Far from the best photo I’ve ever taken but how often do you get to look through the periscope of a submarine?
I went to Kew Gardens the other day with the camera. It’s amazing how a camera can change your perception: I went to look at flowers – but I saw patterns.
You might have thankfully forgotten but I’m working my way through the Dogwood 2016 photography challenge. I spared you Red (my efforts were dismal) and I’m not sharing Headshot because Sophisticated Young Lady, the only willing volunteer, is entitled to her privacy.
Which brings us to last week’s challenge: Landscape: Black & White. I went down to the Thames on Sunday afternoon; it was low tide.
The only photo I remember from my primary school history book is this:
I’m sure you’ve all seen it before: St Paul’s dome standing intact above the ruins, surrounded by smoke and flames, seemingly indestructible, converting into a symbol. Iconic doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was taken on 29 December 1940, the 114th night of the Blitz, by Herbert Mason, a Daily Mail photographer, from on top of the Daily Mail building in Fleet Street. I take my hat off to Mr Mason – quite apart from any other considerations, just for having the guts to stand on an exposed London rooftop during a German bombing raid, taking pictures.
Under certain circumstances: very.
The first challenge of Dogwood2016 was a self-portrait, using the camera’s self-timer. Well, finding out how to do that was easy (I read the manual).
But the rest…!
If there’s anything I hate more than being seen with a camera in my hand, it’s being in front of the camera. I was only sure of one thing: the resulting self-portrait should not really show much of me. If you say that can’t be a self-portrait, yes, it can.
One of the greatest impediments to me becoming a better photographer is that I wouldn’t want to be seen dead with a camera in my hand.
Quick on the Trigger like John Wayne
In a city like London not wanting to be seen taking a picture does rather pose a problem. Even if you use a phone, even if you had an invisible camera, you would be still seen acting like a photographer.
What I’d like instead is to take great photos without behaving like a photographer.
To pull out the camera and shoot from the hip, as it were, in one quick movement, non-chalantly, seemingly without aiming but hitting the target for the first time, all the time. Yeah! Like John Wayne.
Or, as this post more appropriately should be titled:
A Dummy’s First Attempts at Night Photography
(I’ll let you know when I feel competent enough to write A Guide to Night Photography for Dummies instead. Just watch this space.)
Generally, I much prefer taking pictures in blazing sunshine – they seem to come out so much better with so much less effort. But since winter arrived in London (in as much you can call 10 degrees above zero winter), the only choice is between fuzzy-muzzy-grey or night scenes. I’ll take night any time!
Black and white is powerful… and not just in the form of black words on white paper.
Day 20 – the final – assignment called for a picture on the theme of triumph. I decided that’ll have to be the best picture I’ve taken on this course… when I actually stopped and thought about what I wanted to do, remembered the various things I was being taught, and then I managed to do what I wanted to do.
Day 19 – the penultimate day! – asked for ‘double’.
I know it was to be taken literally like the double yellow line at the edge of the road. But my mind works differently.
La Mezquita (The Mosque) in Córdoba, Spain: the Catholic cathedral has been built inside the heart of the Moorish Mosque.
The day 18 assignment calls for an edge that ‘packs a punch’: a straight line, a narrow ridge or a precipice. (I’m still waiting for the assignment for the divine curve! Because my favourite photo that I’ve taken putting to use what I managed to learn from photo101 so far and of which I’m inordinately proud wants to be shared.)
But for the moment, a straight line. Something tells me that I might have more than one go at this…
The thing that really gets me about this whole photography course is the many different ways you can interpret a simple assignment when it comes to visuals. If somebody told me ‘write an essay about straight lines’, well, I don’t know, I might end up quoting Euclid’s Geometry and others might go on about how parallels meet in infinity but in the end, we’re still talking about, well, straight lines? But when you start to talk imagery a straight line could be anything. An architectural feature. The spine of a book on the coffee table. A contrail.
Day 17 (as you see I’m permanently a day behind!) is on the theme of glass… as in, say, the view through a window.
I didn’t even consider bothering taking a picture specifically for this assignment, partly because I was too busy blogging about The Burning Mountain of Huexotzinco… but chiefly because I’ve got half a dozen – at least – set of photos from the last half year alone with views through windows. The difficulty was to decide which one to go for.
The theme on day 16 was treasure. And the task description did begin with, ‘in the absence of a wooden chest full of gold doubloons…’
“And I was going to sea myself, to sea in a schooner, with a piping boatswain and pig-tailed singing seamen, to sea, bound for an unknown island, and to seek for buried treasure!”
Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island
In point of fact, this treasure from the British Museum is not pirate’s gold; these aureus coins from 160 A.D. were found in a jug below the floor of a Roman house in Corbridge, Northumberland. The Corbridge hoard, as it came to be known, was discovered in 1911. The 160 aureus coins were hidden below a layer of bronze coins wedged in the neck of the jug, which broke under its own weight when the archeologists lifted it out of the ground.
But I did once handle a genuine Spanish real de a ocho, better known as a piece of eight… as well as an Ancient Athenian tetradrachm, merely 2500 years old. (This is why it’s worth having kids! 🙂 They’re your passport to things that you as an adult would have no access to: like handling treasure and entering Boeing cockpits…)
Day 15 Assignment: Landscape.
I always loved the river. Rivers connect us to each other, city to city, city to the sea and beyond. And the barges that go up and down, prosaic and ugly, loaded high with cargo speak of foreign lands, trade and adventures.
Tugboat towing barges on the Thames as seen from Hungerford footbridge:
Another attempt at playing with scale – how by putting something in the foreground, things in the distance become insignificant.
The lamp is a clear winner. 🙂
Day 14’s assignment was all about scale. Ideally I’d have photographed the same object I suppose by putting things next to it to make it a different scale… but that requires creativity of which I’ve got short supply. Besides, the weather was too good to stay indoors!
Attempt no. 1: Looking up at the London Eye.
Assignment for Day 13: Motion. To capture a moment, something or somebody in motion.
I tried to do this for several days. There was the passing tube train (lucky I didn’t fall in front of it) on the way to work. There were the cyclists in the street. I made five – at the very least – attempts at Boris buses. In my lunch break, I went and startled some ducks on the duck pond in the erstwhile village green (erstwhile seeing it’s now in London). I tried black cabs going round Trafalgar Square. I held up the phone with the camera on pointing down the street for a quarter of an hour in the hope of catching a person jogging but nobody was. (But as soon as I gave up and put the phone away, somebody rushed past trying to catch the bus. Just my luck.) I saw a speedboat on the Thames – it refused to speed.
Still on the day 12 assignment… The British Museum goes black & white, part II. Turning another earlier assignment into monochrome:
A Black & White (Different) Point of View
And have I learned anything from the exercise?
- Not all photos look good in black & white.
- There are different black & white filters and not all of them suit all the photos. I used the one my photo program calls noir here – and I think the clouds look nice & dramatic. The same clouds almost didn’t show at all with the other two filters (one called mono, the other tonal)
- There was a third point, but I got interrupted and forgot what is was! (I’ll put it here when it comes back to me.)
Day 12: the assignment is “to capture the beauty and complexity of architecture” and especially, by looking for elements that would come out well in black & white.
When I read this in the morning, I felt a sense of frustrated achievement. Because for last Friday’s assignment I did happen to take a picture of the back façade of the British Museum shot through some bars… which I duly posted. And when I got bored with admiring my handiwork on Saturday, I decided to turn it into black & white – and pleased with the result I posted it on my brand new Instagram account. (Well, I had to put it somewhere.)
And so now here we are. Today the British Museum goes black & white. Part I.
Behind the Bars in Black & White