Tag Archives: art

Painting with Light

Leaf Light Painting

It’s been a bit longer than I intended to be with my next post but I have been busy and sometimes real life can pull you away from the digital one. So what have I been up to? I’ve been exploring the world of Skillpages which is a sort of Freelance directory where you can put your skills up and also put out opportunities for other Freelancers a kind of open market which so far has not appeared to generated much by way of traffic but I am not really sure what is expected of me in order to create interest. The thing about all this Social Media is it is great for getting the word out if you spend all your time on it updating and posting, but if you also want to be out in the world doing what you do and not constantly attached to your smart phone it can be tricky to keep the momentum going I think.

Anyway while being out and about in the world I have been doing some experimental work with my photographs, a friend of mine sent me a youtube link of a guy demonstrating how he ‘paints with light’ (his website is at http://americanprideandpassion.com ) it was fascinating to me. When I was just starting out with my camera before digital cameras were about. I remember watching a TV programmer about the history of photography and one of the historians being interviewed using exactly the same phrase it instantly caught my imagination and I have been taking photographs with that in mind ever since. So to see this technique was really exciting for me and I have been experimenting with it and getting more and more of an idea of how to use it myself. It has been great fun and taken a fair bit of time but always worth it.


SJ 1992


This is one of my earliest portraits and still today one of my favorites, there is a lot of story behind this image for me and every time I look at this image it reminds me of the warmth and admiration I have for this woman. When I first began working on photographing people it was uncomfortable for me I would often find myself apologizing for the intrusion of my camera on their lives and space. It wasn’t until this image that I really got what portraits were for me.

Instinctively when I began to photograph people I tried to make myself invisible, what I wanted to capture was not their camera face or mask but the expression of their faces without the tension often visible when people know they are being captured on film. I was like a thief stealing moments from them, it helped that when I started I was photographing people performing who had been instructed to ignore the camera. This didn’t however translate very well outside of that environment. When I tried to photograph people outside of that space in the same way it was often uncomfortable for both them and me. I would hover around trying to be unobtrusive taking images of them when they weren’t expecting it which would often end in me giving up because I felt their discomfort or they would ask me not to shoot them. The images I produced as a result of those encounters were often tense and closed and lacked the quality I was looking for. Over time I became more and more reluctant to photograph people and honed my skills on things which didn’t care if I was there or not like buildings or flowers.

Then in the early 90’s while I was experimenting in my home with camera techniques that required me to shoot someone moving. I managed to cajole my flat mate to help me out by walking from one end of the room to the other. As a general rule she didn’t like being photographed but something in our interaction changed the way she behaved in front of the camera and I went for it and just asked her to sit on a stool and let me take her portrait. The image here is my favorite of the series and the only one I have left sadly. Looking back at that interaction I realized that what I had with her which I hadn’t had before was a connection to her as a person and not just a subject I was photographing. In the time we spent playing about trying to get a sense of movement in the images before, she and I had built a trust, we were interacting with each other and as a result of that interaction the camera and I were no longer intruders, but participants.

I took that lesson back out into the world to see if it would translate to other people, instead of attempting sneak attacks with my camera I came out from behind the lens. I took the time to talk and connect with the people I was photographing, learned about what they were doing, how they were feeling, what things they were going for at the time. I found that more and more the images I captured of the people I connected with had that open relaxed quality I was looking for, they were willing to allow me to see them and not hide behind a camera face. Now when I go to take portraits it is about getting to know the person in front of the lens and what they are going for, trying to get a sense of who they are and getting that to shine through in their image. Capturing for them what they want to show the world.


Street Art Amsterdam 2010

Today I thought I’d talk about how I got started. I was 17 and growing up in a rough part of town, drifting a bit, when I came across an ad to join a Youth Theater. I decided to give it a go and found myself in a rather spectacular project being run by someone who turned out to be quite a visionary, though I was too young at the time to really understand that. His vision was to not just give young people in deprived areas a chance at a life in performance but also an experience of the whole spectrum. I was very introverted and was relieved to find that I didn’t have to perform on stage (though I did a few times) but that I could be involved in the behind the scenes work. During my time with them I was involved in set construction, lighting design,rigging and operation and recording rehearsals either with video or still photography. I had access to my first 35mm camera and the guy I worked with was studying photography at UCL so he really knew what photography was about compared to me. I learned about framing and composition, how to develop and expose my own prints, I was hooked!

So where does the graffiti come in? My fellow photographer was obsessed with photographing it, he had made contacts with local graff artists and he would record their pieces. We would spend afternoons going through his many books on pieces it was fantastic and gave me a real appreciation for the work and imagination of the artists. People don’t often get to see the work that goes into the pieces that get created often they just see the tags ( a name scribbled on a wall ) and think that is all there is to it, but there are some really talented people out there with something to say about what is going in the world for them, I as a young person found it inspiring. I wasn’t in any way attracted to the idea of doing it myself but I did become interested in recording it with my friend and when there were events or spaces where artists got together to do a piece I would tag along and take some stills. Now a days a lot has changed in the world of street art, we have people who sticker, stencil, tile and those who still graff and I still love to wander around and see whats out there. It’s a fascinating arena full of some really exciting and gutsy people some of whom want to communicate something meaningful about their experience and their environment. I don’t hang out with graffiti artists anymore but I do still love to photograph their work when I come across it.

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