Gray’s Anatoly: put them on the wall
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Probably 99% of the pictures we see now are made of electronic pixels. And of those, maybe half are viewed on our mobile screens. This is all very unscientific, I know, but bear with me. In olden days, like a couple of hundred years ago, ordinary people probably only saw pictures in churches. Some pictures in churches are pretty amazing enough to our eyes today: imagine how amazing they must have seemed to people who only ever saw a few pictures in their lifetimes. No wonder they believed in God!
I recently had the pleasure of seeing some of my mobile photographs beautifully printed and hung on a gallery wall. They’re in the Terry O’Neill Award exhibition at the Strand Gallery in London until the end of next week (if you’re in the Charing Cross area). Printing off mobile photos, transforming them from 3x3cm digital images on a screen to 30x30cm prints on a wall, really brings them to life. Not surprising really, because they’re 100 times bigger. Yes, that’s right. From 9cm3 they are now 900cm3. Up big, you see details you didn’t see before and you experience them in a completely different way. A couple of years ago, I printed off some of my own photos myself and put them on the wall around my house. Not only does this allow you to see them larger, you also get to spend more time with them. We have access to millions of pictures on our screens now and by the law of mathematics (lots of maths in this blog!) that means we probably only view each one for a few seconds. Living with your photos, inhabiting them, is a really good way of seeing which ones stand the test of time. Some pictures that I thought were really good have faded and some that I didn’t rate that much have continued to give me pleasure over time.
Pictures in an exhibition (photo: Bal Bhatia @mrwhisper)
Gray’s Anatoly: And the winner is…
Terry O’Neill is a legendary celebrity photographer, who found fame taking photos of the likes of Clint Eastwood, The Rolling Stones and pretty much every mega-star you could think of in the 60s and 70s. He has been running a highly respected photography competition for eight years and, last year, he launched a mobile category. Needless to say, I didn’t mention this news to anyone before submitting my own photos, hoping that no-one else in the mobile photography community would notice the competition, thereby boosting my chances of winning. My plan obviously worked as I won the category!
The awards ceremony is tonight and I’m feeling a bit like Father Ted after hearing he’d won the Golden Cleric award. But, don’t worry, I’m not preparing a 2-hour long acceptance speech, settling all the old scores of a lifetime, though this blog is, quite clearly, a very thinly-veiled excuse to publicise the fact that I’ve won it.
But I do have a serious point. Like many other people, Terry O’Neill now views mobile photography as a sub-genre of photography where some good work is being done. In recent months, we’ve seen The British Journal of Photography, one of the photography world’s most well respected institutions, launch a mobile-only magazine, called FLTR. Not long ago, Time magazine featured a mobile photo on its cover. Last year, the Taylor Wessing Portraiture prize included a mobile photo in its exhibition. And I noticed (when scouring the internet for more mobile photo competitions), the Smithsonian, another highly respected competition, now also does a mobile category (don’t bother, it’s closed for this year).
The Terry O’Neill Award ceremony tonight brings together the winners of the various categories to announce the overall winner from them. I’m looking forward to chatting with some of the winners of the other categories. Will they think any less of me as a mobile photographer? Do they use their smart phones themselves to take photos? Are they on Instagram? Of course, I think it’s great that Terry O’Neill is taking mobile seriously and has decided to launch a category for it (even more so, since I won it!), but it would obviously be too controversial to award the main prize to a mobile photographer. Whether it would or it wouldn’t, I think the excellent work that I’ve seen in the other categories makes it extremely unlikely. But you never know, dear reader and mobile photographer, put a note in your diary to send in some photos for next year’s competition.
Wouldn’t it be funny if a mobile photographer won the Terry O’Neill one day?
Mobile breathes new life into photography
May I first of all wish all my readers a happy new year. There aren’t many of you, so you can rightfully feel I really do mean it in a very personal way. And I hope you received all the photographic gizmos and gadgets that you’d asked Santa for and that you are well rested to go snapping into the new year. And I hope you didn’t worry too much about my 1 week absence over the holiday period - I hadn’t planned to skip a week (even though I did last year) though an impromptu drink down the pub turned out rather longer than expected and the blog went by the wayside. That’s what the Christimas holidays are for I guess.
Anyway, I digress. One of the few Christmas gifts that has not already made its way to a nearby charity shop (in many cases I’m sure, making the return journey) was a book called How Music Works by musician and former Talking Heads man David Byrne. He says that the experience of music is very much about context: in a literal sense, the venue you hear it in can make a big difference to how it sounds; less literally, you hear music differently if you’re already feeling a certain way; often the music we most remember is when we are most impressionable when we’re young. Some time ago I drew a parallel between music and photography. And an excellent article called Goodbye, Cameras in the New Yorker (which I found through the equally excellent FLTR magazine), points out that photography is also very context-sensitive. There’s loads of meta-data attached to a photo (your location, the time and date) of course with more data probably likely to be attached in the future (the author mentions radioactivity levels, fitness levels, social status, etc), but perhaps a more important context is the conversation that the photo generates online. The photo takes on a whole new lease of life when you see the reactions it gets from people. And many people’s photo feeds on social networks have been picture-tracks (ie like sound-tracks) to their lives. I self-indulgently mapped out mine a while back. Us mobile photographer types were already saying that social networks and mobile cameras generally have breathed new life into photography ages ago, but it’s good to be reminded of it by The New Yorker no less (come on guys, do try and keep up): social platform networks have breathed new life into photography and all those old fogies that go around moaning about people take photos on their mobiles should be reminded it of it at every opportunity.
Gray’s Anatoly: is Instagram bored by its own filters?
Are you bored of Instagram’s filters? I found an article on Australian Vogue today through the Twitter feed of @oggsie (he picks up some interesting stuff) about Instagram filters and which ones to use. Articles like this were everywhere two years ago. Instagram was all about the filters. Not only did people debate which ones were the best, but Instagram’s whole ethos was founded on their mission to improve mobile photography, because (and I paraphrase Instagram’s own words) “iPhone photos suck”. Many journalists mistakenly thought Instagram’s value (which later took tangible form in the famous $1bn price tag) was all about its filters, rather than its huge user base and the shareability it had introduced to photography.
But look at the photos of the users on Instagram’s suggested list now and you’ll see that not many of them are using Instagram’s filters. Almost all of them do have some editing (because, yes, most iphone photos do suck), but they look like either minor tweaks in one of the many editing suites around (eg Snapseed or Filter Storm) or they use more understated filters like VSCO’s. The desired look seems to be desaturated, spacious and unhurried: the sort of look you might find in the annual report of a bathroom fittings manufacturer. Out is the sort of in-your-face look you’d get with Instagram’s X-Pro or Lo-Fi filters. I’d love to see the stats for how many pictures now use Instagram filters compared with a couple of years ago (I’m sure someone at Instagram HQ has given the powerpoint on that one already - did someone at that meeting suggest they dump them completely?). But while most of us lost interest in applying their filters a long time ago, it definitely looks like Instagram itself is now bored of them too.
Where have all the Instagram filters gone?
Socrates, Quavers and photography
I heard then on the great Mount of PetaPixels that a woman of great learning has declared that photographic images, or the begetting thereof, diminishes the powers of memory in the begetter. This declaration recalls, if of memory we are now speaking, in my own mind, words similarly spoken about other forms of representation.
Do you perhaps speak of the memory-diminishing power of words?
I do Socrates. Words, I believe, spoken by yourself.
You speak the truth, Gray. I’d almost forgotten about that.
And perhaps you may also have forgotten the benefits of the written word, most particularly, words written on a list when we went shopping in Wilkinsons when your good wife had requested you buy bird seed but your mind was distracted by the 2-for-1 offers in the batteries section?
Once again, Gray, you speak the truth. From my mind these events had completely slipped until your words recalled them, as if an errant dog wandering in a forest by a whistle. But the memories of these events are now as if yapping at my ankles.
And your written words that day in Wilkinsons recalled to you that seed that nourishes the birds, and thereby pleases your good wife, without which your purchases may only have comprised 20 AAA batteries and a giant pack of Quavers. And, tell me, did you not that day beget a photo of said pack of Quavers, so impressed were you by the essence of its giantness?
Correct, Gray. I have the same said photo here on my tablet. It does indeed capture the true essence of giantness. Looking at it recalls to me that evening with my wife watching Strictly, as we consumed pack after pack of Quavers, the giant pack seemingly never-ending so giant was it. Twas the episode when Craig Revel Horwood gave the rarest of 10 scores and Darcy Bustle was wearing that awful tweed jacket with that gold necklace. I can see every detail in my mind’s eye.
Once again, like a dog yapping around your ankles?
This is true, Gray, like that dog yapping.
And now, Socrates, since we have agreed these matters, we can decide the others.
Don’t forget the bird seed
Gray’s Anatoly: Call me a bad loser…
I recently received the catalogue from the Taylor-Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition through the post. It includes all the winning photos currently being shown in the National Portrait Gallery. It doesn’t include any of mine, which weren’t selected. The voice in my head as I write this is that of Charlie Brooker, who is one of the subjects in the exhibition. Which brings me to my first gripe. It seems to me that you have a very good chance of being chosen if your portrait is of someone famous (or even just fairly famous, as in Brooker’s case). If it’s The Queen of England or the Head of the United Nations, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll get in, even if your photo is underexposed, out of focus and has a coffee cup stain on it. Celeb faces will get the punters in the door and they also mean the photographer must already be relatively well-established, which means the judges are on safe territory if they pick them.
So to my second gripe. At the risk of revealing myself to be embarrassingly out of touch with high-end photographic intelligentsia, this collection of photos exhibits a very narrow range of human emotion. Seriously, people just aren’t that serious. Even if you ascribe to the questionable blank-expression theory (I don’t: in my view, a blank expression is still an expression), the fact that 90% of the photographers exhibited do makes for a monotonous visual and human experience. Especially in the pictures where you just know the subjects have been told “Stop smiling!” by the photographer, the resulting images become so cliched as to be laughable (well, we would if it were allowed).
And finally, and speaking of cliches, here’s a bit of a cheap (though irresistible) shot. The red-head thing was already a massive cliche (according to the Portrait Salon, a group of photographers that celebrates the 99% of submissions rejected by the official Taylor Wessing jury), yet the judges seem to have gone the other way, as if to spite the mockers. This year’s exhibition is not only peppered with red heads, there are no fewer than three sets of red-headed twins. Are they doing it on purpose just to make people laugh? Say cheese!
Quick demo of Decim8, a real creative goldmine, using photo of David Byrne
Demo of spot-healing tool in Handy Photo.
Gray’s Anatoly: Fishy Images
I wonder if anyone said “Nice capture!” or “Awesome catch!” to Cartier-Bresson. These days they’re comments you see a lot on the photo-sharing platforms. A while back, I didn’t really like the terms “capture” and “catch”. For me, it sounded too much like fishing. I much preferred “nice shot”, like golf, or clay-pigeon shooting. (I’ve never been fishing or clay-pigeon shooting). But I’ve seen the comment so much that it’s grown on me and it got me thinking about the similarities between taking photos and fishing.
I was thinking about it more when I started using the new iPhone 5S. Its new burst function takes around 10 frames per second. If normal photo-taking is like fishing, this feels like trawler fishing, I thought. The first time I used it was in a crowded Portobello Road market. I held up my phone, walked forward into a sea of people, and kept my finger on the button. With the 4S, I’d have got 4 or 5 frames, by tapping repeatedly. Now I can get 40 or 50. My net comes up full of fishy images. I don’t think Cartier-Bresson would have approved.
So is it too easy to get good catches now? Well, you still have to decide where a good spot will be to lower your photographic net. And you still have decide to what depth to lower it and when. And you still have to decide what your best fishy image is, when you sift through the many sometimes infinitesimally different pictures that you capture, looking for that killer one, that decisive image, or “moment”, as Apple are calling them now. Come to think of it, that’s one modern term Cartier-Bresson might have liked.
Fishing for images in Portobello market