Archive for April, 2011

Tim Hetherington dead in Libya

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Photographer André Liohn has posted on his FaceBook page that Tim Hetherington has been killed in Misrata with his colleague Chris Hondros.

Hetherington was one of the best photojournalists of his generation, and was no stranger to conflict zones. He was the kind of dedicated journalist who worked hard to tell the stories usually overlooked by the mainstream media, usually unsung and under paid. His death is a tragedy, but part of the larger tragedy that is Libya today.

He achieved some degree of fame for his film Restrepo.

Black and White London

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Since the use of film in photography has dropped away to a minute fraction of what it was even ten years ago, and most of the darkrooms and suppliers have closed down, we’ve apparently reached a point where it’s found it’s own level now.

Many students are showing a keen interest in both black-and-white and colour film processes. Secondhand darkroom equipment prices, for so long in free-fall, are now on the rise. Even new films and papers are being developed.

Even so, now that there are only a few specialists about, it can be difficult to find the right supplier when you need them. So I thought it might be useful to make a list of the establishments I use in London. This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just people that I use on a regular basis.

If you can recommend any other places please add the details in a comment – I still haven’t found somewhere to do full frame 35mm neg scans, for example, and I’d be very interested in hearing about anywhere!

I haven’t included the obvious places like Calumet and Jacobs largely since, even though they still stock some film related stuff, their emphasis is digital nowadays. Also I reckon everyone knows about them anyway.

Darkroom Services – hand processing and printing

Robin Bell – Robin is one of a kind. If you want the best exhibition or museum quality black-and-white prints make your way down to the little mews in Fulham.

Alan Robertson – One of the old school photography industry professionals, Alan is a great printer and knows all the tricks of the trade. Whether you need an old print restored, a film processed, a new print made – anything in fact – Alan will sort you out. It’s just sad to think that there don’t seem to be any youngsters learning the ropes – what are we going to do when Alan, and everyone like him, has retired? Alan is my neighbour in Iliffe Yard.

Darkside Photographic – A very good professional lab in Clerkenwell.

Rapid Eye – Good professional scanning services. They have a good reputation for colour work too, but I don’t know about that stuff.

Suppliers of Photographic Materials

Silverprint – Suppliers of all things analogue, as well as a wealth of advice. I buy paper and chemicals here, but they do much more.

Process Supplies – If you can’t get what you’re looking for here then you probably can’t get what you’re looking for.

Equipment Hire

Photofusion – They have an Imacon scanner you can use on an hourly basis, along with a wealth of other services available. You must pay a fee to join, but it’s well worth it if you frequent the place.

Fixation – They hire out film scanners, and a lot more.

I think that’s about it for the moment. I’ll add more if and when I think of them – but please feel free to add your own recommendations below.

Emily Allchurch and Laura Noble

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Visited the Diemar / Noble Gallery last night to see Emily Allchurch talking about her work Tokyo Story with Laura Noble. Emily has recreated a series of prints made by the 19th century Japanese artist Hiroshige for the collection One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

Tokyo Story 3: Night Harbour (after Hiroshige)

Emmily Allchurch, Tokyo Story 3: Night Harbour (after Hiroshige)

As usual, you can find out everything you need to know about the project by the application of a little Google so I won’t go into it here.

Hiroshige 'Tsukudajima from Eitai Bridge'

Hrioshige, Tsukudajima from Eitai Bridge (2nd Month, 1857), from the Brooklyn Museum - click on the picture to visit the museum website

I recommend a visit to the gallery before 7th May to have a look at the pictures for yourself. They’re worth it. I enjoyed the thoughtful, playful nature of the work and hearing Emily talk eloquently about the project was a rare bonus.

Sites of Conscience

Friday, April 8th, 2011

I came across an organisation called the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience many months ago, while doing some research for my long term political prisons project. Last week I finally made contact with them and found that not only does my project align closely with their work, but they are delightfully friendly and encouraging people.

They are a worldwide network of historic sites, each one of which bears testimony to man’s cruelty and injustice to others. It’s a great initiative, giving its members a more powerful voice than they could have individually.

Yesterday we discussed several ways in which we could work together in the future. I’m looking forward to it.


Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

We live in a time of promiscuous image making.

I believe that, in the not so distant future, every moment of every day will be photographed. There are more cameras about than ever before, and more people using them. There are cameras in pens, in traffic lights, in computers, in sunglasses and, of course, in every handheld mobile gadget from music players to phones. There are digital cameras of such breathtaking resolution that unimagined details are revealed, and post production software to make these images even more stunning. Then there are the digital printers, capable of producing huge, crystal clear, sumptuous prints within seconds of the image being captured. And yet I carry on with film and chemicals and a mechanical camera. Not only that, but black and white film. And a lens that doesn’t even zoom. Why? People think I’m nuts.

My technique seems to cause consternation in some quarters, which I’m frankly always surprised by. I’m either dismissed as a regressive dilettante or accused of willful contrariness, usually by people who don’t know what I’m trying to do. So I thought I’d set down what my technique involves – then at least we’ll have it straight.

This is not intended to be a defence of the way I work as, quite frankly, there’s nothing to defend. It’s a choice, like why I drink red wine and not white. I also don’t claim to have invented anything here. There is nothing revolutionary about this – far from it. There are a number of us out there, using old-fashioned cameras and monochrome film.

I use a 35mm rangefinder camera – in fact I usually carry two, with 50mm lenses. I have two in case one breaks, but also so that I can have different film stocks loaded. I usually use 400asa film, sometimes pushed as far as 1600asa, but also 125asa and 3200asa films. The high film speeds mean I don’t need flash, which is handy because I hate the way flash pictures look. I don’t usually develop or print my own work as I don’t enjoy the post-production (in the sense of post-exposure) side of photography. Sometimes, of course, financial constraints mean that I must get my fingers into the chemicals, but when I’m doing that I always find myself thinking I’d rather be out taking pictures somewhere.

Once the shutter button has been pressed, the image is set. Obviously the print is worked on to get the best out of the negative, but the composition of the picture is not changed by cropping. This means that what you see on the print is what I saw through the viewfinder – a constant view, since I always use the same lens. That black frame you see around the picture is the edge of the negative, it’s like the frame around a window that I carry with me everywhere, through which to look at the world.

This, in essence, is why I use this technique – and why I’m still very happy with it – but it does have disadvantages. To say the least! Many of the great pictures of the 20th century – pictures I admire and love – would not be known, or at least would look very different, if my criteria were applied. But that’s the crux – these are my criteria, for my work. I’m not suggesting anyone else should use them, but I like to work this way. If a picture doesn’t work the way I composed it in the viewfinder, then it doesn’t get a second chance in the enlarging frame.

I think I started doing this while under the mistaken impression that the photographers I admired worked this way. In fact, of course, the great ‘original’ 35mm photographers were never so strict with themselves. If many used a 50mm lens exclusively when they started out that was largely due to the lenses being fixed to the cameras in those days. As soon as interchangeable lenses became available everyone started making full use of them, and wide angle and telephoto pictures became the norm. Equally, it seems no-one had the slightest hesitation in improving a picture by cropping.

Which brings me back to why I work this way. The reason is, in short, that I’m not trying to make a good picture – I’m trying to make a good body of work. Changing the composition of one picture by cropping it might make it more pleasing, but it will break the pattern created by all the others, that constant view. Also, I reckon, with all those pictures being taken all the time, on phones and traffic-lights, there’s no shortage of images around – and most of them don’t say very much. I hope I might, by working my own way, be able to say something more interesting about the world and what we’re doing in it by keeping the technical fireworks to a minimum and really concentrating on that little window – composing, trying to get the focus and the exposure right, and pressing the shutter.

But all of this is just technique, which is not that important. Because it’s not about technique. It’s not even about photography. It’s just me trying to make sense of the world.

[This text is taken from the introduction to my book ‘The Constant Eye, Vol. 1‘]