photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Take my advice…

...don’t listen to me

in General Rants , Tuesday, August 03, 2021

One thing I don’t think I ever done on this blog is to give any kind of advice on photography, or attempt to do what is generally passed off as “teaching”. It isn’t that I jealously hoard any knowledge I may have - in other spheres of life I am quite extensively involved in mentoring and passing on know-how - it is just that I am not aware of anything I have worthy of sharing. I don’t have any presets to sell you, in fact I don’t have any at all. I can’t tell you how to do composition. Or indeed exposure. I don’t have sponsored videos to share, or any kind of lessons to hawk. And even if I did, my aversion to social media, or indeed social anything, would be a bit of a blocker.

It works both ways: apart from some good advice from 2 or 3 people, any third party expertise which comes my way generally goes in one ear and out of the other (for example, “don’t put too many photos on your web site”). The same goes for “how to” books: I’ve certainly read plenty, enough to realise that pretty much all of them repeat the exact same basics, and to discover that generally I disagree with the remaining 10%.

I wish I did have more to share, maybe if that was the case I’d be a wildly successful influencer running fabulous workshops all over the world. But then I wouldn’t have time to watch YouTube channels.

However, I am conscious of very slowly developing, or perhaps more accurately settling, into a personal style. I’m also conscious that this style has come about by absorbing and adapting the work of other photographers through their books. Conversely, other photography books, which I may very well like as books, have helped by giving me a clear idea of where I actually do not want to go.

So that’s all I can offer: my advice is to look at and absorb as much photography, and indeed representative art, as you can, to feed your internal neural network, and steer you towards a path you will find satisfying. For me, books, rather than Instagram or Youtube or whatever work, but those can work as well. Don’t directly attempt to copy other’s work, but rather try react to it somehow passively and in your own specific way. Oh, and don’t chase likes, followers and cheap praise - all might give you a transient ego boost, but long term they mean nothing.

Books that I can recognise as having a significant influence on my own work include Arc & Line by Charlie Waite, The Antarctic From The Circle to The Pole by Stuart Klipper, Accommodating Nature by Frank Gohlke, Icelandic Wilderness by Daniel Bergman, Avanna by Tiina Itkonen, and pretty much everything by Otto Olaf Becker. Some notable books which I’ve reacted against (and I emphasise, that’s not a criticism of those books) include A Retrospective by William Neil, and Seven by David DuChemin. But that’s just me, hopefully everybody else will have a different combination, otherwise we’ll all end doing identical work.

Ok, that’s it. Back to YouTube.


Another Place Press

happy birthday to you!

in Book Reviews , Monday, October 19, 2020

Time to confess to another addiction: Another Place Press photobooks.

APP is nearly 5 years old, and since its birth, has been a prodigiously frequent source of publications remarkable for their consistency of quality of both form and content. APP is run by Iain Sarjeant, himself a fascinating photographer, and has a focus is loosely aligned with Iain’s own work. I suppose I would describe this as an intersection between landscape, street and reportage, found also on the pages of the associated Another Place blog. The boundaries are clear, but with them there is vast room for a variety of voices, approaches, and styles.

APP follows certain guidelines: first, authors do not pay to get published. Second, costs and prices are kept under control by keeping formats small and fairly standard - although with plenty of scope for creative design. With some 40 books and short-form zines published, this seems to be a sustainable model. One can contrast with Triplekite Press, which sadly appeared to crash and burn under the weight of an unsustainable ambition (although I’m guessing, they never made any statement as far as I know).

While every APP book is different, they have certain things in common. Design and production standards are very high, layout and sequencing also. The cost of standard editions is usually well under £20, which is excellent value for money. If you want to get away from the Look At Me! world of Instagram, and the Look At My Gear! world of YouTube, reading and studying these photobooks is a path back to sanity and enjoying photography as art and personal expression.

I guess if one is looking for downsides, it could be said that the overall feel of the APP catalogue tends towards the melancholic. Being a miserable old git this strikes a chord with me, but perhaps limits the audience a little. Note however there are exceptions.

Personally while I enjoy and find inspiration in each book I buy, they do leave me with a certain sense of frustration that I cannot myself aspire to this level of coherent expression or quality of photography, but at least I can get some sense of residual satisfaction from supporting the authors and APP itself.

Generally I think the whole photo community owes a debt of gratitude to Iain Sarjeant for bringing the work of so many unsung talents to light, and for his dedication to this project. I’m sure it has been far from easy. Here’s to the next 5 years!


I certainly haven’t bought every publication from the APP catalogue, but from those I have, here are 4 of my favourites:

photo of 4 books



Magda Biernat Photography: adrift

beaten to the draw

in Photography , Thursday, June 23, 2016

While browsing through various inter web channels the other day - in this case, I think, National Geographic - I cam across something which gave me a bit of a shock. The work shown here - Magda Biernat Photography: adrift - is basically exactly one of the main ongoing photographic ideas I've had in my head for years, and indeed have been quietly preparing. So there are no new ideas - either somebody else has already done it, or they are about to. I suppose the only solution is to stop procrastinating and just get on with it, or alternatively, ignore completely what other people are doing. Well, I do have an alternative idea running along the same path, more or less, but it's going to be harder to realise, and now, it will just look like a facsimile.
Magda Biernat

diptych by Magda Beignet,

What really grabs me about this idea is that it addresses an issue that I personally have with classic landscape photography, that it excludes, repels even the human element, and thus loses any real meaning beyond the superficial. The very fact that the photographer is there to take the photograph means that the idea of untouched, unreachable wilderness which is being hinted at just collapses. Magda Biernat's approach resolves this in a very elegant way. I'm sure all of see photographs we wish we could have made. What I saw here was photography I should, and quite easily could, have published, and that hurts a bit. Whatever, I ordered the book.

Book Review: The Last Ocean

Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project

in Antarctica , Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I’m gradually building up quite a large library of Antarctica literature, science and photography books, but my most recent acquisition is easily amongst the best.

The Last Ocean - Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project”, by John Weller, caught my eye in a fairly highbrow Art bookshop, the sort that usually only stocks books with blurry, grim, preferably black & white photos.  Certainly nothing as common as nature photography.


But The Last Ocean _is_ nature photography. Actually, it is extremely good nature photography, possibly the best contemporary Antarctic photography I’ve ever seen. John Weller’s photography is restrained, giving the land, the sea, and its native inhabitants space to breathe. Unlike so much other work, these photographs are about their subject, not about where the photographer has been or how hard he/she can push the saturation slider.  They are sometimes dramatic, but it’s never forced. This photography draws you in and captivates you. It doesn’t make you go “Wow! Great Capture! You must have a great camera!”, but rather it demands that you linger and let you eyes explore. It’s meditative, subtle and thoroughly gorgeous.

But that’s not the end of The Last Ocean by any means.  Photography is only half the story. The book is full of excellent, reflective essays on the Ross Sea ecosystem, and anecdotes about making the photographs. In fact I found that I had to read the book twice, once for the essays, and once for the photos. And then I read it again, twice.  The essays are not of the clingy, preachy, hand-wringing variety one might fear, but rather are informative, scientifically literate and very readable.

The Last Ocean is associated with the wider Ross Sea Project, a voluntary organisation started in 2004 to promote the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) in order to conserve the pristine qualities of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. There’s also a film. But start with the book. You won’t regret it.

And if you happen to browsing Orell Füssli’s art book section in Zürich, watch out, they may still have some copies. They’re near the blurry, grainy black & white naked ladies books.


SEVEN by David duChemin

great expectations, but…

in Book Reviews , Friday, August 09, 2013

It’s just as well that nobody ever reads this stuff, because I have feeling this could be one of the most unpopular posts I’ve ever written, comparable to the time I dared to be critical of the great Andy Rouse.

David duChemin styles himself as a World & Humanitarian Photographer. Apart from this, he has authored a series of vision-oriented semi how-to books on photography, which, if you’re prepared to roll with his world view, are interesting. He seems like a very genuine, likeable, enthusiastic person, and he’s built up a great brand and a loyal following. Me, being a cynic, I find it quite hard to avoid a certain sense of nausea when he goes overboard with the (non-denominational) preaching and the hey-what-a-wonderful-world, but I guess that’s my loss.  He’s also built up an impressive eBook publishing venture, Craft & Vision, providing a platform for his own pamphlet-length books on various topics, and also those of various other authors. They’re inexpensive, and worth a punt. I’ve read most of them. Some I enjoyed, others less so, but duChemin’s own series of collections of essays are definitely worth your time and money. Finally, he also launched the Photograph eMagazine last year, which I reviewed, and subscribe to.

Along the way he’s been prone to downplay the importance of gear, which is fine, but also to some extent technique, which sometimes is ok, but sometimes not.  For example, saying that a photo shot at f/22 and ISO 800, which would have been much better at f/8, is like so because he got too involved in the shot to notice … well ok, I do that too. And then usually I realise that the photo just has to be binned, however good it might have been.

Which brings us to his magnum opus to date, his first monograph, “SEVEN; Seven Continents + Seven Years: A Photographic Journey”.

He states “I wanted to create something beautiful, inside and out. Something that was a delight to touch and hold. I wanted something that would inspire and show you the world the way I see it, in these fleeting glimpses of beauty, hope, and wonder”. It’s a lofty ambition, which raises great expectations.

Seven cover

Physically the book is quite nice, but not exceptional. The dark brown linen hardcover binding doesn’t really fit with the content, in my opinion.  But what immediately strikes me is that the layout & typography are a bit clunky.  This is strange, because actually the quality of the layout and presentation of many Craft & Vision eBooks exceeds the contents, and his web site is very elegant. But online, electronic layout practice does not simply translate to print, and I think this is the problem.  I can’t help but compare with Bruce Percy’s books - there are some parallels between Percy & duChemin, but it is clear that Bruce is a talented, meticulous designer as well as a fabulous photographer, and his book designs are exquisite. SEVEN suffers from far too big typefaces, and a serious lack of white space to let the text content breathe. The image layout is basically “default”.  Photos are overwhelmingly centre page, with little thought of dynamics. Tellingly, the digital version is MUCH easier on the eye, and the photography looks and works better.

Ok, so what about the photography ? Well, I’m not enjoying this at all, but honestly, for what my opinions worth, left to sink or swim on their own merits, rather than supporting essays or blog posts or how-to books, for the most part they do a good imitation of the Titanic.

Individually there are some good, or even great photos. Some examples are Plate 56, a great street candid, Plate 136 (which is included on the product page), one of the few landscapes I like. But really, I’m just trying to find some positives.

Seven 59

photograph © David duChemin

Seven 160

photograph © David duChemin

But there’s just too much chaff, and a lot of it really doesn’t do him any favours. A candid photo of an orange juice vendor in India inexplicably focuses on a pile of oranges rather than the vendor. Four shots of a whaling boat hulk on Deception Island - which world+dog has photographed - when one would do - easily. Many shots just seem to be strangely devoid of content or dynamic.  Far too much backlighting which just doesn’t work. The shots from Iceland using a tilt/shift lens hand-held were maybe entertaing on the blog, but here, especially in context, they’re a bit ridiculous. The best stuff is a set of commissioned posed portraits of villages in Loiyangalani, Kenya, which is very competent commercial photography, but really looks like an outtake from a Benetton shoot.

Seven 69

Nice oranges, but, really…? photograph © David duChemin

But the biggest problem is that there is no coherence to this book. As a monograph, one would expect some kind of continuity or visual narrative, but it just jumps all over the place.  From black & white candids to wide screen landscapes, from the inevitable photos of colourful, wrinkly, gap-toothed Asiatic ancients and cute kids, back to some more black & white candids, jumping to the weird Iceland stuff, to some even weirder stuff from Venice, to a set from an Antarctic trip where clearly the weather wasn’t playing along. It’s not giving much of a sense of a style or vision.  The total opposite of Bruce Percy’s “Iceland - A Journal of Nocturnes”.

SEVEN is very ambitious, but ends up drowned by a wildly over-reaching concept of showing the whole world, and therefore having to include work of quite considerably varying quality just to “tick” each continent. The New Zealand photos are particularly disposable. Perhaps a much stronger approach would have been to structure it as a set of self-contained mini-portfolios from a selection of global destinations. Basically, it needed a strong editor, and a layout artist.

One of the reasons I buy photography books, especially from less well-known photographers, is because I like to support their work.  I’ll continue to buy Craft & Vision eBooks, and I don’t regret the not inconsiderable cost of SEVEN. I would normally say this, or indeed expect to say it, but I have to say for all the locations in the book which I have also visited, I’ve either got better shots, or similar shots (near identical in the case of Milford Sound) which I’d never even think of publishing. I expect books like SEVEN to contain photography far better than I could achieve. It’s a bit of a shock when they don’t.


Despite the fact that nobody will read this, I’ve hesitated a lot before publishing it. I’ve searched for other reviews of the book, and found just one, which frankly doesn’t say very much… one can infer anything from it. So why publish such a negative review, especially when I really, really wanted to love this book? Who am I to say such things? I think it’s a reaction to the massive dumbing down of photography everywhere, the “great capture, please visit my page LOL” theme that runs through the community these days. SEVEN unfortunately to me seems to ride on that sort of empty praise, and sometimes line have to be drawn. It should, and could have been so much better. And yeah, I know, my stuff sucks and I have no right to criticise genius etc etc. I know. Save your breath. It’s not the point.


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