I used to ride horses when I was a teenager. Quite often they were slightly insane horses that the owners had tired of. There was Mickey who used to paw the ground when we crossed streams ... indicating she was about to roll and you could only stay on if you imagined you could stop her. There was Nutmeg who made a vet turn away in horror when he health-checked her for her owner.
I was that horse-mad kid for a while. The vet had spotted multiple 'issues' with that big, slightly crazy, ungainly chestnut called Nutmeg. And then there was her paddock-mate, Cinnamon, the ex-racehorse who occasionally raced off with whoever was riding him. He was a geriatric.
But there were days, few and far between but enough to keep me going, of sublime happiness. When, just occasionally, everything would come together. The sky would be blue, the air warm, and the horse would be having a best-behaviour kind of day. Those days were the days where being out with the horse was like floating along on my own private cloud of joy.
Writing is like that for me. Just sometimes it all comes together.
Photography I can do anywhere. I enter that state of non-thinking ... that creative space, easily and work almost unconsciously, losing my self in the process. But writing, that's something else entirely.
Writing, for me, comes from another place. It's a space more consciously created. I feed it like I might feed a fire. Building the flame from a spark up into, if I'm fortunate, a roaring fire. And I'm finally learning that sustaining that space or that mood, is the trickiest thing.
I'm almost bullet-proof as a photographer and yet I am as fragile as a butterfly when I write. I had spent two hours building that creative space yesterday. I have a photography exhibition opening on 31 October and the theme is complex. I want to get it right. Dreaming it into being involves writing. Writing involves building the fire.
I was horrified to realise how fragile I was yesterday. How fragile the creation of that space is. At the same time I was glad to finally understand the different creative spaces I inhabit when I move between the two things I love doing best.
I knew I couldn't interview someone and photograph them at the same time but I didn't know why. I think both disciplines ask for a similar depth but they're different. With photography I'm simply searching for the soul, or for a small glimpse of the true core of a person. I want to capture something of who they really are ... to show them their own personal beauty.
When I interview someone it's completely different. I am listening, intently, consciously. I can't lose myself in that photographer space where I don't really exist, where it's all about slipping under the surface of the person I'm photographing. I have to be present with an interview. Later, when I'm writing it up ... perhaps then there's that slippage into the soul. Or, more nicely put, into the shoes of that person.
I was a writer first. I thought that was what I would be in my spare time, after I found a sensible job that paid ... but I never ever learned to protect the space. Photography allows me to move in and out of the creative space with ease. Well ... coming home after a photography shoot is sometimes slightly fraught, as I am empty and exhausted by all I've given but ... I can flick in and out of photography without building a fire slowly.
I love that I will be 50 soon. I love that I'm finally getting curious about who I am and what I do. And I love that I have the opportunity to put together this photography exhibition and explore complicated things while knowing I need to keep the line through it simple and clear. I love that I have to find the poem within the story... the few images that capture multiple layers.
But most of all, I love that yesterday, I finally understood that I need to create and protect the space where I write. That I begin with a spark and build a fire.
Mmmhmmm, only took me 49 years to learn this simple thing ...
Listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic today. Working now ...
Raf came to dinner last night, asking if he might use my camera flash while he was over. He was curious about the process of using the master/slave set-up on his camera. Neither of us had attempted it before and it was the best fun I had had in a while. More to follow as I experiment with that in the months ahead as it turns out the Gert's Metz flash is able to make a wireless connection with my Canon flash.
The photograph following was taken when Raf put down his beautiful Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, with its battery pack attached and picked up the smaller Canon EOS 550D, laughing over how to hold it in his big hands. I liked how it looked and took a series of images with my beloved Canon EOS 5D MkII.
It was a lovely evening. Thank you, Raf, for opening the door into this new way of working with light.
I spent a few hours teaching Miss 9 about photography yesterday. Just a slow introduction to the most basic ways of using an SLR. We talked of composition, light and exposure. We did a lot on focus.
And eventually, as per the story that follows, we went to photograph the giraffes. Once there I shared my passion for reflections.
She took it on board but I love what she did. So different to mine but that is the beauty of photography. No one ever sees and captures the same thing. It's always about your own individual way of seeing.
We ran this image through PicMonkey this morning, added a frame and cropped it a little. The light and colour, the composition except for a small crop, it's all hers. It's how she saw ...
And I love it.
Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro.
Usually, when I head out to a photo-shoot, it's a new location, new people, new light.
Most times, nothing is known or certain ... it's a new beginning.
I don't use lights, I demand nothing from people. I don't have a routine.
Each person, each family, each event is like an individual fingerprint and so I can't ask for the same thing.
I want them to be as they are, wear what they love, and I like it if they can take me to their favourite place.
Sometimes I check in to see if this way of working scares me. But it doesn't. It seems to be the thing I love doing best, that attempt to capture people as they are.
And anyway, I get to meet people like Steven and Isabel and that ... that is treasure, to be sure.
Translation: He who finds a friend, finds a treasure.
Above all, life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.
I love portrait photography.
I enjoy people intensely and I think that informs the work that I do.
My intention is always to show the person just how beautiful they really are ... without Photoshop. No intervention required. Really, show me something of your true self, something of your soul ... trust me, and I'll show you you.
Not that those words are ever stated. And as a photographer you need permeable boundaries on your own self. It's good if you're gentle. Be willing to show some of your soul too.
Portrait photography, at it's best, is an exchange. And it's about trust.
I met a remarkable woman yesterday and I can't wait to write of her work here. More to follow, just as soon as her website is up.
Her photographic work is magnificent and I love her presence: her portraits are stunning, they expose intimacy, humor, and pensiveness; her photographs capture the space, the movement, human interaction deliciously, in a way that one feels invited to an event long after it disappeared from the public scene.
In all her unobtrusiveness when working with the camera, Di is great fun to hang out with, the artists, scholars, thinkers, curators of our Berlin exhibition highly appreciated her, and when working together in Cairo, Istanbul, Berlin, or wherever else, I enjoy her kindness, humor, and delightful presence.
Shulamit Bruckstein, Curator, director of TASWIR projects / ha’atelier
Shulamit wrote this after a series of projects together and, in so many ways, lays out what I want to achieve as a documentary photographer.
I believe I need to be unobtrusive, invisible ... disappearing into the moment I have been asked to capture. At the same time I believe that there are going to be people I need to engage with. It's about building trust, if there's time. It's about being respectful - I want people to enjoy my work afterwards.
I prefer to wear dark clothes and quiet shoes. I carry cough drops and tissues. Nothing about me should stand out or distract people from the event. I don't make eye contact when I move around ... unless I need to or unless I find a 'favourite'. A favourite is someone who embodies something of atmosphere ... the event. And there is always someone.
I love my flash. It's a Canon Speedlite 580EX II and over the years we've become good friends. I know how to twist and turn it, to bounce light and avoid shadows. I work with my favourite lens most of the time, a Canon EF 70-200mm 1:4L. Some people get hung up on the latest equipment but I simply love whatever works for me. This lens is my baby. Attached to my Canon 5D Mk II ... it's magic.
I prefer to zoom because it allows me to stand back, on the edges, while still getting up close and personal without people realising that it's all about them.
Documentary photography ... unobtrusiveness, respect, the building of trust, connections, communication. It's all of that and more. I love it.
I've been preparing for the photography workshop in Genova, thinking about all the things I know ... and finding stuff I didn't realise I knew.
When I make notes on portraiture, I include words like Trust and Respect. Empathy. Patience. Engagement. Authenticity.
And it's not about acting or demanding or insisting.
People, when they're being photographed, are often fragile. They feel broken open, exposed, vulnerable.
You're asking them to show a little of their souls, to give you themselves in a relaxed state of being.
People often tell me they photograph badly but no, I think no one 'photographs badly'. I have this theory that it is a failure on the part of the photographer, to relax their client. To engage. To earn their trust.
When I work on a portrait shoot, I am almost skinless. I don't want to be the boss, to be in control, to demand this expression, that pose, this place.
I want to go someplace my client loves. A space where they can relax and feel comfortable. I want to talk, and maybe walk a little. I want to know who they are and how they want to be perceived. I want to discover and capture their best selves. The self they know and recognise.
Sometimes, if it's a family portrait, I have asked the mum for a follow-up shoot alone because when you're a mum and a wife on a family shoot, you can miss out on being you. Your own private individual you ... before you took on all those roles.
And it works. I have photographed some beautiful strong confident women when they're off-duty as everything else.
Kids are something else again. You need to engage, it needs to be fun, you need to be real. They will know. Bubbles have saved many a shoot when a child has grown bored or tired.
Portraiture is all about a lot of things ... and then relaxing and enjoying that time spent together. It's about gifting someone the beautiful things in them, and everyone has something.
I didn’t write the rules — why should I follow them? Since I put a great deal of time and research to know what I am about? I ask and arrange if I feel it is legitimate. The honesty lies in my — the photographer’s — ability to understand.
I found this quote and loved it. I loved the photographer's defiance, or the disbelief. I'm not sure but it made me think that it is a question we should all ask sometimes.
Q. Why do you print your own pictures?
A. The same reason a great writer doesn’t turn his draft over to a secretary… I will retouch.
Q. Avedon said that there are three steps in making a photograph: first the taking of the pictures, then the darkroom work, then the retouching. He showed me one unretouched picture in which the girl’s skirt fell straight; in the final version it was flying out.
A. I would have gotten her skirt up somehow.
And so it is today. You make the photograph, you process it, and then you apply your feeling. That 'application' varies. I like to keep mine minimal but the image is mine to do as I please.
I love the way he owns, unapologetically, all that he does as a photographer.
Found after watching the following inspirational TEDx Talk, by photographer, Giles Duley.
I have just completed post-processing the 50th wedding anniversary photographs and, yet again, I realise just how much people trust me with themselves ... whether they realise it at the time or not.
I ended up with almost 220 images that told the story of a couple who have been married for 50 years, of their son, extended family, and their friends.
I was pleased with the results but there was one more job that had to be done. One of the comments most made about my style of documentary photography is that people forget I am there ... that I disappear and, therefore, they are often stunned by the results ... by the ways I captured them or their event.
That final job is going through the results and taking out those images that reveal too much. An emotion, a conversation, a sadness.
It's done. My new tally is 197.
Now ... to show them.
Yesterday was a day of reorganising the space that we have here in the 3-storey tall narrow house. Gert and I ended up working right through the day, simply because I had decided to create a space of no distractions ... a place to finish this book I've begun.
I have two novel manuscripts started too, and another of interviews with New Zealand climbers. That one went through two very positive publishing meetings before being rejected. Back then, the public wasn't so interested in the crazy beautiful lives of climbers and mountaineers. Other publishers were suggested, those who might take the risk of low sales, but then my mum began dying, I had finally started university, and somehow the manuscript has become another thing that I carry.
There are poems too. A new one that came on the train that took me across Belgium a few days ago. A poem that I like, and I am my toughest critic.
But anyway, photography took over as my dedicated form of expression. You can slip everything into an image. Sometimes it's like a poem, other times it's a novel and tells a story but mostly there is the pleasure is not being sure of what you have captured until you are done.
So I have a writing space now. A huge IKEA table that serves as a desk, and enough shells and stones to break my current desk collection in two while maintaining a beautiful pile of beach treasure on both desks. Facebook, phones and non- related books are all banned from the new space.
However, in moving my writing stuff, in taking my favourite images up there, in moving all of my books on Genova... I created what seemed like a huge space down here in the 'everyday' office place. But even that was fun, moving that bookcase there, those images here, that scarf-hanger too.
We had Paola and Simon over for dinner last night and they were curious to see these changes, the ones I had earlier mentioned being in the midst of over on facebook. Well ... here in the everyday office space, I realised, when looking through their eyes, that these huge changes weren't really so obvious despite the fact that they had felt like a major upheaval. My new writing space was approved of though.
So that's how we spent our Saturday. Dinner was delightful ... aperitivo by Paola and Simon, an Italian rib and sausage casserole by Gert, followed by one of his delicious cherry Clafoutis. Excellent conversations, good people ... a really excellent Saturday.
I'll leave you with one of those photographs that surprised me. I saw this tap dripping in Istanbul, in one of the many ancient places there. I photographed it, ignoring the hustle and bustle of people around me, in that city of 14 million people. Today, I have it here next to me, in a 30x45cm format ... I have to rehang it later but just having it here, so close, made me really see it again. I really love it but couldn't have imagined this capture at the time of taking because it was so beautiful and how do you capture beauty ...
I went out one winter's day, recently, and took some photographs ...
I'll be adding new dates for further photography workshops in Genoa, Italy, and putting together some weekend workshops here in Belgium.
More news to follow soon. Meanwhile, check out beautiful Genoa.
During the audit, one of the IRS employees explained to my friend that she couldn’t keep declaring a loss for her business year after year.
“This looks more like a hobby than a profession,” the auditor said.
My friend attempted to explain the financial ups and downs of being a working artist. Yes. There had been a dry spell in the “income department” in recent years, but her expenses were legitimate. Art was her business, her life, her passion–not a mere hobby.
The auditor was completely puzzled. “But if you aren’t making any money creating art,” he asked, “why do you keep doing this year after year?”
Extract from, What Inspires Michelle Aldredge, creator of the website called Gwarlingo. The website where some of the most inventive work being made today in music, writing, film, performance, and the visual arts is highlit. It is also a place where creative people can connect, explore, and share ideas and resources.
Photography is a more intense way of “looking”. No photographer simply travels. He cannot allow himself the luxury of just looking around. He does not see landscapes; he sees photographs, images of reality as it might appear in a photograph.
Cees Nooteboom in 1982 in the Holland Herald, KLM’s in-flight magazine.
I am enjoying watching this little man grow up.
Most days we have spent 10 hours out taking photographs, returning to the apartment to organise and process them but I have never managed to keep up ... having taken 586 photographs on Saturday alone. My photo folders are overflowing and after a hectic 48 hours of good people, a beautiful hotel, a niece from New Zealand, 2 kiwis who lives here, a little too much red wine on a warm Istanbul night and amazing photographic opportunities, here I am, processing and trying to put things back in order, having not even had time to view the images taken at 6.30am Saturday out on the Bosphorous.
Istanbul is one of those cities where I can’t stop using my camera, it’s a passion, a compulsion and a pleasure but my body is protesting.
I fly tomorrow.