Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dining Outdoors.jpg

Armidale NSW Australia November 2015

The Decisive Moment that Lead to the Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004), is considered a pioneer of photojournalism, though he himself claimed to be a surrealist photographer; it was Robert Capa who suggested to him that if he wanted to get any photography work, then he should call himself a photojournalist.  Cartier-Bresson is revered by many modern street photographers, and rightly so. What many don’t know is that as a young man he spent some time in Africa, where he got into a bit of trouble, made heaps of sketches and then, finally something happened that changed his life and the history of photography too.

Cartier-Bresson was trained as a painter, and that really was his passion and way of recording and interpreting the world around him. In a sense he wouldn’t necessarily describe himself as a “photographer”; he said that he turned to photography simply as a way to ‘testify with a quicker instrument than a brush’. But what led him to this change, to the picking up of a camera?  Well, still in Africa, he saw a photo in a magazine. This photo:

Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika (1930) Martin Munkacsi 

Seeing this extraordinary photo by Hungarian photographer  Martin Munkacsi, Cartier-Bresson understood immediately that, ‘photography could reach eternity through the moment’. He realised the potential of the camera to capture the ‘decisive moment’.

So, that was that. He bought a camera and the rest, as so many say, is history. Using a 35mm camera with a standard lens, allowed Cartier-Bresson to work quickly and unobtrusively.  The title of his book, Images à la Sauvette (changed for US publication to The Decisive Moment) means images on the sly; in other words, candid photography. I am not fond of the word sly, but that's just me. We know what it means really don't we?

Cartier-Bresson insisted on strong composition. He used the viewfinder to frame subjects precisely, preferring to crop the image in the camera (though, contrary to popular belief, he was no purist and cropped images if it suited his needs or what he wanted to say).

He shot in Black and White because he regarded the camera as simply a ‘sketchbook’. It's as simple as this. Perhaps this point may be a contribution to the black and white versus colour debate in street photography? Something to think about at least. For Bresson the choice was not one of aesthetics; it was merely a practical choice that met with his requirements and purpose.

Anyway, I digress. This simple but lovely photograph of a moment of joy being expressed by three young boys was a decisive moment which prompted this great artist to produce not only some of the finest photographs ever made, but also to actually shape the history of photography and especially street photography. 

Or, is this photo really of a very ordinary moment that, with the keen observation of the artist who senses when all the elements just come together to form a harmonious whole, is made decisive because it has been recorded? Makes you think of all those unrecorded moments doesn't it?

Three Friends.jpg

Armidale NSW Australia November 2015 http://flic.kr/p/A8LsHk

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Remembrance Day: Some Thoughts & a Poem for Them All

Where have all the Flowers Gone? (Adelaide Australia November )

To say I have a complicated attitude towards days like today, Remembrance Day, is a massive understatement. I was born with a predisposition towards pacifism, a tendency that was strengthened by experiencing the damage done to my father from his time in the army and especially his time with the Australian army in Vietnam during the war. Then there was the impact on my family of his time there: the family basically imploded, with the subsequent effects on each of us.

Then there is my knowledge of military history, both as it is lived by the people doing the actual fighting and from the broader geo-political perspective of historical movements and imperatives, as well as the reasons for going to war. Not to mention my acute awareness of the lies we are told to justify war and the hiding of the real reasons a government will wage war.

At the end of the day it is these lies told by politicians and our so-called leaders and their manipulations of events and the revision of history, that has me now saying no to all wars.
At the same time from deep in the core of me I feel a love and affection, a pride, for the people we send (yes, we) to do the fighting, killing and dieing; I feel for and care about those who return from the fight wounded in body, mind and spirit.

Whatever the individual’s reason for ‘joining up’ to fight, they have all done the dirty work their society has demanded of them. Their efforts—their sacrifices—need to be looked at as completely separate from their governments actions and reasons for sending them to fight and what they have done must be looked at separately from any outcome of any given conflict.

I have always been deeply revolted and disgusted to the core by those who place blame and then abuse or attack those who have only been doing our (yes our) bidding in war. Anti war should and does not mean, anti those who have done the fighting.  To not make this distinction is to abdicate one’s own responsibility as a member of society.

On days like this, Remembrance Day, and all other commemorations that purport to remember and honor those who have died in war, there is a militarization that in many ways excludes an honoring of the dead by people who do not wish to, at the same time, promote or celebrate a culture of war and conflict. And that makes me sad.

My father (who had served as a Major in Australian Army Intelligence before, during and after the Vietnam War) died in 2000 as he ran for a train on a hot summer’s day. I don’t think there were too many moments in the thirty odd years between his time in Vietnam and his death that he was happy; not too many times he was at peace.

PTSD; Depression; violent mood swings and behaviours; constant and consuming distress and an ongoing inability to settle into any semblance of what we call a ‘normal life’. These were his rewards for doing his ‘duty’, for doing the things we (yes, we) asked him to do.

No need to go on. Suffice it to say, my siblings and I are the children of a Vietnam veteran, and to some degree or another we have inherited that legacy of suffering. Just like so many others, in so many wars, all over this benighted planet and through time.

About ten years ago I wrote a poem about my father and his post Vietnam life and death. Here is it as my offering at the memorial to all who have had to suffer as a result of all wars everywhere.

Lest We Forget to not only oppose war in all its guises and disguises, but let us always remember to create peace in our lives and in our communities.

Peace to you all.


My father, many times he hit me.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father hurt my sisters.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing
My father, he beat my mother.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father had a shrink at 150 an hour.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father tried to get sane.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, he kept his demons.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father used to run for trains.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, one day thought he was late.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father ran hard for his train.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father caught that train, of course.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, his heart attacked him.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, on that train he died.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

Hobart Australia
?2004 or 2005

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Reading in a Quiet Spot.jpg

Armidale NSW Australia November 2015 http://flic.kr/p/AgGPTv

Create and Share That Which has been Created: A Mantra for all Artists

Hello My Darling (Melbourne Australia December 2012)

I wonder how many of your know that I am a poet. Well, to put it more accurately: I sometimes write poems. I might go a year with no poems appearing, and, then, as has happened recently, I will write one a day for several days in a row.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I was reflecting in my journal (yes, I keep a journal too, and have been for over 35 years, again with the occasional break) on one of these recent masterpieces, and I found myself writing that I was really quite pleased with the poem and how I expressed some real feelings in the piece and that it contained some really nice images (of the wordy variety that is).

I stopped writing at that point to think about it a bit more. Then I started writing again. Here’s what I wrote:
I’m really struggling to come to a point where I do all my creative work and especially my photography simply because it is what I want to do, and to let go of any expectations of it being liked by anyone else or commented on or whatever. I am trying to realise that my role is to create and to share. That is all
Then I stopped again. After a few moments, I wrote in bigger letters and in the middle of the page:

 Create and share that which has been created

Okay, it’s not a new idea, this do your art because it’s what you want to do and don’t worry about the reactions of others. I'm sure you've read the same thing on other blogs, but it’s an idea worth talking about again; it’s a kind of reminder to self (and maybe to others?) that it is why one does something that matters most. Although of course, being human it’s always nice when people approve of what one does. I guess it’s about not worrying overly much about what other people think. It’s about not thinking about what’s popular, what sells, what gets the most “Likes” and the rest.

So, that’s what I am trying to do in my work as a street and social documentary photographer: make the photos I want, for the reasons I want to make them. I always aspire to make my photos the best I possibly can, just as I always try to have the best possible reasons or motives for making them. In a sense, once I have done my best to send them out into the world, I have no control over what impact (or lack of impact) my photos have. Same goes for this blog or anything else I do.

Anyway, I am glad my sub-conscious presented me with a new mantra as I wrote in my journal:

               Create and share that which has been created.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Not so Well Hidden in the Suburban Jungle: When Camouflage isn't Camouflage

Not So Well Hidden in the Suburban Jungle
(Armidale NSW Australia November 2015)

I'm not a fan of camouflage, of the literal or the metaphorical kind. If you need camouflage, then you are trying to hide, trying to disguise yourself. But, I make no judgement here: I mean we are all prone to hiding something from someone at times aren't we?

Anyway, yesterday I was walking on the street leading to the centre of the small town we're staying in right now. And, I spotted this car parked outside some shops. Not a common sight, you might agree: a camouflaged 4x4 in suburbia. So, I made a couple of photos because it's such an unusual sight. Also, I liked the contrast with the shopping trolleys against this strange looking vehicle.

I then moved in to have a closer look, being the curious character that I am. The guy in the photo saw me, so I said hello.

'I bet most people don't see you coming driving this thing?' says I, in my best ironic humorous tone.

'Yeah, 'specially out bush. I park her under a tree and nobody sees me,' he replied.

We laughed, wished each other a good day and I walked on. Hey wait, you might be asking, why didn't you find out some more of his story? Well, the truth is, the guy must want his privacy. And if you are going to drive a truck like that, well, what's there to tell?


Thursday, November 5, 2015

From Russia with Love: Making a Life of Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness

Tibet Himalayas, 1933by Nicholas Roerich (courtesy of Vanishing Ice)

Nicholas Roerich was a Russian, one of those crazy Russians who believed in beauty and art and culture as the means to create peace. Well, if he's crazy, then I sure would like some of whatever he had. Bring it on, that's what I say. Here's just a tiny snippet of what he said, as quoted in a very groovy book called Nicholas Roerich: A Master of the Mountains by Barnett D Conlan:
'... every Art creation is a dynamo charged with uplifting energy and a real
generator of enthusiasm and he (Roerich) looks to Art as the most effective instrument for leading towards a life of 'Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness', to a
'Fearlessness which possesses the sword of courage and which smites down
vulgarity in all its forms, even though it be adorned in riches.'

In the years before World War II Roerich set up what he called Centers of Culture around the world. I don't know too much about this aspect of his work, but I plan to check it out. His idea was that Art and Culture were the perfect tools for attaining peace. He was a painter (I went to his house in Naggar in the Himalayas in India which is now a gallery and museum. His paintings are almost not of this world; ethereal and radiating a kind of gentle but powerful energy of their own. If you want to see some of his paintings, go to this link), an explorer, linguist (he was the first to compile dictionaries for various Tibetan and other central Asian languages), and a writer.

I've been thinking about what he says about every work of art being a dynamo full of uplifting energy. Whether you are an artist or not, you are bound to feel this sometimes when creating or looking at a piece of art, in whatever medium. Of course it is also true to say that so much of what passes for 'art' or 'culture' is lacking in any energy at all; it's lifeless, made to serve the needs of the ego, the market or some other materialistic purpose. And then there is the art that, while it might be that dynamo full of energy that Roerich describes, has been created with sinister or destructive purpose in mind and emanates a whole other kind of energy.

I guess what I'm saying is that it is the intention of the artist that is key. Most of the artists I know (including myself) create with the intent of making something from our hearts, from our souls, and that we can put out there into the world carrying goodwill with it. These artists (me too) seek to record and interpret the world around us in a way that is enriching for others as well as, of course, for ourselves.

Whether we are aware of it or not, every time we unleash that 'dynamo charged with uplifting energy', we are contributing towards a life of  'Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness' for all of us. There could not be a more positive, more true reason for creating Art ... whatever that means for you.

Peace from me to you

Monday, November 2, 2015

Photographing the Moment: It's a Vision Thing

There is one thing that photography must contain: the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough; there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.                                                         
      Robert Frank

What is it exactly that Frank is saying here? I think, put simply, he is telling us that for a photo to be potentially (my italics) successful, it must contain not only a moment of the life of the person or people being photographed, but it must also contain something of humanity as it was expressed in that moment.

We see a lot of Street photography that clearly is made with the intention of producing a kind of technically correct result. (Disclaimer: I'm not going go anywhere near debates such as the "sharpness in Street Photography is overrated" paradigm doing the rounds at the moment).  And of course we do have to have some technical expertise and aspirations for our photography. But oftentimes we try so hard to copy the styles of the "masters", or the latest "trends" in street photography, or to get our heads around "zone focus", or "depth of field" and "bokeh" and the rest,  that we, either lose sight of the vision we brought to street photography in the first place, or we deny ourselves the opportunity to develop our own unique vision and voice 

But even worse than all this in my opinion is the missed opportunities to celebrate the humanity in the moments we are so fortunate to share with the people we photograph. At the same time we disrespect and objectify those people; we begin to treat them as simply one more (but not any more special than any other) element in our photos.

Now, I'm not saying that people in our photos are not to be considered as compositional, aesthetic or narrative elements; what I am saying is that at least for me, people must be the primary element. Or to put it more precisely: in order to inject humanity into our photos we have to make the moment as the people in our photos are living it the focus and the most important consideration when we make a photograph. 

Not all my photos are "tack sharp" (though for me the people I photograph deserve to be seen as clearly as possible whenever possible in a way that doesn't detract from the meaning of the moment); not all my photos are composed in accordance with the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean and the rest (though I study composition and I hope it informs that unconscious part of me that "sees" while I am in Street photography mode. Again I owe it to the people I photograph); lens aperture is only important to the extent that it allows me to show the people I photograph in the best light (to coin a phrase). No need to go on: I'm sure you get the picture (get it? picture? haha)

At the end of the day it comes down to finding a balance: My choice is to work towards a balance that favors the humans and their lived experience in my street photos, while still making a photo that is as technically good as I’m able. As Robert Frank says ‘… realism is not enough; there has to be vision.’