Friday, 20 June 2008

Fun of the Fair

Last Friday morning, I ventured out with one trusty old Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex camera that's as ol' as me, and some expired Fujifilm NPC160 colour film which I rescued from the depths of my fridge in amongst the eggs and cheese, in an attempt to photograph a funfair that was being set up for the weekend's local crowd.

I have not used the Flex for a long while, it was probably about 3 years ago when I photographed my mother's portrait and it just sits on my bookcase looking pretty sorry for itself. I do occasionally 'play' with it, running a series of shots through the speeds from 1s - 1/500th s, to keep the shutter blades from seizing up.

From the moment I load the 120 film into the camera, it evokes a totally different approach to photography. Less hurried and more calculated, and definitely a pleasure to use. I often think of the past press and journalist photographers who used these cameras day in and day out, having to changed film rolls every 12 shots, whilst trying to cover a story unfolding before them, no wonder when the 35mm format came out, the Leica's and early Nikon Fs took over in a big way.

Nevertheless, many documentary photographers continued using these 6x6 tlrs because of the large square format, its beautiful lens renditions and I think, most importantly, its indirect, waist level finder. Diane Arbus used it for a number of years, and made many memorable portraits from her Rolleiflex.

I got to the fairground early and the grounds people were still setting up their contraptions, rides and bouncy-castles. These fairground people are real hardy in someways. They traverse the country from ground to ground, weekends to weekends, setting up and putting down their rides, and they live mainly in tow along caravans, complete with portable gardens, pets, and clotheslines. I got chatting to the owner of the Spinball ride. He told me that time are getting tough, rides cannot increase too much as it will drive customers away, however, fuel and transport cost are soaring. Still, they must eeked out a decent living running fairground rides. I do see many luxury 4x4s towing their caravans!

The fair had yet to open to the public when I got there so all of the rides and stalls were still shut. I love the atmosphere of anticipation. The surreal quality of the late morning light and the dead quiet of the funfair lends itself to a bizarre setting. 'Just add people' and the scene before will change.

I shot 3 rolls of NPC 160 in about 30 minutes, taking time to compose each shot, and check exposure with a manual meter. I am pretty good at guessing, using the Sunny 16 rule, but conditions were changeable and the sun was peeping in and out behind the clouds all the time.

I found that using an old camera such as the Rolleiflex, instead of a great big black hunk of a plastic monstrosity, people tend not to feel 'threatened' by you, it almost always become a talking point, like ''wow, that's a really old camera'' or ''what a nice camera'', and that breaks the ice for some stirring portraits. Unfortunately there were hardly any people worth photographing as the handful that were there were all busy setting up and I did not want to distract them from their activities.

Waiting for the processed film was again, like a child waiting to get home to play with his new toy. It was ages! Well, the 3 hours wait did feel like that compared with the digital process. I was, in the end, pleased with the outcome, and had a few usable images. The sun had become too high for any sort of effect I was searching, but at least I knew that the camera is still a capable machine and the expired film was decent.

I will at least look more kindly upon the Rolleiflex the next time I am dusting the bookshelf. Mind you I have decided to bring it to KL for the upcoming workshops!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Icons in Time

Yesterday, being a surprisingly dry and sunny Sunday I decided to pay a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London's West End, attached to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Its been a while since I came here, and as all galleries have free entrance in the UK (except for special exhibitions) there's no reason not to visit one.

I came away summarising what I had encountered, about popular culture and the role of three icons, and what they mean to people, and how they are portrayed using art. All three are women, living in different eras in this century caught my attention.

Just by the entrance to the NPG, I came across this stone monument dedicated to Edith Cavell. Not knowing who she was I googled her name. She was a WW1 humanitarian and nurse, and was instrumental in helping many Allied soldiers escape from Nazi clutches in Belgium. She was subsequently captured and found guilty, executed by firing squad on 12 October 1915 by the Germans. Her death became an iconic symbol for the British Army recruitment programme, playing on her bravery. Her famous last quote,
''Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone''
is engraved on her monument.

The second was a photographic portrait of Audrey Hepburn, Hollywood actress, beauty and fashion icon. She received numerous awards during her acting career and later, became a
goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund travelling to the impoverished countries of Africa. She died of cancer in Switzerland in 1993 at 63 years.

Audrey Hepburn, as a fashion icon, still lives on today (like Che!) and her image has been copied over and over by many of today's fashionistas and celebrities, and in posters and books.

The third icon that struck me was a series of portraits of Kate Moss, the infamous British 'supermodel'. Know for her sultry English looks she became Burberry's leading face despite the negative publicity which followed her purported 'drug use' secret video a few years ago. Her sharp features, even without make-up is her enduring asset.

Portrait photography, like no other 2-dimensional artform has an immediacy element. It gives the viewer a sense of reality, a freeze-frame, a slice in history, rendering all passage of time immaterial. It brings back the dead, and glorifies the living. That's my thought of the day...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

MUSEO is released

I am pleased to announce the release of MUSEO, published by, and represents my first fine art photography book comprising 94 photographs in black & white. I have been working on and off on this series over the last 7 to 8 years, and since discovering, a self-design, print-on-demand online bookmaking website earlier this year, I decided to give it a try.

The entire process is rather straightforward, with little or no experience needed in layout and design. There are many templates available in the design programme which is downloaded onto your computer. One thing to bear in mind, is that you will need a fairly fast computer with plenty of working memory as it tends to get sluggish as you add on the images to the pages.

The final product took longer than expected to arrive but I understand that blurb uses several printing presses in various parts of the world and I think MUSEO was printed in Switzerland, so it may be delayed by other circumstances.

I am well pleased with the final outcome, and the paper stock is particularly good. Please visit the sidebar link to view sample pages or to order. So impressed with the entire design and print process, I have designed a client's recent wedding album with and I can't wait for that to arrive.