
I found carrying a field camera to a location was much easier than carrying a monorail camera. I still felt like I had much to learn, but at the same time I knew that I couldn’t keep borrowing cameras because it would take a long time to produce any work. I decided I would buy a field camera but I would have to do some research beforehand to see what kind of tool I wanted. It took a considerable amount of time to find any reasonably priced cameras, but eventually I found a Speed Graphics camera that looked suitable.
I will post a blog about my current camera, the Speed Graphics, in the near future so watch this space!
Hello all and welcome to my website. I thought I had better take this time to give a brief impression of the ideas behind my photography.
This site is displaying images from my ongoing Humanity’s Effect on the Landscape project. This work deals with our presence in the land with the intention of having us consider our responsibilities towards the environment. My recent work incorporates a greater use of the Ordnance Survey grid reference system to further reinforce these concepts.
In addition to this, I have a blog on this site in which I cover topics such as the working process behind my practice, any venues where my images are exhibited and my thoughts on recent exhibitions I may have liked.
A while ago I was on the Magnum Professional Practice Seminar at Newport University and on the final day of the seminar Magnum photographer Ian Berry came to discuss his work.
Berry very kindly gave us students some advice relating to what genres we wanted to specialise in. I told him that my favourite photography genre was landscape and that my favourite photographer is Ansel Adams. In response to this he suggested to me two things that I will try to briefly summarise here:
1. Make sure you have an idea for your photography. In contemporary landscape photography the genre is used to discuss a certain topic or idea (what one would call a rhetoric). This is what separates practitioners from amateurs who create cliché landscape images.
2. Visit the Sebastião Salgado exhibition for inspiration.
So a few weeks ago I headed up to London to the Natural History Museum to see Salgado’s Genesis exhibition.
The idea behind Genesis as a body of work is that the images represent parts of the Earth that haven’t been affected by man (kind of the antithesis of my “man’s effect on the landscape” idea) while leaving room for images featuring groups of people representing “primitive” man, the people who use nature in their day to day lives.
As someone who hasn’t really been following Salgado’s work, this was really stunning stuff. Genesis could be put into the same category as a David Attenborough documentary while still being original and interesting to photographers. The fact that this work is in the Natural History Museum and not in a photography gallery means that it can reach a mainstream audience to communicate its message of nature conservation.
I came away from the exhibition feeling glad that there was someone who was making big, beautiful photographs to convey the important message of preserving and looking after our planet.