Category Archives: Inspiration
So many great photographers to learn from. In this series, I will be showcasing the work of some photographers on Flickr who continue to inspire me.
Seems like we are missing out if we cannot tune out. We are always on.
I know my mind is a bit like a tumble dryer – always on – always spinning. Wish I could just switch it off – vacate the premises – leave no lights on. Just go!
There is always something churning, something burning. I do not neglect my worries. No, I tend to them carefully. One may slip off, but I can skilfully substitute. I might wake and feel all is right with the world and right with Brendan, but then I sense it. This hollow echo slowly vacuuming. Then it returns. This slight uneasiness; a nagging knowingness that something is just not fully right.
What utter nonsense it is to feel like this. I can rationalise it, intellectualise about it, but I cannot rid myself of it. I feel – on – all the time.
But do I?
Recent conversations I have had about photography with friends has gotten me thinking. First one was with Sheldon Serkin in Bangkok. He asked me what getting in the zone when shooting street meant to me. He was to give a talk the following morning about this at the 8 x 8 Street Photography Conference. About how when you are out shooting, that you get in the zone. Whatever that is. For different people it is different things.
I stopped and thought.
I think, I said, for me, it is switching off. I lose sense of my surroundings, of noises. Things become narrowed. I become super-focussed on my immediate environment, and the only distractions I have are visual ones.
Later, with more reflection, I told him – when I am out shooting and I zone out I am on an accelerated path, excited, exhilarated to be in the moment. Scenes, looks, people, flash and vanish. It is dreamlike. I am – off.
When I step out of this moment, I said, it is weird. Slowly, and then suddenly, noises, like traffic, people talking, rush in. I might find myself in the middle of the road, or down on my knees on the pavement, or pushed up against a wall and realise I need to move, to get back into the normal rhythm of things. I feel invigorated, exhilarated; alive! It is euphoric and addictive. Does it happen all the time. Hell, no! But when it does – wow!
He told me for him, when he gets in the zone, he feels invincible, invisible. Instinct and intuition kick in and he feels on. Conversely I feel off. Freed. But I do agree with the instinct and intuition kicking in.
Now, for me, I have tried mindfulness. I have laid on a bed in a dark room. Slowed my breathing, drew it into the depths of my tummy, held it there and then exhaled. Repeated and repeated. Tried this for days after days. Did I feel less stressed? Did my worries fall off my shoulders Did they fuck? I am too restless. I lie on the bed and try to free my mind; to just concentrate on my breathing. It works for a few minutes, but then slowly thoughts crowd in and I am not in the moment anymore. They tell you to embrace this, not to chase those thoughts away, that gradually a quietness will come. But I have never got beyond that, to be honest. When this happened, I just stopped.
But when I get in the zone on the streets, it is not a voluntary act or decision. Somehow I slip into this mode and all the noise just gets shut out. Nagging thoughts do not intrude. I am not even aware of this until I slip back out of the zone.
Move on to the next conversation, one I had with my friend, Paul Moore at the excellent MojoCon conference last week. He was talking about how he likes to stay up late at night and work on his photos. He said for him it was a form of mindfulness. Now, I had never ever imagined that editing images could be a form of mindfulness. But once he said it, I banked the idea, and have returned to it over the past week or so, and I have to say he is right. Very right. It is a form of mindfulness. One that suits me. One that does bring me a calm. OK, lots of times it can be frustrating when you learn that your photo is crap. But while editing, I am immersed in the process – with each Lightroom slide, I am willing the photos to life, willing them to be right. And for those moments, I am back in zone, back out on the street and the emotion, the excitement, the connection and all-consuming immediacy of that moment is there with me again, but now it is calming, rather than exhilarating.
The older I get, the more I realise how dumb I am. How unaware of it is what I do, the things that can make me happy, the things that just add to my stress.
Simple things like surrounding myself with positive people. Those who love grey skies, let the clouds hide them from my life. Be kind. Be kind to myself. From that it is much easier to be kind to others.
Can photography be a form of mindfulness? Do we make the mistake in thinking that mindfulness is only with your eyes closed, your breathing slowed and all the while crippling yourself in a lotus pose? I think I have.
So often in my photography I fear I will never get another good shot. I find it hard to motivate myself and I can become so self-critical. I feel I won’t rediscover that exhilarating feeling of being in the moment; in the zone. It’s like many things in life, you cannot force it. I cannot explain how it happens, how it comes. But it does come. Not often enough though. When it does, I just seem to slip into it. Feeling the freeing rush of the noise being blocked out in my head, I am in the moment. I don’t need to be in a darkened room. I don’t need to become conscious of my breathing and battle intruding thoughts. It is an intense awareness of what is happening around me and the opportunity to capture it in frames. It is my mindfulness.
“But it’s not a real camera!”
2017, and we are still hearing that.
At the recent 8 x 8 Street Photography Conference in Bangkok I gave a talk on how the limitations of the iPhone resulted in my experimenting and pushing things creatively. It was a fun talk, but a talk that had impact. One that got people thinking, and one that has encouraged people to embrace mobile shooting.
For me, moving from film to digital changed the way I shot simply because I was able to review the images immediately and shoot more. Result being I made more mistakes and I learnt more. But once I began to embrace shooting on the iPhone it changed the way I see; it changed the way I think. Why? Again, it is simple I went from a situation of having a camera – a big, heavy DSLR (that I love to this day) sitting in a drawer only taken out on occasion, to one where I had a camera with me 24/7. Gone were the times when I would see a scene and say to myself:
“Oh, I wish I had a camera with me.”
I always had a camera with me. And instead of passively happening upon photographic opportunities, I was now actively seeking them and actively creating them. I began to see, think and create photographically.
Sure, there were limitations. Small sensor which meant poor quality images in low light. But this allowed me to experiment and create images like this in low light conditions.
No zoom? Ya, and that meant I had to zoom with my feet and get in close getting the shot. I also began to discover how perfect the small and discreet iPhone was for street work.
A fixed lens? Again, this resulted in more considered compositions. More awareness of what to leave in and more importantly what to leave out of an image. When I look back now at the images I shot with the iPhone I can see how particular I was about composing images; the attention I gave to what I was photographing in an image, and what I was not photographing (what to omit) in a frame.
No changeable lenses? Well, there are add-ons – great lenses like the Olloclip ones. But again, I did not want to use them straight up. No, I wanted to experiment and see what else they could do. Macro lens portraits? Ya, why not?
And the latest imperfection that causes people to say: “But it’s not a real camera, though, is it?”
Portrait Mode is Apple’s attempt to mimic the bokeh effect that real cameras can achieve. It creates a depth-of-field effect blurring out background and making your subject in the foreground stand out. Can a phone camera really do that? Sure it can!
Again, it is something I can achieve with so much more ease on my Fuji or my Nikon, but for some reason it feels differently on those cameras. Working in Portrait Mode with the iPhone is frustrating. You get notifications from the camera telling you to move closer, mover further away, place your subject within 2.5 metres until the DEPTH EFFECT in bright yellow appears. I imagine in years to come we will look back at these notifications and marvel at them. For now, it is slow. It is frustrating. It is hard to use in low light. But here’s the thing: because it slows you down, you become more considered about composition paying more attention to what to leave in and what to leave out of the shot. You become more deliberate about getting things in focus to achieve that depth-of-field bokeh effect.
And it has changed how I shoot on the street. It brings me closer to the those I am photographing. I have to get close and I have to slow down. Where before I was in close but I was on the move, now I am close but I am with them. This has meant a change. Before I would rarely talk with people on the street. Sure, I would exchange a smile, at most a small few words. Now, I find I am engaging, exploring, getting to know the people I am making portraits of. I could not have imagined this before getting the iPhone 7 plus.
Take this one encounter from last Saturday’s MojoCon photo walk in Galway. I saw this man approach. Before I would have slalomed towards him, got in close and shot a burst of images, not looked back and carried on to the next character who caught my attention. This time, I went up to him, introduced myself and asked if I could take his photo (I think the make your portrait or take your portrait thing is nonsense – it is not the collocation of words – it is how something is said and the manner it is said). Sure, he said. I thanked him and began to compose the frame. I told him I was from Cork, up in Galway for a conference and asked him where he was from. He was from Oranmore, about 10 miles from Galway. He had come up by bus. Usually did, he said, on a Saturday afternoon. What did he like to do here, I asked. Place a few bets, have a few pints. Today was a bad day, he said. He had lost and he now had time to kill before he headed back to Oranmore, but at least it was a fine day. Did I like Galway, he asked. I told him I did. I showed him the photos. He nodded his head as he looked at them. I thanked him. We shook hands.
It is a departure for me to engage so much with people on the street. I never had much problem getting in close to get the shot, but I was, could I say shy or even embarrassed to engage with people. Shooting on Portrait Mode has caused me to slow down – focussing takes time – it is frustrating and you do miss shots. But on the plus side it results in a new, fresh approach in street photography for me and it is invigorating.
But it’s not a real camera, ya? No, it is so much more than that. It’s a wonderful springboard for creativity and experimentation, fun and learning. Embrace its limitations.
Kiss the future…
Curiosity, adventure, the unknown, the unexpected. All of these things, and more, got me excited about MonogramAsia’s (MGA) inaugural street photography conference in Bangkok – 8×8. And what will I take away from it all? Wonderful conversations with sensational people; conversations punctuated with beautiful visual distractions.
Who were these people?
There were big names from the world of street photography presenting and leading photo walks at the event – people like Eric Kim, Take Kayo- a.k.a Big Head Taco, Xyza Cruz Bacani, Olly Lang, Bellamy Hunt, Sheldon Serkin, Ghatot Subroto, Paul Yan, and Rammy Narula.
Everyone knows ERIC KIM. Google knows him so well that when you put in Street Photography into its search engine, Eric pops up in number one position. Some people have a problem with this. They resent his presence. Feel it is unmerited.
But here’s the thing about Eric.
He. Is. Doing. It.
He’s not sitting back and thinking: “Man, I would love to do that!” No! He is on it. He got into street photography, saw the information he wanted, the things he wanted to learn were not easily available online so he set about creating an online resource for people who shared his passion for street photography. And he worked it, creating one of the most influential platforms on the net; all the while sharing his passion for photography and if you read carefully enough – he is actually telling people over and over: this is how I have done it, YOU can do it too!
Meeting Eric is full on. The first thing he said (I mean asked – Eric loves questions) was: Tell me your life story? This was followed by: What’s your philosophy? Then: Why do you make photos? As I struggled to answer these I noticed he was already formulating the next questions from the answer I was structuring. And it is not inane. No, he truly wants to learn – and as he claims, he does truly want to empower people.
For me, when I look at a photo, I want to see where the photographer is. Because the photographer is in every photo. It can be that you can imagine their physical position in relation to the subject, or more importantly, you can feel their emotion, sense their character, or connect with their curiosity in getting the shot. The photographer is always there. After our photo walk, we all met up for dinner. Eric sat next to me. Without asking he picked up my camera and began to swipe through my shots from the day. Ooh! Eric Kim reviewing my shots. I was nervous I can tell you. But he was inquisitive, sharp, and kind about my images. I asked then could I see his. Sure! We all know Eric is capable of creating arresting street images, but as I clicked through his shots from the day I saw visual images of abstract constructions. Beautiful ones. Photos I was not expecting to see.
Another guy who you cannot help coming across online is Japan Camera Hunter, a.k.a Bellamy Hunt (or should that be the other way around?). I had the pleasure of sharing a taxi from the airport to the hotel with Bellamy and it was great to get to know him. Bellamy is interesting and engaging. His story of how he went from working in an office in Tokyo – being a salaryman – to being one of the world’s most renowned camera finders is fascinating. Over the few days with him I enjoyed his dry wit, his very British character, and his kindness too. He gave us a roll of his film and I am excited to try it out. I look forward to looking him up when I am next in Tokyo and shooting some street with him, or just having a nice cup of tea!
When Ben (MGA founder)and I were first discussing the possibility of an event like this and including mobile photographers in it, Olly Lang was one of the first names I thought of. I have followed Olly for a number of years. I like his photography, but what I got most from Olly was his thinking on where photography was and where it was heading. I had listened to him on the fabulous photography podcast – The Photography Show (go check it out – in fact you will find interviews with Bellamy, Eric on here too). Olly is a deep thinker and what he has to say always gets you thinking. He is also a funny guy. Very often, as you get to know people, you need to tune into to get their humour. Olly cracked me up at times with his dry delivery and ability to snap a comic twist on things.
They say you should not meet your heroes, and for the main part that is true. Sheldon Serkin is a hero of mine. He shoots on the streets of New York with an iPhone and produces these beautiful, revealing tender (and often humourous) candid moments. Sheldon’s work slows me down, draws me in and allows me to dream. Of all the people at the conference Sheldon was the one I was most excited to meet. And I was not disappointed. Over the five days we talked and talked and laughed and laughed so much. It was super cool to learn how much we have in common: Both English language teachers and both big Dead Kennedys fans. Oh, yeah!!!!
Gathot Subroto (Gathoe)- from Indonesia. I first met Gathoe when I was in Jakarta last year for a talk with MGA. I felt bad that day because once my talk was over I had to get in a taxi and get to the airport to fly home and I missed out on his talk. Gathoe is a photographer whose work I love. His colourful street work is constructed with care and precision (not an easy thing to achieve on the streets), and it has a beauty and at times a humour to it which is striking. One of the things I love about Ghatoe is his smile. What a beautiful smile!
Take Kayo – Big Head Taco. Now, here is a gentleman. Here is a force of nature. When Take starts to talk clocks stop ticking. Take can talk, and talk, and talk. But he engages, and he wants to listen, and he wants to learn. I listened to a podcast with Take on my way to Bangkok (for me the best photography podcast out there is Ibarionex Perello‘s , and this was a great lead-in to getting to know the man behind the persona of Big Head Taco). I connected with Take. I liked his honesty. I liked his style and I liked the way he worked.
I am fortunate to get to shoot in amazing cities around the world. Tokyo will always be my favourite, but there is something special about Bangkok. To appreciate this you only have to look at the amazing street photography coming out of Thailand. Chatchai Boonyaprapatsara is the co-founder of Street Photo Thailand (stop reading and click now!). He presented his own work, which I love. and that of the other group members. People will know the work of Tavepong Pratoomwong, but others in the group are producing stellar photographs too. Have you clicked yet? No! Do it now!
Rammy Narula! Ben sent me a link to his work before coming to Bangkok and I remember sitting back in my chair and loudly exclaiming “Fuck!” as I clicked through his images. His stuff is good! Rammy is a cool guy. He has a cool beard and he wears cool caps.
He gave a great talk. Shared his process in getting his shots. The dedication to and the vision of what he wanted to create was impressive. He went to the main train station in Bangkok over six months to shoot in a window of light that lasted for 20 minutes on a platform. Six months work boiled down to 29 images. Photography is not about single images. It is about deselection. Killing your babies, as they say, to create something coherent, something cohesive, something with impact that the hits viewer and allows them to dream.
Paul Yan – what a man! A rock star! A bass player – a record producer from Taiwan living in Beijing. Paul is fucking cool! He has style. His clothes, his jewellery all have personality. Paul puts his heart and soul into his work. I was going mad that I could not see his talk as it clashed with the review session from our photo walk. I had known Paul for sometime online, been a fan of his work, and now can appreciate it more that I know the man. Meeting him makes he want to get to Beijing to shoot street with him and listen to Tuesday Afternoon – the latest band Paul is producing.
Xyza Cruz Bacani . Of all the presentations at the conference, Xyza’s was the one that hit me most strongly. On the panel discussion the previous day she had talked of privilege of being able to shoot on the street and it was something I had not considered before. It got me thinking of responsibility; it got me thinking of how fortunate I am. Xyza’s work is on another level in terms of its quality, and in terms of its impact and message. She showed three videos of her work and in each I was quietened. As I said, I look for the photographer in their photographs and In the first video, photographs of couples in Hong Kong, I saw her. I saw her curiosity, maybe her longing, maybe envy, but her talent to observe and construct beauty and tenderness shines. In the others, I saw her ability to tell stories, to connect, to cross boundaries that only photographs have the power to do, and I felt challenged to think about what photography is and can be.
What I will remember about Xyza is her sense of fun too. Together with Sheldon, Renzo, Olly and Yoko we hit the bars together and had the craic, as we say here in Ireland.
THE PHOTO WALK
One of the questions that arose on the final day for the panel was: Who do you think got more from the conference – the speakers or the participants? One of the easier questions to give a definitive answer to. For me, I got so much from the event. It pushed and pulled at how I think about photography, think about how I see, how I construct/deconstruct visually, how I present and share my work.
When we hit the streets with the participants on the photo walk it was so cool to see how my excitement to be shooting on the streets of their city transferred to them. Before the event I was thinking what I wanted to give the shooters on the photo walk, and I guess I was hoping I could give them inspiration to see things with fresh eyes. Over the course of three to four hours we got to know each other a little. A common question for people who are getting into street photography is how to get over their fears. One little piece of advice I give is to get the first shot in as soon as you can. It is like going to a party. If you sit in the corner waiting for people to come to chat with you, it gets harder and harder. But if you strike up a conversation with the first person you see, then it is so much easier to talk to the next person. It was like that on the walk. Seeing people getting braver and bolder in trying to get that shot was great. Hearing that they felt more confident, and got shots they would never have tried was really rewarding for me.
One of the funniest experiences was getting this shot. What could possibly happen when you get in close and shoot a sleeping, tattooed man who has a Stanley blade in his hand?
The following day we had the review and critique of images shot. Epson, one of the main sponsors, printed the participants’ photos. What I loved about the photo walk is that we may all have walked along the same route but what we saw and how we saw was so different. I was really impressed by the photos they had made, and their ability to self-critique. I shared three of my own photos – none perfect – and it was refreshing to hear their feedback on my shots.
I cannot end this without giving huge thanks to my friends in MGA whose hard work behind the scenes meant we could just get on with our roles as speakers/photographers. Everything was in place for us. There were no hiccups. It all ran so smoothly. Why? Because a team was put together that all pulled in the same direction. People who were prepared to do the hard work to get the job done. And it was done superbly.
Big thanks to Elfie – next time on the streets together shooting, my friend.
To Victor – he must have a clone of himself sharing his workload.
To Billy – thanks for being so patient with me and having everything perfectly in line for my talk.
To Mo at the wonderful boutique hotel – Nandha – and his excellent staff.
Add in to this mix the opportunity to meet Renzo Grande – co-founder of the 24-hour project – who came along to the event, and Yoko – a really special person – who is so kind and fun to be with. On the final day, Sheldon, Renzo, Yoko and I had a fun time out exploring the streets of Bangkok. It was hot, it was humid, but it was memorable.
And Ben – Mr. MonogramAsia – my good friend! My fellow dreamer. Bangkok – 8×8 was a huge success. It’s done now. On to the next one.
Bigger, bolder, better!!!!
2016 was another great year for my photography. I had some wonderful opportunities to travel and shoot in places like Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Tokyo, Kyoto, Vienna, Hong Kong, Delhi, Ladakh, Varanasi, Mumbai, Seoul, Daegu, Shanghai, Dublin and of course, Cork. Thousands and thousands of photographs shot on iPhone 6s, 7 plus, Fuji X100T, Nikon D7000 and Sony Xperia Z5.
It has become customary for me to select my favourite photographs of the year over the past number of years. It is something I have really enjoyed, but it is time consuming. Christmas can be a good time for this, or as I have found this year it can be the worst. All I want to do is chill out, watch TV, play with kids and eat and sleep. Oh and drink a little too.
Each morning I wake up and say today will be the day I get it done and each night I find myself saying: Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll do it.
So, tomorrow has arrived, the year has almost ended and it is time to present my favourite iPhone photographs of 2016.
I rarely post photographs of family. Am protective of their privacy. This one, shot with the Olloclip macro lens is one that I particularly like. My wife is a patient woman. I know, if roles were reversed, I would never wait while she tries to get the shot. Full series here.
This photograph, shot in the Glucksman gallery in Cork, is one I use in workshops to demonstrate the need to examine the borders of your images when composing your shots. I was focussing on the girl in foreground and her reflection when I saw this man appear in the top left. With a quick reconfiguring, I got him into the frame and adds a little more to the shot.
March was magical. Invited by Monogram Asia to come to Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta to present my photography was an incredible opportunity. I met some truly wonderful people on the trip and made lasting friendships. This shot was taken on the docks in Jakarta. These workers were taking a short break. More here.
Blur will save the world, you know. But I still don’t know how. This shot is the result of frustration. Image stabilisation has improved so much on iPhones. I just can’t blur like I used to. But with the Olloclip Studio case and its lanyard holding the iPhone safely I violently swooped and shot in burst mode to get this shot. You can see the whole series here.
This is where I begin to cheat a little and choose images that were not taken in the actual month. This is another from Tokyo in April. I have a series of images of people in transport, shot through glass to create layers, distortion and reflection. This bus driver was stopped at the lights in Shibuya and standing in front of him I saw it appear. I knew at the moment of shooting that I would convert it to black and white.
Vienna! What a beautiful city. Enjoyed shooting there a lot, especially as I had beautiful summer sunshine for my stay there. This shot is one I waited for. Attracted by the zig-zag reflections of the sun slipping down the metro steps, I knew someone stepping into the scene would add to it. Patience meets luck.
There are so many iPhone images I could chose from my trip to India in July, but the one I am going for is this one from Delhi. Images have to have different entry points to work for me. I like this one because of this.
Shanghai! Again, many I could choose from but the one I have gone for is this one shot on the Shanghai subway. There is something beautiful about photography that allows for connections. Eye contact is something I try to get in images. It engages the viewer, I think, but what I like about it is the split second of contact created between the person in the frame and myself. There are times it is electrifying.
Another image from Tokyo. Sometimes things just appear in front of you and when you see them it is too late. Other times, things will wait. Then you get lucky. So much of photography is luck. Luck and patience.
I was so happy when my kids told me their happiest memory from the summer was going to the river with me in the evenings just before the sun set, when the day’s heat had cooled. They would play in the water and I would try to get photographs or I would just sit and watch them be little kids enjoying summer. This shot was after a torrential downpour. They loved jumping over the puddles and I loved it too.
iPhone 7 plus. Dublin. Sunshine on a graffitied wall. Wait for someone to enter the frame and snap.
And back to Cork for the last one. Comparatively, I don’t shoot a lot in Cork. I tend to store it all up and shoot intensively when away from home. There is something freer about being off home turf. In saying that, I have projects about Cork on the go and quite possibly these will become much more personal and precious to me as the years pass. This is another shot of reflections. Another instance of patience.
2016 has been incredible to me. So many people to thank. So many people who along the way who have in some way enabled me to express myself. In no particular order I would like to thank Ben, Elfie, Saad, Arik, Andy, Nikki, Glen, Dan R, Dan B, Simon, Jack H, Judie, Ankit, John, Mark, Brian, David P, Albion, Thomas, Serap, Jen, Teppo, Cielo, Laurence, Tadhg, Michael V, Darren, Joanne, Janine, Nora, Sir Cam, Paul M, Tim B, Johnathan, Lee, Ruby, Kevin D, Randy, Dave, Brian, Kieran, Richard and Seiya. And then those loved ones who know who they are – thanks!
2016 – My favourite iPhone photographs
2017 – believe – achieve – kiss the future…
November saw more photographs from Copenhagen. Choosing my favourite DSLR for November is very easy for me.
I struggled with processing this image and wrote about it here in November. I posted other similar images in the month which I also like:
November has been the easiest month for me to choose my favourites. This iPhone image stands out for me. It is a simple, straight-up street shot.
Only one month left and then to choose my favourite image of 2014. Thanks for all the visits.