A few weeks ago I participated in the workshop run by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson and hosted by Leica Fotografie Internal, in Hamburg. My motivation for attending was as a long-time fan of Rax’s photography, and at the same time a hope that a few days of mentoring by a dedicated black & white, people and storytelling photographer would give a useful nudge to my dedicated colour, people-less and non-storytelling photography. Oh, and add to that my total lack of Leica ownership. Well, spending a couple of days two years ago with Neil Buchan-Grant in Venice certainly expanded my horizons, so why not. Of course, in that case I had my relatively strong relationship with Venice to fall back upon. Of Hamburg I knew precisely nothing.
The workshop attendees were not exclusively wealthy Leica owners. A few were clearly ultra-wealthy Leica owners :-). And a handful were, like me, non-Leica owners, and a few people even confessed to prefer colour. So I wasn’t totally isolated. And of course I got to pretend I owned a Leica for a weekend, as I casually laid it on the table at Starbucks.
Unfortunately the weather on my first day in Hamburg was worse than dismal. Incessant, bucketing rain, empty streets, terminally grim. It wasn’t even that kind of bad weather which is good for photographers. Nope, it wasn’t even good for ducks.
We had a quite loose assignment. Apart from a directive to produce at least one selfie (Rax has a sense of humour), the general idea was to produce a coherent series of some 20 photographs, which could be edited down in one to one sessions to 6, together with a set of 6 from previous work which we were asked to bring along. Finally the completed work was to be presented to the group.
Well, most everybody else wandered off and produced some nice black & white street photography. You can see some of it here. I’m quite impressed with what some people managed to produce. I certainly didn’t manage to tune in to Hamburg street life in that what.
Instead I reverted to type and tuned in to waste and desolation. I fixated on a few hundred square meters around the new Überseequartier U-Bahn station, which emerges like a buried alien artefact in the middle of an area of mostly disused dockland being transformed into Living Spaces for Bright Young Things etc. I found the state of transition quite captivating, if hardly up-lifting. However it did offer plenty of opportunity for a formal approach to urban landscape.
The selection curated by Rax narrowed down to 5 photographs, as can be seen at the end of the LFI gallery linked above. I respectfully disagree with part of his selection - my own set is here.
In a few weeks I will be going back to Venice again, but this time in a different context. I decided to sign-up to the Olympus sponsored workshop led by landscape photographer Steve Gosling and Travel and Portrait photographer Neil Buchan-Grant.
At this point I should probably have a clear idea of my objectives and how I expect this workshop to “take me to the next level”, and to “further developing my own eye and style”, as photo guru Ming Thein puts in in the prospectus for his own (far, far more expensive) Venice workshop.
Of course, the truth is, I haven’t got a clue. I don’t know if can get to the “next level”, never mind if I want to or need to. I’m not sure I even know where it is, or if I’d recognise it if I walked into it. What I do know is that I have a recurring dissatisfaction with my photography, which is increasing in frequency, and I think it might kick me out of a rut to be able to spend some dedicated time with other photographers, in a location I know well enough that I won’t be hampered or distracted by unfamiliarity. And I like the work and writings of both of the two workshop leaders. And, I assume thanks to Olympus, the cost is astonishingly low (slightly more than 1/10th of Ming Thein’s offering).
To get some idea of what my objectives might be, I decided that establishing some kind of baseline might be a good idea. This meant finally getting around to selecting 16 photos for a Venice set to add to my galleries. I was surprised how quickly this fell into place, normally it takes much longer. It was helped by the extensive pre-selection I’ve been doing over the past few months, but even so. Maybe it will give me some idea of where the mysterious next level is, although in Venice of course one never really knows…
Maybe in a few weeks time I’ll have been transported to a higher (Olympian) plane of photographical excellence and I’ll be able to junk all these. We shall see.
Well, it’s only taken me about 14 months, but I’ve just published a gallery of “icescapes” - there’s not much land to be seen - from January 2013 in the Antarctic Peninsula.
The weather was stubbornly grim pretty much all the time, which suited me just fine. Bright sunlight is bad news when you’re photographing ice. And anyway, it’s the Antarctic, it’s supposed to be grim. All photos were taken using my satisfyingly unfashionable and “obsolete” Olympus E-5, which didn’t skip a beat in the wind, rain and snow.
Some of the photo titles bear homage to my constant polar soundtrack, Biosphere’s gorgeous “Substrata” and “Cirque”. The rest I just made up, as usual.
Keeping in tune with my general aura of grim despondency, the first set of non-panoramic photographs I have put together from last winter’s Antarctica jaunt features that slough of despond, Whaler’s Bay at Deception Island. In much the same way that I was drawn to decay and desolation at Pyramiden, at the other end of the planet, and indeed at Argentiero, in a very different climate, I find Deception island quite fascinating. It seems that vestiges and faded memories of human presence seem to attract me much more than the thriving activity. Deception Island, and Whaler’s Bay in particular, depresses quite a few people - there remains an aura of wanton, reckless destruction from whaling times, and the residue of the last sequence of eruptions contributes to a dark atmosphere. It’s not a happy place.
Whaler’s Bay has been considerably sanitised since my first visit. Although I appreciate the idea of cleaning up the environment, in particular when it comes to dangerous substances, it does seem somewhat at odds with preserving Antarctic history. I’m not sure how justified it can be to present some kind of squeaky clean vision of the past, in particular erasing Argentinian graffiti from the oil tanks.
I’ve just added a portfolio of 12 Antarctic panoramas to my photo galleries. The captions will need updating, once I can figure out where the locations really are. But that’s not terribly important. I really can’t say at this point if these area the “best” of the 200 or so candidates, but they’re a representative selection. It really was that gloomy!
Now I can move on to the rest of the backlog…