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Friday, October 17

How blogging has changed my photography

For the second time in a few weeks, reader MartyNL has got me thinking about what I'm doing and reflecting on whether I should be doing it differently. First of all, he made me realise that I really needed to get back into the darkroom - it's why I started this blog after all. Then, in an innocent-enough comment to my previous post, he basically called me a "landscape" photographer.

Obviously, that's not a bad word but it's not really how I see myself. I now realise that it's how other people will see me and for good reason. Looking at the photographs I've posted here over the last couple of years, a large majority of them have been landscape-type images.

When I decided to leave digital behind it was with the idea of pursuing a style of photography that's all about light and shade and shapes. I'd tramped over hills and fields and beaches long enough with a variety of cameras covering 35mm to 6x9 and wanted to head off in a new direction. I'd gone through the various stages of being obsessed with cameras, then lenses, then film, then developer, then printing paper, then toning. As I've mentioned before, my last film outfit consisted of a battered Mamiya Press with 65mm, 90mm and 150mm lenses. My normal film was HP5 developed in Perceptol 1+3. I was completely happy with that and just got on with the image-making.

Then the digital bug infected me and I had to start thinking all over again about equipment, finally ending up with a Nikon D700 which, in my opinion, is the digital equivalent of a Nikon F: a hugely capable, reliable and even iconic camera.

The problem I have now is that my return to film largely coincided with the launch of this blog. I don't know about other photography bloggers but that's had a significant impact on my photography. If you want to reach out to readers there are generally two boxes that have to be ticked: post as regularly as you can and write a lot about equipment and materials.

Writing regularly means finding stuff to write about. Had I pursued the light, shade and shape photography then, by virtue of the fact that it's harder for me to come up with good images like that, I would have had less material to work with. Landscapes and seascapes are easier to come by where I live and that's why I've tended to take so many of them.

And then there's the equipment side of things. I've become a little too obsessed with cameras and materials again and that can partly be traced back to the fact that a new bit of gear sometimes makes a good subject for a post or three. Omar Ozenir, through his excellent darkroom articles, and David M (he likes to fly under the radar) with his very informative large format related posts - some of which I've yet to publish - have taken some of the pressure off. But I still feel that I'm essentially taking photographs to feed a hungry blog rather than to satisfy my creative urges.

Take my increasing use of 35mm. As mentioned earlier, I was a medium format photographer before becoming fully pixelated. Although I love 35mm, it's mainly for convenience and blog-feeding reasons that I've been using it almost exclusively recently. Meanwhile, I have a great Rolleiflex SL66E outfit sitting idle in a darkroom cupboard. And a Speed Graphic that, in my hands, has exposed no more than about a dozen or so sheets of film in two years.

So I think I'm going to make a big effort to concentrate on my light, shade and shape photography. And I think I'll do it in the company of the Rolleiflex SL66E. I'm not sure how successful I'll be and it may well transpire that I need to continue shooting landscapes so that I have to something to write about. My stock of film has almost run out but this time I'm going to buy just 120 to force my hand, so to speak.

It's a style of photography that's illustrated by the photographs on this page, all of which I've published on the blog in the past. Essentially, I think of it as similar to what Ralph Gibson does but without the people. I remember 18 months ago when Phil Rogers introduced me to Mr Gibson's work - it immediately struck a chord. That's why I've been a trifle obsessive about him on the blog.

I believe this approach will make me think more about my photography and certainly force me to adopt a more creative approach. As David M said in a recent comment, it's about getting away from "representational photography". There's a difference between a fine photograph and a fine art photograph and that's the gap I want to bridge - if that doesn't sound too pretentious. :)


David M said...

It's common for people to say that the image is all that matters. They have a point of course.
When photographers start to feel guilty because they find that equipment is interesting, they commonly say that painters don't talk about brushes. Well, perhaps they do, but there's not much to say. I suppose the successful ones talk about VAT and funds in the Cayman Islands.
The tombs of ancient Egypt were decorated with paint on plaster, and so was the Sistine Chapel – much the same equipment and methods had lasted for three thousand years. Not a lot to discuss, was there?
Photographic technology changes remarkably quickly, as we all know and these changes make all sorts of images possible that could not have ben made only a few years ago. Equipment, from iPhone to Sinar (to Hubble?), really does have a significant effect on the final result. It seems entirely reasonable to take an interest. When did we last hear of a significant improvement in brushes?
So, in my view you should keep up your adventures with cameras and enlargers, show the results and relate your findings, as long as you don't turn into the nuts and bolts correspondent of Camera Spotter Weekly.

Jan Moren said...

Do this!

Yes, it's very easy to fall into the trap of "pleasing your audience", whether that is your blog readers or your family members. You take things you think other people will like, not what you, yourself, actually do.

Instead trust that we will like the pictures you do yourself, and that we'll be happy to wait for them. Oh, and I'm envious of the rolleiflex, and hope to see more shots from it in the future.

Jim Grey said...

If it weren't for my blog, I probably wouldn't take very many photos. Having an audience for my photos makes photography a lot more fun for me.

Sure, sometimes I pander to my audience. Based on views and comments it is clear what they like.

But since I'm out with my camera anyway, I still take photos that please only me. And I share them on my blog anyway, because views and comments be hanged.

I like this balance I've achieved.

MartyNL said...

Let me apologise, Bruce. I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to photography. For me, a photograph doesn't exist until it is printed. And I find nothing more rewarding than holding a well printed photograph. So in this respect, photography with the intention of being hung on a wall may well be different than photography used purely to illustrate a blog?
Omar combines the two exceedingly well in my opinion. As it seems that his photography is not compromised by his blogography. But this is by no means a criticism only an observation. It's your blog. It can't be all things to everyone. And it's one of the best out there.

Steve Mack said...

It's not a 'real' photograph unless it's printed in black-and-white and on glossy, borderless paper.

Thank you. ;<)

With best regards,

Stephen S. Mack

Bruce Robbins said...

Don't be daft, Marty. No need to apologise. My post wasn't meant as a reproach and I'm grateful to you for giving me the chance to step back and have a look at what I'm doing. You're right about Omar's blog and his photography although Omar posts on average perhaps twice a month whereas as I aim for three times a week. Frequent posting creates extra demands.

Doug H said...

For me, a MF camera - Bronica SQ-A - with a relatively wide lens - 80mm - has become my everyday camera. It only takes 12 exposures and I'm ready to develop. And a contact proof print by you would be easy to share on this blog. It would make for a good discussion point.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Bruce - as everyone who reads this knows, your blog is enormously entertaining and informing, so don't change it too much.
Goodness knows it must be BLOODY DIFFICULT to come up with so much stuff all the time - well it is, I know because I have been there - you can suffer BB (Blog Burnout) and feel that what you are doing artistically is just an end to feed the hungering machine of 'more interesting stuff, I need more interesting stuff'. And going that way you'll get no rest. However a fine line can be drawn, and I think maybe this way of limiting yourself is a good one.
You are right in thinking you have a more than capable tool in the SL66 - you've got a world class image making machine. OK - it's a faff using a tripod, but how about optimising those wonderful Zeiss lenses and taking some chances with fast film and wider apertures and hand-holding? You've nothing to loose but a few quid.

The great rock photographer Jill Furmanovsky:

did an enormous amount of her work hand-holding a Hasselblad; Mario Testino did a huge amount of stuff with The Brick (a Pentax 67) and though these aren't your sort of photographs, the design of your lenses is such that you'll be able to make better pictures than you can imagine just by loosening up a bit with MF - personally I can't wait!

I know we've not know each other that long really, however I really enjoy your photography. No labels, not 'Landscape' or 'Object', you're a PHOTOGRAPHER! You photograph what you find interesting and that to me is what it is about.

Richard G said...

I think you mentioned in the Vitessa post that subjects like your first photograph in that article were hard to come by. You go a long time or a long way or wait a long time for the weather for certain landscape shots so I do notice that compared with the gold raining from your enlarger into the RFF Gallery, more of your blog is carefully considered interiors. But those subjects are within reach of time and conditions. Margaret Olley, a wonderful Australian painter, confined herself after some time, not just to still lifes but still lifes in her own house. I fear the price of the SL66 and heavy tripod up a distant hill is the blog falling away a bit. Mind you, Mike Johnston hardly has one of his own photos on his site. If you could garner enough content that you did not have to generate pictorial support for, you could then keep to the subjects most dear to you for your own work.