Pinhole Imperfection

A while ago I bought myself a Holga with the intention of converting it to a pinhole camera. A few months and two lost test rolls later and I’ve tweaked it to the point where I’m happy with my results!

The Quiet Place, Pinhole, 01 (Flickr).jpg
The Quiet Place, Pinhole Study #1

The soft focus brings to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series ‘Architecture’, with its barely-defined structures and almost timeless glow. Here, the sculpture’s hard lines are worn down by the imprecision of the pinhole camera, but its deliberate form is striking nonetheless. The boundary between the land (both the sculpture and the hedges behind it) and the sky is also blurred, the whole scene having a haze that is the hallmark of the pinhole camera.

I enjoy the simplicity of this form of photography. There is no aperture manipulation, no focusing, and shutter speeds are counted in minutes, not fractions of a second. With the camera set up I simply meter, open the shutter, time the exposure, and close it again. It is far from the high-tech world of photography today. When shooting like this I am forced to slow down, giving me time to contemplate my surroundings and really experience the environment I’m in.

Heslington Church, Pinhole, 02 (Flickr).jpg
Heslington Church, Pinhole Study #2.

Another effect of the pinhole camera’s slow shutter speed is that all moving things blur into nothingness. In this photograph, the tree and the snowdrops, moving in the wind, are ghostly and shapeless. Even the church and gravestones, static and unmoving, are blurred, giving this scene a slightly otherworldly look. Some might hate this imperfection, but I love it. It’s a scene the human eye is incapable of seeing.

Pinhole photography has brought me a new way of seeing the world, not sharp and well-defined, as we take for granted, but hazy and uncertain. A world in which things do not seem quite right, both static and restless. Most people see photography as the art of capturing a moment, but this is capturing the passage of time itself.

Journal #8

As you may have noticed, my ‘weekly journals’ aren’t exactly weekly. Sometimes I forget, and sometimes I’m too busy to get round to writing them. I want to keep the journal, but committing to one a week seems too arbitrary, and I find it often leaves me forcing out a post with very little real content. For this reason, I’m carrying on with the journal, but (as you may have guessed from the title) I’m going to drop the ‘weekly’!

The topic of this journal is spontaneity. I’m the kind of photographer who prefers to take his time, out in the hills with nothing but a camera and a tripod. However, sadly, modern life doesn’t really allow for that all the time. I’ve taken to shooting on the camera on my phone on a far more regular basis than in the past, because it allows me to keep my creative eye active as I go about my busy days.

Thirty-Eight Birds.jpg
Thirty-Eight Birds

The image above captures exactly what I mean. I took this on my way home from work this evening, at about 5pm, just as the sun was setting. The gradient of the clear evening sky forms a still, calming backdrop to this flock of birds that circles above me. Some, gliding peacefully, are captured sharply, while others are blurred. This is an image of a truly fleeting moment – within seconds of me taking this image, the flock had moved on.

As a landscape photographer, it’s easy to think that an image needs to be obsessed over for hours to be ‘great’. Sometimes I do exactly that, and I enjoy it, but life doesn’t always allow for obsession. Sometimes life only gives you thirty seconds and a phone.

Weekly Journal #4

Sorry that this one is a bit late, but I think I can be excused on account of the holiday season!

I was given a very interesting book by my dad as a Christmas gift – At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. It’s a book that details author Sarah Bakewell’s fascination with French existentialist thinker Jean-Paul Sartre, and I’ve found it enthralling so far.

As an artist, something about Sartre’s existentialism intrigues me. It is concerned not with some abstract philosophy, but with the lived experience of the individual. In the past I have often found myself wondering what exactly my photography means, and have come up with some very good answers. Recently, however, I’ve begun to think that maybe the question itself is flawed. Why does art have to concern itself with meaning? I don’t believe our lives have any inherent meaning, so why must our creations?

You may think these questions are empty, and I can understand why, but I find this (albeit shallow) thought enticing, and it’s something I’d very much like to explore in the New Year.

Weekly Journal #1

A very long time ago, I decided that it was time to put an end to my 52-week-project. I promised a replacement – a weekly journal – but my life has been very busy for the last few months, and I haven’t had much chance to write anything. However, things are beginning to quiet down, and so here is weekly journal #1!

I went back home to the Dales last weekend, which was a much needed break. York has left me feeling very uninspired as of late, so a change of scenery was essential. On Saturday I went for a walk in the woods, which resulted in the lovely image of the robin I put up earlier this week. That night I decided to try something a little different. I’ve had an interest in astrophotography recently, and so I went out on what I thought was going to be a clear winter night, and pointed my lens at the heavens.

Stars through Cloud (Flickr).jpg
Stars through Cloud

To tell you the truth, this image leaves me feeling a little bit disappointed. I wanted to try and capture some star trails, but shortly after taking this, a thick cloud came over me and left my view of the stars completely obscured. The image itself is out of focus, and really doesn’t have the impact I’d hoped for.

I think it’s important that I share moments like this on the blog, because otherwise you get a very one-sided view into my photography. As with all art, it is mostly comprised of failures like this one. When I call my photographs failures, my friends and family rush to try and counter to me. That instinct is understandable. We live in a society that rejects failure, but it’s worth remembering that failure is not a bad thing. Without it, we’d have nothing by which to judge our successes. It’s the rarity of the beautiful images that make them worth chasing.

Composition: Obscurity

This is going to be quite a long one. If that’s not your thing, that’s perfectly fine, and I’ll be back to posting new images soon enough. However, if you are interested in my approach to composition, and the mindset behind my images, this is the post for you. This is the first in a series of posts that I want to write covering various compositional elements that I draw from when shooting. These aren’t rules that you need to follow to create a good image – more a matter of my personal preference in trying to achieve what I aim for in my photography.

The first of these is obscuring details of an image, and instead emphasising its form. As any long-term followers will know, I take a lot of inspiration from Michael Kenna, and he uses this technique in many of his images to great effect. Kenna’s photography always has a peaceful air, and part of that is in the minimal composition.

Glastonbury Tor Study 3
Glastonbury Tor, Study 3, © Michael Kenna
Huangshan Mountains Study 2
Huangshan Mountains, Study 2, © Michael Kenna

I find that this simplifies the image – scenes with lots of detail can get cluttered and confusing for the viewer, and that is the antithesis of what I am trying to communicate with my photography.

Chapel Hill Tree, Skipton, 03
Chapel Hill Tree, #03

In the image above, the landscape in the foreground is completely black, leaving only its form. Coupled with the detail in the clouds above, this makes for a dramatic image.

Often, obscuring the details of the subject simplifies the composition, and helps to capture my state of mind when I’m shooting. In this way, the photography becomes almost meditative. The philosophy behind my work is a whole other blog post, and one that I would love to write, but for now, I will try to focus on the composition itself.

Another aspect is the implied detail of obscurity. I find this important in my architectural work, especially with my photographs of the religious buildings of York. The viewer can see but a glimpse of the detail in the image, but the rest is hidden from them, and they can only interpolate it. As human beings we like to be able to see all the details, and having that taken away from us can be intimidating. This is what I am trying to do with these photographs – a far cry from the calmer landscape images that I create.

York Minster, 01
York Minster, #01
Church of St Lawrence, 01
Church of St Lawrence, #01

Another topic that I find fascinating is the relationship between a photograph and its viewer. One of my current projects, Ghosts, is an experiment in communicating an atmosphere through a series of images. One way (although by no means the only way) to do this is to hide details from the viewer, forcing them to really study the photograph, and imagine the details themselves. In the process they place some part of themselves into the image, and the work becomes a two-way exchange – I provide the image, but it is up to the viewer to figure out where it sits in relation to themselves.

By the River Ouse
By the River Ouse

I could go on and on about the various ways in which I use darkness and obscurity in my photographs, but I doubt you’d want to read it all. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this post, and I have plenty more ideas for entries into this series. I hope you have found it an interesting read, and if you have anything you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment!

Abstract

Evening Light on Cobblestones (Flickr).jpg
Evening Light on Cobblestones

Sometimes the most beautiful compositions come from the things we’d walk past without a second thought, like the beautiful summer evening light shining on these cobblestones. You don’t have to travel to the far-flung corners of the world to see true beauty – just start studying the world you walk past every day.

Cairn: Study in Silhouette

I wanted to try using the form of one of the two cairns, objects which I have studied and photographed many times now, to form an almost-silhouette against a midday sky. Normally I would shoot a scene like this at sunset or sunrise, but as I found myself on the moor at about 4pm, I decided to try shooting in more difficult conditions.

Smaller Cairn, Skipton Moor, 02 (Flickr).jpg
Smaller Cairn, Skipton Moor, #02

The focus is on the cairn in the bottom-right, its tantalisingly vague form creating an area for the viewer to study and question. This dark shape is surrounded by dramatic, swirling clouds, their forms, comparatively well-defined, standing in contrast to those of the rocks.

I’ve been focusing a lot on silhouettes recently, especially in architectural work, and I have been studying the use of light, especially a lack of it, and the effect that it can lend to an image. It’s a topic I may very well write a slightly longer post on soon enough.