Inside this issue
David Ward – 10 Photographs
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
T-shirt winning landscape photographer, one time carpenter, full-time workshop leader and occasional author who does all his own decorating.
Tim: We’re here with David Ward and he’s allowed us to take a look through a few of his pictures and we will be discussing a few 'pertinents' about them here and there. Is that correct?
David: I’m not sure about pertinents?
T: No. Impertinents perhaps.
D: Oh right. Impertinents? Yes, thank you.
T: And I’ve chosen a few and you’ve chosen a few, and we’re starting off with Eggum.
D:Yes, not the one in Berkshire or - I think it’s Berkshire, isn’t it? The one near Runnymede. But no! a place in Eggum in northern Norway.
T: It’s one of my favourite pictures of your recent crop; well, fairly recent. It’s about a year old, isn’t it?
D: Some are last year. Yeah... Okay, so now I’m going to ask you a question, then? Let’s turn tables.
D: Why is it one of your favourite ones?
T: Why is it one of my favourite ones...? Two reasons. One, there’s an optical illusion going on that you see the large boulder and the small boulder so there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between what you see above the surface and below the surface.
T: The other reason I like it is the highlights, the way you’ve used the passing light and the clouds to both rim light the rock and also to act as an accent behind the grasses in the top left. And I just love the colour green, as well. Astonishing.
D: Green? I suppose it’s slightly green, isn’t it?
T: Greeny cyan perhaps
D: Well, that’s what I was aiming for.
T: Well, that’s good then, isn’t it? Next picture then. It’s not going to last very long, is it ...
D: Well, it’s in a little lake behind the …a lagoon at the back of the beach in Eggum. I was with a group and we originally went there to photograph the boulders on the beach. But it was kind of miserable and grey and not very interesting so we decided that we’d walk across towards the lake to see what we could see. And the water level was really quite high because it had been fairly disgusting weather. So some of the green that you can see in the background is actually plants that would normally be on dry land but are now drowned by the rising water level. I think the grasses that are poking up out of the water would actually, normally, not be in the water. They’re not reeds.
When I first arrived, I noticed that there was this kind of halo around the rock where the sun was just brightening the sky above. It was very thin overcast. I often think that that’s kind of the worst kind of sky, really, because it’s neither one nor the other. It’s not dramatic and it’s not really doing very much but it does, of course, give even lighting conditions.
I quite liked the optical illusion, the way that the rock looks a little bit like it’s a cottage loaf or something with a small bit perched on a larger bit but it's the refraction caused by the surface of the water that does that. And I liked the…I thought there was a kind of almost Asian simplicity to the grasses and the relationship to the boulder. I also, sort of, wanted to do a different boulder shot. Cause boulders are kind of the fodder of landscape photographers and I wanted to put a slight twist on it. And I thought this was an opportunity to do that.
T: So we are impertinent then?
D: I am impertinent. Yeah. And irrelevant. Or is that irreverent?
T: So what did you spot first, was it the boulder and its optical illusion or was it the light behind it?
D: I think it was the light that I spotted first. I’d shot something a long time ago in similar sorts of conditions but I wasn’t very happy with the final image which was like this but there was a kind of very mixed overcast where sometimes you got really bright patches in the sky above.
And it did a sort of weird thing where – I don’t know how to describe it – but it separates the boulder above, in the air, from its counterpart beneath the water. It makes the surface more apparent, I suppose, …
T: Yeah. Because of the reflection.
D: But it disrupts it in a way that it doesn’t normally get disrupted. So, I recognised – I don’t know if you want call that a meme – but I recognised that as being something that I was already interested in. And then the other elements all seemed to kind of fall into place, as far as the composition went. It was fairly easy to make it come together; shot on a 210mm lens so that’s equivalent of a 70mm on a full frame DSLR or thereabouts; I realised the other day, when I was going through and checking all the information on the scans, something like 60% of my images are made on that lens. I had to wait, of course, …
T: .. the sun doesn’t naturally just sit there, continuously ...
D: No. No. So the cloud came across and there was nothing for about 25 minutes. And then it got very windy in the middle and I was just about to pack up cause you know, it’s not going to come back. All the grasses are moving and the surface isn’t still anymore. But then it did! Just long enough for me to make a couple of frames.
T: Yeah. Now, I’ve asked you before, about projects. I know the way you work, you don’t have a particular project you’re working on though you do say that groups of photographs are almost ongoing projects. The projects are these sorts of memes like we mentioned about the reflections. They’re ideas that you carry with you that get developed?
D: Yeah. I think most photographers make, what I call, accidental series because they have a set of concerns; a set of things that fascinate them. And they return to that subject or to that theme.
It doesn’t have to be a given subject. I mean, it might be more thematic. It might be about colour. It might be about energy. It might be about motion. I could be almost anything. But photographers return to those things and that’s an aspect of artists’ work in all sorts of media.
T: It is something artists have always done, isn’t it? They always echo things that weren’t done before or develop them or merge them together?
D: Yeah. It’s part of the developmental processes and it’s making variations thereon. People like Picasso had the blue period where he made a whole set of pictures that were very much constrained within a palette. I don’t work in that way. You know, he was obviously exploring a set of ideas.
Somebody said to me the other day that I had a blue period because all those images where I made of neutral coloured things in the shade with a blue sky overhead. And I did make those images but they’re interspersed with, or interposed with, a whole lot of other images which don’t really relate to them. And I think, sometimes, it’s only afterwards, when you go back and you look through the canon of work that you’ve produced that you can see the threads. I don’t find any problem in it being intuitive like that.
There is, I suppose, a strong body of opinion in the art world that people should make specific project images; that they should come up with some idea and then they should explore that idea and then they should present it as an exhibition or a book or whatever. Now for me, I don’t think that that works particularly. I would probably end up, rather than making visual poetry, making quite clunky prose - if you want to use a metaphor. If I said to myself, “Right, I’m only going to photograph this”, I think I would find that too constraining because the way I find my subjects is very much about trying to be in as receptive a state as I can. So wandering around and seeing what I can see, rather than going with an expectation of finding something in particular.
T: Yeah. I wonder if that idea of projects is actually a something that’s been emphasised through looking at history. I was looking at John Blakemore and when you do you think about his air and wind pictures and then his tulip pictures. But if you read about him, look at the dates on them, they overlap and are interspersed with each other to some extent. There would be big overlaps between one project and the next project. And so, it’s something in retrospect that they go, “Ah yeah. That was all a project that was….”
D: Almost a cataloguing artefact.
T: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
D: Yeah. You’re probably right. I’ve never checked with John about the dates on anything like that but yeah, I think you’re probably right. I think most artists are, actually, kind of under continual development. If they’ve got any self-respect, shall we say?
T: I don’t think there is a regimented as it seems when you look at the history of them, now.
D: Well, usually, I suppose, there’s a spectrum, isn’t there? And actually, I suppose, if you looked at a painter like Rembrandt, you could go through and you could see this continual development and changes in subjects and changes in the way he renders light and those kind of things and so I’m sure that there was just a development and within that, there would be themes.
T: Yeah. Shall we go onto the next?
D: We could do.
Bull Kelp, Tasmania
T: And this is Bull Kelp.
D: Yeah. This is in Tasmania, in a place called Bay of Fires; it’s up on the north east coast and it’s a really astonishing bay with about 30 or 40 kilometres of white sand and granite outcrops on the shore. The granite outcrops are famous for this orangey-red lichen that grows over them and some people think, mistakenly, that that’s why it was called Bay of Fires. It was actually called Bay of Fires cause when the first white people arrived, there were lots of wildfires from the eucalypt forests burning.
T: Not very prosaic at all, really. Just on fire.
D: Yeah. Yeah. Well Reykjavik means smoking harbour or something, doesn’t it?
T: Is it? Is it fish smoking?
D: No, geothermal - so it’s steam. So, this was late one evening. I’d been wandering around in the rock outcrops trying to find a composition and kind of singularly failed. And I walked out onto this patch of sand. Tried to make some more pictures of the rock outcrops. And again failed.
And then I noticed this strand of kelp that was moving about in the waves and I thought it was really quite a nice shape, especially the way there was one strand at the bottom that came towards …what I immediately envisaged as being the edge of the frame. So I had to perch myself on another boulder so that I didn’t get too wet cause the waves were coming in fairly frequently and would have been, I suppose, getting on for calf, if not knee-high, on occasion.
Almost inevitably, as soon as I perched myself on the boulder, a big wave came in and the one strand that came towards the bottom of the frame went over the frame and another one came in and it went off, out of the edge of the frame, and so I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to get this.” Well, I set up anyway. I liked was the gentle light. I liked the fact that it was…although it’s…
T: Post-sunset, presumably, is it?
D: Yeah. Just. Just post-sunset. Yeah. So, although it is sunset conditions, I don’t think it’s bombastic. I think it’s quite elegant. The form is quite elegant and I think it’s a very dark subject but it’s quite elegant, the way it stands out from the surrounding sand, I think, works quite well and the …just the sort of subtle pink glow in the sky, I think, is good.
And it was timed for subsequent waves coming in so that you get a little bit of that kind of misty water effect further up the strand of the kelp but not too overboard. I am getting a bit bored with that
T: Milky water.
D: Milky water indeed. Yeah, yeah, I am guilty I know. I’ve shot milky water in the past. Hands up. Yeah it was me.
I suppose my problem with some of them is that there are…we were talking about means a second ago, there is definitely a meme of a bit of seaside architecture in milky water with either a completely blank sky or scudding clouds rendered as a blur. And yes, they’re perfectly attractive photographs. But to me, they don’t really say very much. What they actually talk about, to me, is more about that meme than they talk about their subject.
They’re self-referential, aren’t they, in a way. And I suppose all photography is, to an extent, self-referential. But I think they are particularly about a style and that’s what you get out of them, is that reference to the style, rather than anything else. And, for me, this picture was more about colour of light and flow and those kind of things.
T: Moderation, again, isn’t it? It’s nice how it’s picked up the colour of the light, as well, the cool colour?
D: Yeah. Blue sky overhead. Yeah. So the sand, which is pretty close to white, has actually gone pretty blue. Yeah. In fact, I mean, you can see in the surf, which would have been white, but it’s a nice pale blue. It’s quite odd, the sand there, cause it squeaks when you walk on it.
T: Oh yes. Is it like Singing Sands, on the isle of Eigg?
D: Yeah. Apparently the grains are all almost exactly the same size and I think they’re cubic. So there’s a large surface area contact. So when you walk over it, they’re all rubbing against each other. So, it’s very odd.
T: It’s quite loud as well, isn’t it?
D: Yeah. It is, yeah. And almost like chalk on a blackboard sort of squeak. You go, “Oh, no, don’t like it!”
T: So this, I mean this is a famous location in Tasmania, for photographers. And they do all seem to go and take pictures of the red stuff.
D: Yeah. Mostly. Yeah.
T: And is this…is this part of your reaction to going somewhere where there is an iconic…?
D: To find something else to photograph?
D: It probably is, to an extent, yeah. I mean, I think, maybe the reason I didn’t take the pictures of the red boulders was that although there was another shot on my web site of red boulders – not at Bay of Fires but – actually, I think it’s called Mulgrove Harbour. I think part of the reason why I didn’t shoot that was probably because I was conscious of all those other shots and I was probably trying to make an image that was different from them and I couldn’t find anything so I thought well, I’ll go and find something else. It’s all…for me, there’s always that ‘find something else’.
T: Here’s a question for you, cause I know quite a few photographers who purposely don’t look at any other images.
D: I did do that for a long time.
T: Now, if you did that, you wouldn’t know about all the images of the red boulders.
D: Yeah. Well, I knew of one image of the red boulders because this was a recce for a tour and I had got together a page with the tour operator and one of the pictures that was on the page for the tour operator was a picture of red boulders in the Bay of Fires and he, “Oh yes, famous for the red boulders.”
Yeah. Yeah. So, I …in fact, I looked probably at about four or five pictures of red boulders when I was trying to choose pictures cause, at that stage, I hadn’t been and we were using stock pictures to emphasise the tour. So I had seen some; not very many.
But, actually, more often than not it’s my habit to try and not look at source material before I go. I mean I know there are other people who do completely the opposite. There are people who look at every single postcard that they can find and every book and research on Google images and try and find as many different images as they can before they go. But I like to try and keep as open a mind as I can.
I mean, in the case of Tasmania, I’d seen quite a lot of pictures of Tasmania that were Peter Dombrovskis' pictures from quite a while ago. But, in the six or seven months before I went, I tried not to look at books. So I kept on glancing at it on the book shelf and going, ‘No, no, keep away’
T: It must be quite difficult cause I think, even though you to try and avoid those means or styles of picture, they’ll pop up in your brain, as looking familiar. And I suppose, sometimes, it’s difficult to differentiate that moment of recognition with a moment of recognition of seeing something interesting.
D: Yeah. I’m certainly aware that I’ve, in the past, accidentally or unconsciously copied other people’s work. There was a picture that I did of a roof of a black house in the Hebrides with the net over it and stones holding down the thatch. And I was really quite pleased with it. And then…
D: Well, no, not Strand. Paul Wakefield but maybe Paul copied it from Strand. Perhaps inadvertently. I don’t know.
If you look at them, they are all different compositions but they’re all the same subject and they’re all close enough together that I’ve never done anything with that picture because I kind of felt, well, it’s not mine, really.
T: It’s a difficult one because, I mean, the subject itself, like you say, it’s a different picture. And it is something that would jump out at you.
D: It’s very different from anything that you’d see in the south of England. There’s a kind of archaic quality to it that’s very attractive, I think. It’s not of the modern era. So yeah, I think we probably all, to an extent, and we all look to famous phrases, you know, all stand on the shoulders of giants. We are saturated with visual imagery so it’s really difficult for us not to pick up clues and influences from outside, no matter how much we might try not to. I was roundly criticised by Kyriakos Kalakorti for professing this view. For about the first ten years after I left college, I really tried not to look at other people’s pictures. I really tried to…cause I thought that I’m just going to end up copying, if I’m not careful.
I mean I looked at Joe’s and I looked at Charlie’s and people like that, but I tried not to look too widely. And I suppose, knowing Joe’s work well, I’ve probably tried quite hard not to do anything like Joe’s work. Because I wanted to try and develop my own voice. How successful that can be in a genre where you are, effectively, illustrating reality to some extent, I don’t know.
T: It’s interesting that you ended up doing close detail cause I think there is more scope and more choice and, hence, more ability to create a distinct style.
D: Yeah. I think there’s definitely more choice; more scope, probably. Harder, I think, in lots of ways, because it’s not what we’re used to kind of working with.
T: Yeah. And more freedom is harder.
D: Yeah. [approaching detail work] was almost a conscious decision. Joe and I were shortlisted for doing a book for the National Trust. When would this have been? 1990 or something like that; a long time ago. And he won it. And I think, after that, I kind of thought, "There’s absolutely no point in my trying to be him". So that probably reinforced my notion that I already held to an extent, that I should try and find my own way of working.
However, I don’t think I actually discovered what it was that interested me until, probably, almost a decade later. I kept plugging away and I was doing a lot of commission stuff that was very illustrative and very straightforward and, in retrospect, probably makes me cringe. And it wasn’t until I made an image in 99 of a piece of slate in Snowdonia that I kind of…I’d made my first – I’ve said this quite often before – that I made my first abstract image that I was pleased with. I mean we call abstract image “intimate landscape”, let’s say, to borrow Elliot Porter’s phrase.
T: Yeah. Shall we move onto the next one?
D: We could do. Or you could…I could carry on talking about that one, if you want me too, but…
Boatshed and Grass
T: Yeah. Now here’s an interesting one. It’s this…what’s it called? Is that the title?
D: That’s a good question, actually? What is it? I think it’s just called boat shed.
T: Boatshed and grass?
D: Boatshed and grass, yeah. Yeah, factual title. Yeah. We had all of that debate about titles, captions on that last piece that I wrote in the comments, yeah.
T: Now this is….you like simplicity.
D: I do like simplicity, yeah.
T: This is incredibly simple.
D: It is, yeah. It basically has four elements I suppose. It has the snow in the foreground. It has the sky which is only ever so slightly darker than the snow. It has the boat shed, which is out of focus. And it has the one thing that is sharp in the whole picture which is a piece of grass.
T: Yeah. And a couple of snowflakes.
D: A couple of blurry snowflakes, yeah. So, five, okay. Five elements. It’s about as stripped down as you could get probably.
D: Some of the approach was forced on me just by the conditions. So, middle of a snowstorm, not too windy, luckily, but I wanted the piece of grass to be as sharp as I could possibly get it. And in order to get that sharp, because it was leaning over at an angle, I actually had to use tilt to get the plane of focus on the grass which meant that the shed was being thrown more out of focus than it already would have been, even if I’d just shoved it straight.
And also, because it was moving around every time a snowflake hit it so, I had to go for pretty much wide open. I think I probably shot it on f/8. But as soon as I looked through the back of the camera and I looked at it, I thought that the out of focus shed just looked fantastic, actually. I thought, yeah, I’m not going to worry about getting it sharper.
T: Just planes of colour and shape, isn’t it?
D: Yeah. I mean it is very…they’re like symbols, aren’t they? Yeah. One of the things I love is the way that the snow fades into the sky on the left hand side of the frame. They almost become the same tone. And the little curve.
T: I was going to say, the curve is the one I really like; the way it gives the shape to the shed. Cause just the shape of the shed implies the snow as well.
D: It does, yeah. Yeah. So yeah, and I also thought that it was ..it kind of…it left a bit of room for the viewer which is something that I try and do when I photograph. So, although, in a way, it’s just describing that space, I think there’s a, for me anyway, personally, and I obviously can’t always guarantee that other people will see it that way. For me, there’s a sort of melancholy about the image.
D: It’s probably the image that I like the most out of the ones that I just did on my last Lofotens trip.
T: Yeah. Was it snowing throughout?
D: It was. Yeah. Much better conditions, bizarrely, than when I went in January. So March was snowier than January. Go figure. It was reasonably cold. The snow there was probably 60cm deep, something like that, I suppose. Yeah.
T: .. enough to being a pain in the arse to walk through.
D: Yeah. Just enough and when you put the bag down and open it, there’s snow everywhere and you’ve got to make sure that you get snowflakes off the front of the lens and all of those things that are not apparent in the finished image, I hope.
T: No. As I said, I bet it wasn’t so Zen taking it.
D: No. It wasn't….and it was also because I was in a workshop group and I was actually talking through the process with one of the participants as well, who was asking me about how …so partly, it started off as just …she said, “Well, how do you go about finding images?” So I said, “Well, you know, let’s just go for a wander. See what we can find.” And there’s a row of these huts.
That just happens to be the last one. And we’d all been photographing up amongst the row. And I said, “Well, let’s just walk down here. It’s always worth exploring somewhere else. Let’s go away from …and see what we can find.” And I’d walked about 30 yards or something like that and actually, in front of me, I’d seen a clump of grasses and I thought, yeah, they would be interesting. Let’s go. And as I passed this – no, no, I’m going to do that. It was one of those ones that screamed at me.
T: Do you see 'ingredients' when you go out photographing? Obviously, you’d seen the boat sheds already and thought, “So that’s one possible ingredient". And then you look for something to make …to add to the picture. Is that how you try and …build by element?
D: No. I don’t think I do.
T: You’re just instinctively trying to find things. I mean, you just said you spotted some grasses over there so you thought that might….?
D: Yeah. But I don’t think that I think …I don’t think I do it in a building block way. I think it’s more …it feels more like it all comes together at once. There’s a sort of synthesis.
Now, sometimes, it’s not as easy as that. Sometimes, because of the way the human vision works, we ascribe mental weights to things within our visual field. And sometimes that can lead us astray because we will look at a scene and we will assign a weight to that and a weight to that over there and a weight to that over there. And I think, oh well, I want all three of those in. So when you actually try and put those elements together in the frame, you find that they don’t actually fit and sometimes you can waste an awful lot of time trying to shoehorn them together. And then you realise that actually, no…that’s not what you should do. You should try and understand how the visual relationships as well as the emotional weight or the intellectual weight that you ascribe to an object. So it’s about trying to make all of that happen as seamlessly as you can.
I mean, it’s not always like that. Sometimes, it’s a real bloody struggle. But, that one came together very quickly, I think, probably because it is so simple and because the conditions were just right. I don’t think it would have worked, for instance, if the sky hadn’t been overcast like that. I think it would have been a very different kind of picture.
T: Yeah. You’d have had too much weight at the top ..
D: Yeah. You would have been distracted by the sky. Yeah. And I hope they kind of balance each other. I think that’s what I’m trying to do and I don’t think a balance in terms of, necessarily, something being easy, either. I mean, you can have balance in a photograph but it might have tension, as well.
But it’s about trying to make it so that the viewer’s attention is held within the frame and they don’t seek something else outside. So there can be tension in an image but as long as whatever causes that doesn’t make you think, I want to go somewhere else. I’m missing something. Then I think it works.
T: Yeah. Next picture? Here’s more Tasmania.
D: Yeah. This is a place called Henty Dunes which I knew absolutely nothing about before I went. Hadn’t read anything about it. I’d never seen a picture of it. And I kind of only stopped on a whim. I was staying in a place called Strachan and the people I was staying with, knew that I was driving to a place called Corunna. And they said, “Oh you ought to go and look at Henty Dunes as you pass it.” And this is the edge, slightly inland, about two kilometres inland at a place called Ocean Beach. And that’s about 30, 35 kilometres of sand. And she said, “Oh, it’s really good fun, Henty Dunes. You ought to go and have a look at Henty Dunes.”
So, cause I didn’t know anything about it, I’d got there and I’d parked up and I got out of the car and I don’t think I even took a camera with me. I just thought, I’ll go and have a look. Cause I didn’t know where I was going or anything. And there was this enormous great sand dune near where I parked the car. So I thought, I’ll climb to the top and see what it’s like; see what I could see. And I thought, I suppose, that I was probably quite close to the beach.
But actually, when I got to the top of it, I realised that I was two or three kilometres from the beach. And part of me was going, “Oh, damn. This is not what I wanted.” So, there was like a big plateau; it must have been 700 metres, 800 metres across. The dune was probably 30 metres, 40 metres high and it was very kind of scoured, just because, I suppose, it’s the wind blowing across it the whole time. There was very little in the way of vegetation on the top. And I wandered across and I saw these dead trees on the edge of the dune and realised that the forest, at the back of the dune, is slowly getting drowned by the march of the sand inland. And I quite like dead trees and I spent quite a lot of time trying to photograph the dead trees and their shadows because it’s the middle of the day in very bright sun. It doesn’t kind of look it because, effectively, the sand is flat lit. It’s all evenly lit although you’re actually into the sun, because if you look at the top, where the shadows are, they’re all pointing towards you. So, you’re photographing into the sun.
So I tried to photograph the dead trees, not the ones in the back of this frame but some other ones. And I was walking back towards the car and I noticed these patterns where the sand had been braided by the wind, where slightly heavier grains had stuck. They’d fallen out of the finer ones being moved away. And I just thought the patterns were fantastic and I looked down – this means I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the car and get the camera, doesn’t it? Yes. So…
T: Damn, I’ve got to make a photograph.
D: Yeah. Yeah. There was a …there’s no way that you can possibly leave that because it’s too good. And also, I could see that there was cloud coming in so there was a bit of a time pressure. So, I ..going back down the dune was easy enough. But coming back up with the 20 kilos plus of gear and walking 400 or 500 metres across to where this was again was …somewhat taxing.
T: Getting you in the mood for a picture.
D: Getting me in the mood for a picture, yeah, yeah. It’s a bit like being a biathlete. You get there and you have to breathe and relax – otherwise you’re going to be shaking too much.
So in that period from seeing it and going to get the gear and coming back, I’d worked out in my head that I wanted to really make the foreground loom. So I wanted to get the camera really close to the foreground and to get it sharp, front to back, through to the trees. And I’d also thought, yeah, well you don’t want any sky because any sky is going to let you out of the picture; It’s going to make the composition open. And by very carefully placing the frame around this big band of forest at the back of the dead trees, I could make sure that there was darkness behind the dunes
T: So is that just the shadows inside the forest?
D: Yeah. That’s a big forest of eucalypts and pines. So it’s very dark in there. Only a very little distance above the edge of the frame would have been the beginnings of sky but that would have let you out of the composition; It wouldn’t have held you within. And also, I think, it would have made it too illustrative, if not a little bit too cheery. I mean the fact that you have this darkness, this sombre backdrop and the dead trees …there’s something quite chilling about that, I think.
T: See there’s no life in there.
D: Yeah. Sombre. There’s a sort of alien quality about it, I suppose. And so I needed to do quite a lot of tilt, in order to get the plane of focus to make sure that the grains were all…
T: Yeah. It’s only a few inches from the sand at the front, aren’t you?
D: Probably less than a foot, I think, yeah. Because if you look at the grains, they’re really quite big. No grads or anything like that; just …probably, actually, probably should have had a grad on the top, just because of the tilt..
T: a bellows factor because of the distance to the foreground?
D: Yeah. So the top is probably a little bit brighter than it ought to be.
T: You can see the little bit of shading at the front. But that helps as well.
D: Yeah. I think it does. It kind of holds your eye in a little bit. It’s a bit like the black and white printers trick of vignetting the corners. Yeah.
T: I like how the tones invert as you go up the picture as well, cause you’ve got the dark sand on the light sand in the foreground. Then, as you go towards the back, it swaps around. You get light sand on a dark patch. And then dark sand on a light patch again.
D: And I thought the sinuous curve of the horizon was quite nice, as well. The dip. Cause I could have chosen a point where it didn’t do that up and down. But it was actually quite symmetrical as well, the angles of the dip are more or less exactly the same as the angle of the rise, next to it.
T: We like those sorts of curves. Don’t know if it’s something in human nature but…that sort of sinuous…
D: Yeah. I think it might well be kind of just built into us. It’s organic, isn’t it? I suppose.
You might argue that I could have moved closer so that I didn’t have an area of blank sand in the bottom corner but I actually felt that was quite important cause of the composition, not to take, say, that shape that’s about halfway up and place it in the bottom corner which I could have done.
T: Well, it’s the strong diagonals, as well, isn’t it?
D: It emphasises the diagonals leaving the empty space, I think, yeah.
T: Because you’ve got radial lines coming from that top right hand corner, almost.
D: Yeah. So, I was really pleased with that. I walked away, having made it, thinking, yeah, that was worth it.
It’s one of those finds and that’s one of the things that I love most about being out and making photographs is when you can have those encounters with things that you weren’t expecting.
T: Yeah. It is a bit like treasure hunting, isn’t it?
D: Yeah. I definitely think it’s better than stamp collecting. But… it’s making something out of a chance encounter I think and I like that element. I’m not very good at planning stuff.
I was talking to a friend, Dave Tolcher yesterday, and we were talking about how some people are 'stickers'. Some people work something over a period of time. They photograph, I suppose, Jem Southam's Pond or John Blakemore and the tulips or the thistles or whatever. But I tend to work best, I think, where I try and be in as receptive a mindset as I can and just see what I can see. Because I think there’s more chance for originality if you do that than there is if you kind of travel with expectation.
T: I can’t see you as the sort of person that builds a still life set, ready to photograph.
D: Well, yeah. I showed you that picture earlier, didn’t I, on my Facebook page? Is that why you said that.
T: No, I didn’t think about that one, well yes.
D: Sort of workshop in the Gower with Joe and I was trying to explain to one of the participants about light and shadow and form and all the rest of it. So, there were a whole load of shells around and I just kind of put them together into a still life. But, I mean it’s…
T: That was quite well done cause it looked random, and it’s really difficult to make stuff look random.
D: It’s interesting cause Giles Stoker commented. "There’s something that upsets me about this. It’s not quite random enough". So, …maybe that’s …he and I both were assistants together for still life photographers back in the 80s. So I think we're probably sensitive to that.
You have to learn – you know, as an assistant, you’re probably the person who’s going to be doing quite a lot of the arranging, at least the initial arranging and then the photographer will probably come along and say, “Well, okay, just tweak that a bit. I don’t like it there” so we’ve done those kind of things; usually with food rather than with shells or other kind of things. But yeah, it’s part of the skill set that we acquired.
T: I think still lives and things like that are all about balance, aren’t they? They really are about placement and balance and….?
D: Yeah. And it’s difficult to know …the lady I was showing it to, she said, “Well, if I tried to do something like this, it would just look like a bunch of shells but yours doesn’t just look like a bunch of shells. It looks right. And what is it? What did you do?” And, to be honest, I don’t know, exactly. I suppose it’s because I’ve done that kind of stuff a long time ago now.
But I did used to do a lot of those kind of things for studio work, for my own commissions as well. I had a commission for the BBC, once, to photograph stuff for end papers for Joanna Lumley’s book "Castaway". And she brought a whole load of shells back from her sojourn on this desert island and I had to make photographs of them for the end papers and for little icons all the way through the book. Yeah. So maybe that informed it I don’t know.
T: Well, you’re an expert in it, obviously. "We’ll get the shell expert in."
D: Yeah. Yeah. I need to get a shell portfolio and then people would pay me money. Yeah.
Ocean Beach Skeleton
T: Dead whale.
D: Yeah. "Ocean Beach Skeleton" I think I called it but yeah. Dead whale will do. Yeah. It’s interesting. We were looking at this, as I put it up, and we had the transparency as well and I realised that I got the colour very wrong on the sand. So this may well be rescanned [the picture above is the rescan]. I was concentrating on getting one thing right and I got something else wrong in the process.
T: That’s always the case when you’re correcting things. It’s ..very often when that happens, it means there’s an overall colour cast that you’ve ignored.
D: Yeah. I think I did. It’s a bit of a jawbone off a whale. This is on Ocean Beach so his is the beach that's adjacent to Henty Dunes. But this actual portion of it is probably about 20 kilometres away.
T: Is it a Minke?
D: I have no idea.
T: We’ll also do whale spotting for you.
T: Anybody has a clue what the whale is? (a reader commented that it's probably a juvenile sperm whale)
D: Six foot long?
D: So that’s a reasonable…it’s a Baleen whale I would suggest. By that dark mark along the edge of the jawbone and so it might be a juvenile. So it’s a filter feeder of some kind. I’d seen it in the middle of the day. I’d been there and I’d photographed the sand pattern nearby. Almost got my 4 x 4 stuck. And this is very soft sand. Well this is practically drive by photography. Yeah. I was in the middle of bloody nowhere on this beach but there were all these tracks through the dunes, at the back, and I’d been chatting to somebody, again, in Strachan where I was staying and they said, “Oh yeah, you can take these dunes through the forestry, these tracks through the forestry and get to the beach cause you’ll get to a section where there isn’t anybody. Whereas if you go the bit next to the town, there’s a quay and right at the other end of the point, an entrance to Macquarie Harbour and there’s a camp site and people go fishing there.
So, it’s…you want to get to a bit of beach in the middle where they won’t be anybody, so…so they advised me to drive along this thing and I ended up in a bit that I didn’t think there was any way I could turn around and it was very soft sand. And I’m thinking, it’s quite a long walk back but I managed to get out of it.
So, yeah, I photographed some of the sand patterns in the background – not the ones immediately behind the jawbone. And looked at this and thought it was great but it was the wrong kind of light. It was the middle of the day and it was very bright, very harsh and so I thought, well I’ll come back this evening. I’ll try and get stuck again.
And I went back in the evening and the thing that kind of happens, probably three times out of four, in the UK, you look at the sky and you think, “I’m not going to get last light cause there’s a hell of a lot of cloud over there on the horizon. It’s really not going to happen.” And so I thought, well I could probably get something before last light because the way the sun was glancing along the edge of the jawbone, which is entirely covered, fortuitous, it’s just catching the kind of shoulder area, towards the back of the jawbone. I’m sure that anatomically speaking, shoulder is incorrect; and along the edge where I think probably the baleens were attached.
So there’s a bit of a warm glow in there. And I thought, well, okay, I can probably do something now whilst it’s like that, before the sun goes down. And my original – in my head, originally – it was going to be warmer light. And I knew that because this was really neutral cause it’s white, that it would pick up the sky but it’s …the scan, as it stands at the moment, is far too cyan. And I will…I’ll have to fiddle with that.
T: We’ll get another scan.
D: Yeah. We’ll get another scan. Yeah. And I liked it, I think, because although it is something organic and it is something that’s probably not too difficult to decode what it is, there is still some slight kind of strangeness about the shape.
T: I like the way the dark sands and the edge where the baleen would have attached are all similar shapes; they’re all converging and diverging.
D: Yeah. There’s a dark patch of sand underneath the kind of prow or whatever you would call it, towards the left hand edge.
T: The pointy bit.
D: The pointy bit, yeah. That’s one of the reasons I decided to shoot it from this angle was because of that as well as the sun.
T: Placing light things against dark backgrounds.
D: Yeah. It’s that classic thing about if you want to make something look three dimensional, light against dark, dark against light all the way round. And it pretty much does that. In fact, I think it probably does it everywhere, doesn’t it? There’s one little bit on the top surface where the tone is almost the same. But not really anywhere else at all. Some of that would have been instinctive, I would think, in my choice of position.
T: But you couldn’t see all the edge at the same time.
D: Probably, as I walked around it, I would be instinctively thinking about those things; about how it would stand out and also about where it sat in the sand pattern so the dark lines in the sand in the background and the one on the left curves round into the shape and the one below it curves around into the shape. And then they flow out past, which is, no doubt, because of, as the tide retreated, it did that, because you’ve got turbulence around it as it retreats. So it’s kind of an automatic process but choosing the position that shows that to the best effect is, I suppose, part of what we should try and do as photographers.
T: Obviously, the sun is going down, as usual?
D: Yeah. Yeah. And fairly quickly cause it’s …actually, no, it’s probably about the same ..it’s equivalent latitude to here, I think, in Tas – about 50, 51, 52. But south instead of north. So, this was their Spring – it was November last year so it was late Spring, early Summer. So, I suppose, round about the equivalent of now. So you’ve got a little bit of time. Yeah, it’s not enormously fast so you’ve got some time to stop and think but it’s not as beautifully slow as it is when you’re in the Arctic.
T: Never goes as slow as you would like it to go.
D: No, it doesn’t. No.
We'll have the final part of this '10 Photographs' in the next issue.