Category Archives: Photo Talks
It was quite the honour to be the only male speaker invited to talk at ZafigoX Travel Conference for Women in Penang Malaysia in August.
The premise of the talk was based around two wonderful ideas. The first from Benjamin Disraeli who said: “Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”
And the second from a conversation I had in the car with my daughter when she was just three years old: Where do yesterdays go, Daddy? I don’t know, lovey, Where do they go? I know, Daddy, they go into photographs.” The beauty of this idea has stayed with me ever since.
I will let you enjoy the talk.
“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!!!!
It was quite the honour to be invited to South-East Asia by Monogram Asia to present at the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand and also in Jakarta, Indonesia. In between, I had the opportunity to shoot intensively with some fantastic photographers on the streets of Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta. All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience and one I am truly grateful for.
In preparing my lectures for the two events, I approached it in a chronological fashion, presenting images of mine through the years, both DSLR and iPhone, and framing them around that famous quote of Henri Cartier Bresson’s: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” and the widely-used: “The best camera you have is the one with you.”
And I disagreed with both!
The reason being is simple. Bresson’s quote is often used to present the idea that the more you practise the better you will become, and while it is wrong to disagree with that, it does imply a linear, incremental improvement. Coming from an education background, I believe the learning process is never as simple as this, and when looking at it through the lens of artistic creation it seems to suggest that we are incapable of creating something of artistic merit in our initial stages of expression. It brings to mind a couple of Picasso’s quotes: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” and “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
These two quotes support my belief that very often we can instinctively create something without a technical awareness of how we achieved it. In preparing for my presentation I looked back at images I shot many years back. Seeing these now, with years’ of experience of shooting and viewing images, I realised that back then I was capable of creating photographs which, if I were to shoot today, I think I would be proud of.
It got me thinking further about his quote. 10,000 photographs. Just think about that for a moment. 10,000. Back in the days of film I had an SLR. It was rarely used. I would have shot a few rolls when on holidays and another few throughout a year. Do the math on this and you can see that in a given year, I would have shot about 8 rolls of film. That is 8 x 36, making a total of 288. Continuing with the calculations you can see to get to 10,000 probably would have taken me about 35 years. Or in reality – never.
However, with digital, things changed. There was the reduced cost and the ability to store so many images. This resulted in shooting more and more, and brings me to the next quote: “The best camera you have is the one with you.”
This has to be one of the most-often used quotes about photography. I know I have I used it again and again. But it was not until I was mulling my presentation over that I realised that I did not agree with it. Why? Because it implies that we don’t always have a camera with us and if we do happen to have one – then that by default is the best camera.
Who doesn’t have a smartphone with them nowadays? And following that through it means we always have a camera with us. And that is the best thing – always having a camera with us. But do we realise the potential of that?
I found looking back over the years of my photography that it was from always having a camera with me, in the form of my iPhone, that led me from a situation of only having a camera in a drawer gathering dust, only taken out on special occasions, to one where I had a camera with me always. I went from a situation of perhaps (and perhaps is true here) noticing a photo opportunity, to thinking – wow, that would make a nice photograph, to a situation where I saw these situations and I had the camera with me and I got that shot.
It allowed me to develop my eye, to begin to think and to see photographically. It allowed me to have a camera with me in situations where before I would not have brought one: work, shopping, waiting rooms, in the car, out for a run, around my house and garden, etc. And as a result, I was training my eye, becoming more sensitive to composition, becoming more creative and moving ever-more rapidly to those 10,000 first photographs.
Sure, the quote can be interpreted in different ways. I fully agree with the notion it implies of practice. Shooting with the iPhone meant I was practising more than ever before, but the change was that I was now seeing photographically and committing myself to it. Before a photographic scene may have gotten my attention, but if I had not a camera with me, it would have been allowed to escape, uncaptured. And over time this meant a sensitivity to scenes like this became less and less pronounced and opportunities to train my eye, evolve my style would have been lost.
In looking back and selecting images to represent my early photographic style it was good to see that elements of composition, style and storytelling were strongly evident in my early shooting, and to see how these evolved over the years was interesting.
The next part of my presentation was to show that there is not a separation in approach, style or quality between what I was doing in my DSLR work and my iPhone work. With the iPhone I had a camera that was perfect for street photography. It was small, discreet, fast and allowed me to get in close on the streets to capture moments and candid portraits that I probably would not have made without this camera. In turn, because of this new approach, I was becoming braver with the DSLR also and making more effort to get storytelling images on the DSLR.
Similarly, I wanted to show that the limitations of the iPhone: poor zoom, poor image stabilisation pushed me to be creative. I zoomed with my feet, and the poor image stabilization; well it led to this:
And around the same time I was creating images like this on my DSLR.
I also spoke of the community aspect of the mobile photography movement in my presentation. I know that for me it was (and still is) the interaction with fellow photographers who were shooting and sharing on smartphones on a daily basis that really drove me on. Being part of communities like Mobiography, The App Whisperer and iPhoneographyCentral was hugely influential in my development as a photographer. Making the showcases on these sites was a really big thrill for me in the early days and I am so grateful to Andy, Joanne, Bob and Nicky for all they have done and continue to do for mobile photography.
Throughout the lecture, I presented images to showcase my photographic style and to demonstrate the qualities and advantages of the iPhone. As well as showing images from through the years, I also I selected some of my more well-known images.
I rounded the presentation off with a demonstration of my favourite app for editing: Snapseed and showing the range of Olloclip lenses available for the iPhone that bring your shooting experience to another level.
There followed a questions and answers session and after the presentations in both Bangkok and Jakarta I was very pleased with the people who took the time to come up to thank me, to hear their stories, tell me they found the talks inspiring and motivating for them to experiment and shoot more with their smartphones. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get some wefies (a new word for me – more than one person is not a selfie no it is a we-fie – wefie) and to take pictures of us together.
For me, the takeaway points from my lecture were having a smartphone camera with you allows you think and see photographically, heightening your ability to look for and create photographic opportunities; it encourages creativity and allows you to develop your own personal style. With the community of mobile photographers you have the opportunity to share and learn with fellow photographers who share your passion and with the many apps and accessories available you can take your photography to another level. But the main thing: The main thing is that it is PHUN – iPHUNography!
Overall, the opportunity to present my photography in the prestigious Royal Photographic Society of Thailand and in Veteran’s Cafe in Jakarta was a true honour and one I am humbled and grateful for.
Will be doing a few blog posts on shooting in the various locations on the blog in the coming weeks. I shot over 5k photographs on the iPhone, Nikon D7000 and the Fuji x100T. I had the most amazing experiences shooting with a great team of photographers. Stay tuned!