History of Fashion Photography – Page 3 – Norman Parkinson, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Erwin Blumenfeld, Richard Avedon

Photographs by Norman Parkinson, Lillian Bassman and Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Fig 9-12

Norman Parkinson, (born in 1913) a contemporary of Beaton, also photographed the beau monde during the twenties and thirties, but, as he explains, with certain differences:

“I was hardly aware of other photographers’ work until I went to Harper’s, when I learnt about Steichen, Hoyningen-Huene, Durst and Beaton. But the women in their photographs were a rarefied few, an elitist handful. My women behaved quite differently – they drove cars, went shopping, had children and kicked the dog. I wanted to capture that side of women. I wanted them out in the fields jumping over the haycocks – I did not think they needed their knees bolted together. There was always room in a magazine for the scent-laden marble-floored studios with lilies falling out of great bowls of flowers. but there was also room for my sort of photography.”

(Norman Parkinson Lifework, page 35).

A good example of this type of portrayal are the next two pictures, both taken by Norman Parkinson in 1937. The first one (Fig. 9) has an irresistible quality of exuberance, 1930s style and femininity about it, but why is the image so successful? It would have been difficult to pose the models carefully, though the photographer might have asked them to ‘act out’ seeing someone on another boat, and waving.

In any case, the three poses are complementary, the left hand model is holding her left arm vertically, the middle one holding her left arm horizontally, index finger pointing upwards, the right hand model has a relaxed, leaning pose. The outstretched leg of the left hand model reaches over to the far side, close to the leaning model. The effect of the wind, the sense of movement and shifting balance, gives the image great dynamism, added to by the swathe of foam stretching from the bottom right to near the top left. But by what means was the photographer able to attain this pleasing arrangement in such unpredictable circumstances? Perhaps the gift of the photographer is to click the shutter exactly the right time:

“I was using, on location, my by-now faithful Graflex quarter plate camera, and was trying to make moving pictures with a still camera. many photographers who attempt this technique have come to realize that if you see on the ground glass the image you are striving for, and it is a moving or air-borne image, you are too late. The secret is to direct the shot and to have the luck to anticipate it. It was discovering that I had the exceptional good fortune to be able to do so that convinced me and I was hooked for all time on photography.”

(Norman Parkinson Life Work page 28)
Interestingly, the eyes of the middle model are exactly level with the horizon, and this is also a characteristic of the second picture by Norman Parkinson, showing a woman walking along a country track. The eyes are level with the horizon, adding an extra element of horizontality to the image. Again, the converging diagonals of the lane, going out of focus as they stretch into the distance give a sense of movement, added to by the brisk walk of the model. The pose is full of confidence. She looks directly to her right, along the line of the horizon, striding forward towards the camera.

The movement of the body and the texture of the material act together to dynamically portray the clothes.

A familiar and recurring issue in fashion photography, and perhaps photography in general, is the dichotomy between ‘realism’ and ‘artificiality’. At any one time, both have been in currency. The outdoor shots of Norman Parkinson were being made at about the same time as the posed and stylised studio works of Hoyningen-Huene. One photographer whose work was more at the romantic and impressionistic end of the spectrum was Lillian Bassman, a protégee of the legendary Alexei Brodovitch at Harpers, New York.

This image, (above, lower left) dating from 1949, and entitled ‘New York’, is timeless, almost contemporary in its look. With the depiction of a corset, we can see a return to more traditional, romantic vision of femininity. The image looks as if it was exposed sharp in the camera, but given a soft-focus effect at printing. There is slight double exposure, with probable use of a diffusing filter, or possibly an additional exposure was made out of focus. The pose has a sweeping sense of movement, the face and upper body are tipping forwards, the arms are pulling the strings backwards and upwards. The waist is tightly, painfully drawn in, to the extent that it looks unnaturally narrow. The tightness is contrasted with the looseness of the four hanging straps.

A moment is caught in time by the camera, a fleeting glimpse echoed by the reflection in the mirror.

At first the image looks primarily decorative, but in addition to beauty of form, a powerful feeling of constriction is expressed. Perhaps the fact that the photographer is female made her better able to empathise with how it feels to wear a corset.

Like Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe also worked for Harpers Bazaar, and not long after her arrival at the magazine in 1935, was one of the first to use one-shot Kodachrome, which had just been brought onto the market. Many of her pictures feature swimwear fashion, and have a relaxed and luxurious feel, with tall, slim models in elegant, outstretched poses.

This shot by Louise Dahl-Wolfe (Fig. 12, above, lower right), made in 1950, has an attractive period feel due to the combined effect of the early fifties swimsuit style, and the yellowness of the colour balance, typical of early colour film. A familiar hallmark of this photographer is the reclining female model, the repeated curves of her body, and of the swimsuit material, set against the screen.

A rough division into vertical and horizontal thirds is visible. The bowl of fruit with tumbling exotic flowers recalls a still life. As if to contrast with the image by Hoyningen-Huene of the chic couple in swimsuits in an imaginary and unspecified location, this one is taken in a real-life place, as indicated by the map of Tunisia. The point of the star appears to indicate the exact place, a nice, cryptic touch.

The one photographer who more than any other came to symbolise the new direction which fashion photography took after the Second World War is Richard Avedon, who was born in 1923. He has been a leading figure in the world of photography since 1945, and is still active. He gained his first professional photographic experience in the Merchant Marine, taking ID photos. It was the innovative, ‘in-and-out-of-focus’ style of his shots of merchant seamen twins that caught the eye of Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexei Brodovitch, and persuaded him to try some fashion photos for the magazine. Soon, Avedon came to be regarded as the number one young photographer, creator of the ‘NewVision’.

Junior Bazaar, a separate edition, aimed at young people, ran for 3 years up till 1948, and featured a new brand of fresh and innovative photography, much of it contributed by Avedon. In its use of movement, the ‘in-and-out-of-focus’ effect, motion blur, cropping and the plain white background, we can see in this picture, (Fig.13 above top left) shot using Kodachrome, a startling break with many of the basic principles of photographers like Hoynignen-Huene, who by the time this photo was published, had given up fashion photography altogether.

Despite the apparently casual nature of the arrangement of the figures, the effect is very pleasing, and has a strong sense of circular, dance-like motion, a theme alluded to in the text. The profile of the model on the left forms a dark, chevron-like shape, pointing to the right – (the line of the back and rear of the dress forms a perfect arrow shape). The model is leaning back, looking up and laughing, whilst standing still, meanwhile the model further away is leaning forward, looking down whilst moving. The background model is looking down at the same angle as the foreground model is looking up. To balance the composition on the page, two leaf-shaped areas of dark colour have been added, again fitting in with the text. All in all, it is an attractive, vibrant image, which, at least in the case of the foreground model, shows off the clothes very well.

His style is described succinctly by Cecil Beaton and Gail Buckland:

“His pictures showed young ladies enjoying life to the full as they preened and jumped with joy in their Paris confections. Avedon’s photographs did not perhaps have technical perfection, and they were all the better for this, for they created the statement that he wished to make-of movement caught forever by his lens.”

The Magic Image, page 252

Fashion photos by Richard Avedon, Erwin Blumenfeld and David Bailey

Fig.13-16

Dovima with Elephants (Fig. 14 above right) is one of his most celebrated pictures. The image is well-crafted, but its main appeal seems to be that it was the first time anyone had taken a high fashion model together with elephants. It had a certain shock value. Richard Avedon’s modernism, had sweeping effect on photography, and there was a consequent rejection of the earlier, more ‘classical’ style:

“By 1945, Hoynignen-Huene’s stiff, formal poses, perfectly attuned to the Neo-classicism of the 1930’s, suddenly seemed anachronistic…The most devastating critique of Hoyningen-Huene’s photography was delivered in 1944 by Dr Agha (formerly Hoyningen-Huene’s art director at Vogue) who described it as ‘a cross between stagecraft, interior decoration, ballet and society portrait painting done by camera.’ ”

Perhaps there is a parallel with the Post War Modernism in other areas of creativity, such as architecture, where older styles were thrown out, to be replaced by bold, but in hindsight unsuccessful creations. I personally have a very high regard for the ‘classical style’ of the 1930’s but I also like the exuberance of the post war period. Each style has its place. No successful artist or photographer should be rejected because of the dictates of fashion. In a Post Modern age, all styles of the past are available in the present to be drawn on.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) was an experimenter in photography, who made creative use of colour and lighting. This picture (Fig. 15 above lower left) shows a remarkable use of texture and colour. A finished print appears to have been rephotographed with a series of coloured transparent bars placed on top of it. The effect is to play tricks on the eye, forcing us to look more closely in order to try and make sense of what we are seeing.

As if to confuse matters further, curled strips of cellophane have been added. The incorrect, but very attractive colour balance, typical of early Kodachrome, adds to the image’s appeal. Though the model’s face is cut into a series of distorted vertical strips, she still manages to look beautiful, at least, our eyes are able to reconstruct her beauty by applying our innate knowledge – maybe if this image was presented to a computer facial recognition system, it mightn’t be able to recognise a face there at all!

The combination of a familiar subject viewed in a jarring and unfamiliar way is, for me, like being a child again, discovering new textures and lighting effects for the first time – I remember being especially fascinated with coloured transparent materials, as well as metallic reflective surfaces.

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Remembering Kodachrome – Commentary by Aidan O’Rourke

I took this photograph in 1981 my final year at university. I was lucky enough to get a summer job at the CIEE student travel office in the YMCA West 34th Street New York.

With the money I saved, I bought my first SLR camera a Fujc STX-1 at a shop near Times Square. It cost $70 I was experimenting with the camera and decided to try out long shutter speeds.

This was my very first time exposure in the camera. I had a roll of Kodachrome 25. I propped the camera up on the window ledge of my tiny room and pointed it down at the street. I set the aperture to f-16 and the shutter to the bulb setting.

I tried different shutter speeds probably 2s, 10s and 30s. This one must have been 30 seconds. we can see the red light trails of cars heading downtown along 9th Avenue. There’s a blue police car parked on the left-hand side and further up, a yellow Caprice Classic taxi.

It really was like being in a movie. The façade is lit up by the intense red of the Market Diner neon signs. Both film and digital have difficulty with red and so there are very few details and the light seems very intense.

The diner and its surroundings have the look of an Edward Hopper painting and look how the tree branches are blurred because they’re blowing in the wind. On the right there’s a British Austin 1100.

In the upper left are the tracks and overhead cables from Penn Station. The sign says ‘park fast’ – typical New York. When the package from Kodak arrived in the post a couple of weeks later, I tore it open and looked at the slides.

This one was one of my favourites. Nothing can replace the excitement of your early experiments in photography, but I can’t help feeling at photography has lost something with the demise of Kodachrome.

Why it’s still important to understand Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

It’s important to understand the information the camera is giving you.

As part of every photo walk I do and every private tuition session in photography I give, I deliver my ‘should-be-patented’ one-hour lesson in Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

Many photography manuals and tutors completely ignore this fundamental aspect of photography because, they say “you don’t need to understand it” or perhaps “today’s cameras make it unnecessary” or perhaps “it’s a bit too technical for most people, so not worth bothering with.”

I have just one word to say to that, and I won’t use it here! If you want to progress in photography and achieve the results you desire, then you have to understand what is going on when light enters the camera and how the camera deals with the light.

The only way you can understand this properly is to take some time to focus, use your mind, think and make sense of this important principle of photography.

Actually, it is not difficult, rather it’s confusing, because there are confusing and often counter-intuitive sets of numbers. Many people are put off by numbers and other aspects of maths. I had a problem with maths when I was a child, but through my interest in photography, I appreciate it’s not so difficult and it is very relevant to day to day life and especially to photography.

I’ve been teaching photography on a regular basis since around 2009, when I was asked to do an evening class in photography. I needed a diagram or chart to help me explain the basic principles of photography and I came up with the photography crib card which I have used countless times. I give people free copies of the card in in my photo walks and one-to-one photography sessions.

I use it as part of my one-hour lesson in photography and people find it very useful.

I don’t have enough time in this blog post to explain the card in detail. For that you would need to attend a photo walk or course. However I will set out some bullet points about why it’s important to understand Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

  • The camera gives you information on the back of the screen. You need to understand this information, just as you need to understand your car’s speedometer and rev counter.
  • Photographic exposure is a fundamental principle of photography. Every person who takes photographs should try to understand it better.
  • The principle of exposure is not difficult, it’s just confusing. By going through my chart step by step, it’s possible for people to gain a much better understanding in a short space of time.
  • Learning Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO is similar to learning to spell in your native language, or learning the times tables in Maths. Yes, we have apps and calculators, but better to try and get it right in your head.
  • It requires some mental effort and a bit of self-discipline to learn this basic principle but it’s worth it. The insight you will gain will give you a sense of satisfaction. Even if it wasn’t helpful to photography, it’s a worthwhile thing to do.
  • The fact is that many professional photographer and people tutoring in photography have a poor understanding of exposure don’t realise how important it is. That’s the only reason I can think of, why it is omitted in photography manuals and courses.
  • As well as learning an interesting and essential principle of photography, you will also learn my unique approach to using the camera in Manual Mode. I use this approach whenever I am working in unusual lighting conditions. It’s easy to learn and of immediate practical use.
  • Even experienced photographers find the crib card, my explanation of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO as well as my unique approach to using the camera in Manual Mode to be very useful as it approaches a familiar subject from a different angle.

My 6×4 inch exposure crib card

My Exposure Crib Card is an item from my Mediathek – (pronounced ‘media – teck’, like discotheque) that’s the word I use to refer my Media Library, which contains a growing collection of material on the subjects I teach, including photography.

I am developing an online course on understanding Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO and I hope to have it ready soon.

You can support what I’m doing and gain access to exclusive materials from my media library by sponsoring me on Patreon. It’s possible to receive a printed copy of the Exposure crib card in the mail, with a personalised welcome message from me. Go to http://www.patreon.com/aidanorourke to find out more.

The beauty of the baths captured on the Victoria Baths Photo Workshop

Angel at Victoria Baths by Chris Currie
I’ve been running the Victoria Baths Photography Workshop for a few years now and have welcomed a large number of people, ranging from complete beginners in photography to highly experienced professional photographers. The age range is very wide as well, from teenagers to octogenarians.

Every time I run the workshop, I see something in the Baths that I’ve not seen before – not with my own eyes but through the camera viewfinders of the people on the workshop.

The aim of the workshop is to give people the opportunity to photograph this amazing building. I’m on hand to chat to people, giving tips where needed and also asking questions. There’s no formal instruction due to the widely differing levels of the participants.

I normally chat individually to each person on the workshop for ten minutes or so. There are normally between 7 and 10 people attending.

I always look through the photos on each person’s camera screen to gain an idea of what they have been photographing. I give positive feedback and suggestions for improvement. I also look at photos and say things like: ‘Wow, I wish I’d taken that!’ and ‘You’re very talented, aren’t you?’ or perhaps ‘That’s incredible, look at this everybody!’

I’ll also give them a task to complete, for instance making use of exposure compensation and asking them to do a series of bracketed shots to show me later.

The workshop that took place on Sunday 9 June followed the usual format: Start at 10am in the Turkish Baths rest area, by the magnificent stained glass window. Participants then go and explore the building. I chat to each one individually. We then meet at 12pm to go up the ‘secret’ staircase to the abandoned rooms at the top of the building. After 30-40 minutes we return to the ground floor and go to the canteen to chat.

This time I found some of the photos taken by the participants to be so impressive, I decided to do a write-up and showcase their photographs.

So here is a selection of images, sent in by people. I asked them to pick out three of their best images, particularly the ones I had praised on the day. I chose two images for each photographer who got back to me, and what follows is my critique of the photos.

Victoria Baths light switch by Emily PIckering 9.6.2019

This photo by Emily Pickering of a light switch and torn wallpaper really captures the atmosphere of the abandoned rooms on the top floor, which we always visit on the Victoria Baths Photography Workshop. She has caught the textures and details very well. She has placed the switch in the lower right of the frame, leaving room to display the wallpaper layers, patterns and colours at the top of the image.

Victoria Baths stained glass windows by Emily Pickering 9.6.2019

Emily Pickering has captured the stained glass windows superbly in this image. Very often, with stained glass, you have to underexpose the image in order to make sure the colours look saturated. The camera’s exposure meter will often photograph coloured stained glass wrongly. Often it makes the glass too light.  By making use of the Exposure Compensation setting on the camera, Emily has achieved the ideal exposure – not too dark and not too light. The viewpoint, from slightly to one side, gives a hint of spontaneity.

Victoria Baths stained glass window on the stairs by Maggie Malyszko

Maggie Malyszko took this excellent shot of the ‘sunrise’ window on the stairs. She has adopted a different viewpoint from most. She is looking from behind the staircase through the gap, giving a sense of an observer. This viewpoint creates an unusual pattern and composition in the image. The strong verticals and dark tones give a sense of mystery and atmosphere.

Victoria Baths corridor by Maggie Malyszko - 9.6.2019

Maggie Malyszko’s photo of the door and corridor is another superbly composed image. She has placed the part-open door in just the right position so that we can see through it, and so that the door at the far end of the corridor falls inside the middle pane of glass. Having a foreground element like this placed at the front gives a sense of depth. The textures of the wood, the shiny tiles and the marks on the out of focus windows give extra visual interest. She has placed the light on the wall in the upper left exactly inside the curve in the door. Great composition!

Victoria Baths abandoned rooms by Richard Waldock 6.9.2019

Richard Waldock created this very enigmatic image in the abandoned rooms at the top of the building. Eventually these rooms will be converted into apartments though at the time of writing – June 2019 – this is still a long way off. In the meantime the peeling ceilings and torn wallpaper will continue to fascinate visiting photographers on the Victoria Baths Photography Workshop. What’s disturbing about the image is that it looks almost as if there is a human form under the dark blanket. Lighting and composition are very good.

Victoria Baths bathtub by Richard Wadock 9.6.2019

Chris Currie has adopted an unusual viewpoint for this shot of the bath in the abandoned rooms. He has reduced the composition down to two areas of grey wall at the top and the white of the bath in the lower part, with taps, holes and stained sides. The wide angle lens has magnified the edges of the bath. It’s as if we are sitting in it ourselves, (though thankfully no legs are visible, unlike in those ‘me on the beach’ photos!). Of all the photos taken of that bath I’ve never seen one quite like this! All credit is due to the photographer!

Angel at Victoria Baths by Chris Currie

This image by Chris Currie shows that simply by adopting a different viewpoint, you can create an image that’s unique and with a lot of visual impact. He has re-interpreted the angel in the stained glass windows by moving to a low position and looking upwards. The shallow depth of field has made the stained glass out of focus in the upper and lower parts of the image. This works well as it adds a sense of depth, and the out of focus effect is visually pleasing.

Victoria Baths stairs and tiles - Richard Waldock

Richard Waldock took this photograph on the stairs near the main entrance. In any other building, the question in the viewer’s mind might be: ‘What made him take that photo?’ but in the Victoria Baths, every inch of the building is photogenic. The hand rail takes a zig zag path from top left to bottom right, and the reflections in the shiny green tiles are pleasing to the eye.

Victoria Baths sunlight and shadow, 9.6.2019

Laura Gritti took this photo in the abandoned rooms on the top floor. In this part of the building, objects lie on the floor for no apparent reason and can be used as subject matter for photography. Here a section of pipe and a meter provide an interesting focus, lit up by the direct sunlight through the windows, which cast a pattern on the floor. It’s a well composed image and quite enigmatic.

Victoria Baths main pool motion blue by Laura Gritti - 9.6.2019

Laura Gritti took this shot of the Gala pool, looking across towards the changing cubicles and the balcony above.  She has placed the ‘water 4 and a half feet deep’ sign on the left and just passing underneath, a man walking towards the right. She has used a slow shutter speed – I would estimate about one quarter of a second. The image is well composed with almost perfect horizontals. The picture is mostly static, but the moving figure provides a dynamic element. She pressed the shutter at just the right moment, when the guy was just in front of one of the red and white striped curtains.  A great example of  ‘le moment juste’ – the right moment – to press the shutter.

All in all I was very impressed with the photographs taken by this group. Every photographer who enters the Victoria Baths comes away with something unique, something memorable. This is a building that likes having its photo taken!

If you’d like to come on the Victoria Baths Photography Workshop, just get in contact with me directly and I will reserve a place for you.

Please visit my information page on the Victoria Baths Photography Workshop.

Is it time to go back to film? 7 reasons to use analog photography

I made my Back to Film video (above) in 2018 in response to a comment I received an earlier video feature I did 2014 on the subject of Kodachrome (see below).

Set against a slide show of my favourite film photos from 1981 to 2018, I explore the reasons why film is still an important and viable photographic medium.

I urge people to try using film because of its special qualities and because it’s important to gain experience with the old technology if you want to fully experience photography.

I make the important point that it’s not a choice between digital and ‘analog’ (I’m not keen on this word, hence the quotation marks!). In fact the two can be used together. I don’t advocate going back exclusively to film and ditching digital altogether.

A film camera can be an extra means of capturing photographs in addition to your digital cameras.

Here’s the script as well as a selection of the film photos I featured in the video.

I first discovered the power of photography in my final year at university in Dublin, when a friend lent me an Olympus Trip and I went on my first early morning city photoshoot. In the camera was a roll of Kodachrome 64 film. It was a magical experience.

I chose Kodachrome slide film because of its rich colours and fine grain and because I wanted to take more than just snapshots.

inspired by the classic photographers of the past, I wanted to capture the city in all its colours and shades. I became fascinated by the glamour of photography, cameras and the magic of film.

It’s amazing how much detail can be caught within the emulsion of that tiny 36x24mm film transparency.

I continued my photographic journey in New York, where I bought my first camera – a Fujica STX-1 – in a camera shop near Times Square. It cost me 70 dollars.

I started to experiment with exposure and composition. I taught myself photography from this book, the Complete Photographer by Andreas Feininger.

In 2009 Kodachrome ceased production and I made a video about it, featuring this photo. Someone replied and said ‘ Why don’t you try using film again and make a video about it?’. And so in this video I’m going to ask the question:

Is it time to go back to film?

7 reasons to use analogue photography.

And by the way I don’t like the word ‘analogue’.

And so my first reason to use film is…

1 – Film has a special quality.
There is something about the quality of the colours graininess that’s quite different from digital. There are filters that try to emulate film, some digital cameras are designed to look like film cameras, but why not use the real thing?

Reason number 2 – Film and digital work well together.
You can capture on film, scan the film and enhance in digital. I did that for six years before going mainly digital in 2000. It’s fun to transform film images in Photoshop, easy to correct colour casts and there are filters to remove dust and scratches.

3 – You can become a better photographer by using film
Using a film camera encourages discipline, patience and self-confidence. The pleasure of viewing is delayed. There’s no instant gratification. With 12, 24 or 36 frames, each photo is precious.

Reason to use film number 4 – You will set yourself apart from most other photographers.
Your pictures won’t have that ‘digital’ look. And your film camera will attract attention. It’s a talking point. By using a film camera you are helping to keep our photographic heritage alive.

Reason number 5 – Film cameras are inexpensive.
It’s tragic but equipment that used to cost a fortune is now available at a very cheap price. Manchester I went to the Real Camera Company in and got an excellent quality Olympus OM10.

6) You will learn a lot about photography.
You’ll see the aperture, f numbers and the shallow depth of field. The viewfinder is big and bright with split image focusing. You might find loading the film is difficult at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Taking photographs with a film camera has a purity and simplicity about it and you’ll love the sound of the shutter. I always look at the back of the camera and realise this is a film camera. Today’s digital cameras are a hybrid, they use digital technology to capture and store the images, but everything else is inherited from film.

Reason number 7 – It’s cheap and easy to have the film developed and scanned.
I used a mail order service. The scans are available to download in a day or two. You’ll receive the film strips and prints, which are more secure than images stored on a hard drive.

So is it time to ditch digital and go back to film? No, of course not. Digital is today’s technology. The quality is good, the cost per image is very low.

But if you’re really want to experience photography to the full, then you need to try film. Really it’s just alternative form of image capture and storage.

If you’d like to learn photography, film or digital I’d love to help you. Take a look at my one-to-one tuition, photo walks and other resources. I’m proud to say, many people give them as a present.

So thanks very much for watching and I’ll see you again soon.

Review of Manchester Photographer Jon Parker-Lee

Seamus Heaney - photo by Jon Parker-Lee

 
Jon Parker-Lee has been active as a photographer in Manchester since 1993. An exhibition in November/December 2013 at the basement venue 2022 in Manchester’s Northern Quarter celebrated his 20 years in the photography business.

I attended the opening night and was very impressed with the variety, style and high technical quality of the photographs. He told me he had picked them at random using a pin, but to me these photos look like they have been carefully chosen.

I’ve singled out ten of them and I’ve written something about each one. Hopefully this will inspire photography students to learn from Jon’s work and to go out, experiment and develop a style of their own.

As I often say ‘try to capture the intrinsic quality of the subject’ and the here, the portrait of the late Seamus Heaney seems to do just that. The poet stares with narrow eyes into the camera, white haired and dressed in a suit and tie. He has gravitas, and the photo reflects that, with its dramatic lighting from the upper right, casting deep shadows.

Attention is concentrated on the face by the use of a wide aperture – the camera was set to f/1.4 – throwing the background out of focus. The wide aperture is probably essential as the light is low, and the background is almost, but not quite black. It’s just a series of blurred shapes that could be a wall or a wooden cabinet. The setting is Manchester University.

Most interestingly, the subject is placed off centre to the right. The empty area to the left leaves space for the poetic imagination.
Martin Amis

A similar attitude towards space can be seen in the portrait of the author Martin Amis. He stands on the left with a serious expression, set against a striped wooden background. The light is coming from the right, casting deep shadows to the left. The picture is not very sharp. The aperture was f/1.4. Only the eyes are in focus. As no flash was used, there are no catch lights in the eyes, giving an enigmatic quality.

JPL-Millibands

The photo of the Miliband brothers at the Labour Party conference was taken under difficult circumstances. This was just after the moment when he was voted party leader. The photographer had to act quickly in order to be in the right position to get the shot. There was no time for composition or lighting but the photo still catches something very important. The hands seem more expressive than the faces. To capture an image like this you have to be able to move quickly and you must be on top of the technical side of photography. The aperture was f/4 and shutter speed 1/80th of a second.

Amadou and Mariam

To record the essence of the subject you often have to capture the essence of their working environment. Jon photographed music stars Amadou and Mariam at the New Century Hall before their Concert in the Dark at the Manchester International Festival in 2009. Jon has depicted them small in the frame, placed against an almost totally black background. Only a small amount of light shines on them. They are both wearing dark glasses, and most of the picture is black. A paparazzi style photo taken outside the venue with a flash would not have captured the essence of the subject, as this image does.

BBC Easter Passion - Photo by Jon Parker-Lee

The photo of the lead actor in the Manchester Passion play 2007 was also taken under difficult circumstances. It was near the end of the rehearsal, actor and crew were tired, but the photo is still very successful. The subject is illuminated from above by flash and the crucifix behind ls lit up from inside, providing some rim lighting on his hair and shirt. Again John has placed the subject off centre, and look how the left hand side of the head is placed midway over the left hand side of the crucifix. Even with a shot taken in the space of a couple of seconds, composition is all important. There is just about the right amount of light falling on the ground. The control of light in this image is very good indeed.

The George Best tribute image from 2005 shows the potential of ‘a photo within the photo’ but what really gives the image a lot of power is the use of diagonal shadows at the top and the bottom. The piece of chewing gum – or is it a squashed piece of Blu-Tack – is in keeping with the improvised nature of the subject.

George Best tribute - photo by Jon Parker-Lee

I’ve picked out the photo of Gill Wright, project manager at Victoria Baths, because I know her. e setting is actually quite untypical of the Baths, as the changing cabins don’t normally look like this. A single light is set up inside a cubicle in the main pool. Gill sits inside, maybe a little self-consciously, with a smile on her face. She is very slightly off centre which could be said to break the rules of composition. Actually they are not rules, they’re guidelines. Overall, the image works well.

Manc Way - Photo by Jon Parker-Lee

I love the photo of road markings on the Mancunian Way from 2004. This is the closest subject matter to mine. The viewpoint is from above, making the road look like a wall and turning the letters into graffiti lit up by the orange street lamps. The line on the right looks like an exclamation mark without the dot. Without doubt, a strong statement about Manchester.

JON_PARKER_LEE_EXHIBITION

The vigil to remember the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is lit by just a few candles and little else. John has managed to achieve a picture that is sharp and without any blur due to movement. There is just the right amount of lighting on the faces of the three people in the foreground, including Neville Ball and Betty Tebbs. In terms of composition, they make three points of a triangle. Betty Tebbs, who is wearing the anti-nuclear necklace, is the central focus of the image. A point-and-shoot photographer would probably have just used flash. This photograph shows why you often have to use available light to capture the true essence of a scene. It is not easy to achieve, but Jon has managed it here.

Gill Wright Victoria Baths

So those are my thoughts. If you’re serious about photography there is no substitute for going along to an exhibition and studying top quality framed prints by a skilled, experienced and imaginative photographer – like Jon Parker-Lee! The exhibition finished in early December 2013, but you can keep up to date with Jon Parker Lee by going to his website www.jonparkerlee.com.

Comments:
Ian Wylie @ianwylie London
@AidanEyewitness Thanks Aidan. Great photos enhanced by really interesting comments.

Four pieces of advice photographers should ignore

Manual Mode Graphic

Manual Mode is useful for a limited range of purposes

 

1) You need to use Manual mode all the time.2) You must always shoot RAW.

3) White balance should always be set manually.

4) Only shoot cities in dawn or dusk rays.

This is the first article on my relaunched Eyewitness photography blog, now focusing mainly on photography and Photoshop. I will be dealing mainly with questions and issues that arise on my photo walks and in my one-to-one photography training sessions.

In this article I’m going to take a look at four popular misconceptions about photography that I frequently encounter, and I would like to set matters straight with information and advice based on my 40+ years experience with photography, 20+ with digital photography.

First piece of advice to be ignored: You must use Manual Mode all the time

We’ll start that much quoted phrase ‘I need to get off Auto’.

Here there’s a misunderstanding about the true meaning of ‘Auto’. What is being referred to here is ‘Full Auto’, the one marked in green on most cameras.

It’s true that people should move away from using just Full Auto, but that doesn’t mean you must always use Manual Mode.

And incidentally it’s not true that professional photographers use Manual Mode all the time. They use the four main modes  -Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual – depending on the type of photographs they are taking.

In Manual Mode the camera’s Auto Exposure is switched off. The scale in the viewfinder functions as a light meter. You have complete complete control over Aperture shutter speed and ISO.

Manual Mode is useful:
A) For learning about photography – My method of ‘Using the camera as a light meter’ is a very useful approach to using Manual and I’ll talk about that in another post.

B) When you need to take a series of shots the same exposure, for instance photos for an eBay shop where the background needs to be the same in every photo.

C) For taking photos in extremely dark conditions, for instance astronomical photography and time exposures of longer than 30 seconds.

D) When you need to choose exactly what Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO you would like to have and have plenty of time to experiment.

E) In a photography studio where you are using studio lighting, either flash or continuous.

Manual on a digital camera is not suited to general photography. For instance if you are at an event or taking lots of photos one after the other, Manual Mode is simply not practical. It is too fiddly and time-consuming to adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO for each shot.

The best general-purpose camera mode is Program Auto with ISO Auto.

I’ll explain this in more detail in another blog post.

As far as Manual Mode is concerned, I know what I’m talking about! My first camera, a film camera, only had Manual Mode and I used it successfully for several years.

Second piece of advice to be ignored: Shoot RAW! Always!

Diagram RAW Sliders

Some people can’t resist the temptation to ‘tweak’ the sliders when opening a RAW file.

 

I get very annoyed when whenever I read advice like this, because it shows that whoever wrote it doesn’t have a full understanding of RAW, nor of the different requirements of the varying lighting conditions.

First of all, what is a RAW file?

RAW is a family of file formats unique to each camera manufacturer. With a RAW file, all the picture information from each shot is stored. That information includes the colour information for each pixel, plus lots of extra data. RAW files are much larger than JPEG files because all the data is kept.

The JPEG format uses the information from the RAW file and compresses it, discarding the information the human eye can’t see. It’s the equivalent to the MP3 file in audio.

Often the finished image taken with a JPEG looks no different from an image taken with a RAW file.

So why do camera manufacturers include the option of saving in RAW? Because the RAW file gives you more scope to carry out adjustments such as changing brightness and contrast.

At this point I would like to highlight an apparent contradiction in the advice we often hear.

A) You must try to get the image right in the camera so you don’t need to carry out adjustments later.

B) You must always shoot raw so that you can carry out adjustments later.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Another issue with RAW is when people become slider happy. When you open a RAW file you are presented with a set of sliders in the vast majority of photos taken in bright conditions they can be left as they are put money photographers can’t resist adjusting them often resulting in a less than satisfactory image.

The JPEG file is set to optimise brightness contrast from us images and underskilled “tweaking “of the raw sliders will result in a possibly worse over-processed image.

Okay so why should we use the raw file?

Those sliders, if skilfully used, can transform an image taken in difficult lighting.

Whilst cameras can make a good job of capturing scenes with a good range of tones, they have great difficulty in handling scenes combining very bright and very dark areas.

Please note there are limits to how much a raw file can be adjusted if the clouds are partially overexposed and you try to darken them by dragging the highlights later to the left you will get pure white patches.

Don’t get into the mentality of  “I have made a mess of the exposure but I can always correct it in RAW”

You can’t always correct it!

So my advice is:  Use the RAW file format whenever you need it and if you don’t need it, don’t use it!

Third piece of advice to ignore: Always set white balance manually!

White Balance Symbols

Auto White Balance – Tungsten – Cloudy – Sun – Shade – Fluorescent

 

All digital cameras have a white balance control and by default it’s set to Auto

But first, why do we need to have White Balance and what exactly is white balance?

White light comes in different shades but I rise are not able to distinguish between the shades for instance sunlight is at the blueish and of wight what is interior lights can often be at the more reddish side of wight are human eyesight adjusts to the different shades of white and the digital camera can do this also so if you taking pictures outside in bright sunshine the camera will adjust to ensure that the white shade of white is exactly right in the artificial lighting in doors the camera is also very well able to adjust to the shade of light to the shade of white of white light whatever the light source whether it’s halogen bulbs or low energy lightbulbs.

Under normal circumstances you do not need to set the white balance manually for these or other lighting conditions.

In some circumstances the white balance can give inaccurate results, for instance if the subject is predominantly of one colour. Here the building is reddish brown in colour but the Auto White Balance has shifted the overall colour towards blue. In this case it is appropriate to switch to White Balance ‘Shade’. This is the setting that best matches the  light in the scene.

My general advice would be to use white balance  manually when there is one predominant colour that may cause the white balance to overcompensate. Or simply check on the LCD and if it doesn’t look quite right, try a manual White Balance setting.

Most of the time, however, it can be left on Auto.

Fourth piece of advice to be ignored:  It’s best to take city photographs in the rich golden light at the end of the day

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939

 

I have photographed cities a lot, I know that this piece of advice is wrong and the reason is simple: When the sun is low in the sky, buildings cast long shadows onto other buildings. In architectural photography, shadows on facades are not a good thing.

The other reason for not photographing late in the day is that there is a reddish brown hue to the colour of the sun. This can have an effect on the mood of the picture, it’s not always the best light to take photographs of buildings.

The best time to take photos of cities in sunlight is in the middle of the day when the sun is higher in the sky and there are fewer shadows. The higher position of the sun makes the buildings look better.

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