The Value of an image

Stating the ‘value’ of anything is simply a way of placing its desirability in relation to other, similar, items or to establish its usefulness in relation to a situation (a lifebelt to a drowning person for example is very valuable).

If photography is used to show images which cause a reaction which helps in any way – the image of a naked, burnt child in Vietnam, a Mother bathing her child in Japan who was crippled by mercury pollution, a Spanish soldier falling dead – these images are photographs which were made to be seen in a magazine and can be seen on a screen or on a wall or in a magazine and have a high value, they do something.

But to put a price on an image which is a digital presentation on a screen, or a printed version of this is, for me, ridiculous.

I have just put some prints into an exhibition locally – a little gallery asked me to let them show a few of my new photographs, so I printed some (on paper and glass) on a theme – there are five other photographers showing. Most used digital equipment, edited this with software and get them printed. They then ask hundreds of euro for these ‘prints’ – how can this ‘value’ be determined – by pressing a button hundreds, thousands of similar prints can be created, to me this is obscene.

I could not give any value to my prints, made in my darkroom. I was happy to show my ideas and what I am doing, but it is over 35 years since I had my last exhibition (where I sold stuff) and I am returning from a twilight zone into the light again after all these years.

A digital recorder (phone, table, camera etc) can record an important event and can be used to manipulate light to show a pleasing or a disturbing image, in this case the ‘camera’ operator should be rewarded by society for their perception – but as a digital image is only a lump of binary code, intrinsically it is almost worthless.

A crafted piece of paper, or glass, tin – whatever – with an image which shares a feeling or message is unique – the artist has touched it and put life into it and is sharing this – it can have true value – I hasten to add “in my opinion

I have stopped looking at any digital images if possible (it isn’t of course) and refuse to digitalise anything I make, so I doubt you will ever see my recent work unless you go to a gallery which is showing it, or, better still, come and stay with us and sit with us looking at prints and plates.

There is so much dross, overwhealming all media and so many people are using awful apps to make more rubbish (hipstamatic, ghost image camera etc) – it is sad – after many years I now refuse to use or own a telephone and limit my keyboard time (or try to) to an hour a day – slowly I am getting free

The Song of a Shadow

A book which has influenced my thoughts recently is, “In Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki – there are many free downloads,here is one – is a very short, but I found it deep and enchanting.

Without shadows, we are blind, we could not see anything. I often wonder what the weight of a shadow is – or is it a negative weight as it is where fewer photons fall – but as a photon seems to have no mass than why should a shadow exist?

Whatever a shadow is, with them there can be no photography, so I am a borrower of shadows, a chaser of their beauty.

Collodion, wet-plate photography, suits me well as the shadows I borrow briefly in my cameras and put onto glass plates are more elusive than usual. I use a lot of light which I cannot see as it is ultra-violet. For nearly 50 years I have used the Zone System in all photography I have done, often cheating a lot when using roll film, but I try to use the principles set out by Ansel Adams in his Basic Photo Series of books. Applying this to collodion is a challenge as the lighting is more difficult to “see”, but the shadows are there as my friends and help me to gather the silver sunbeams in the right order.

Here is todays effort to get a plate of my son Jack, it may be one of the last of this particular camera/lens combination (a 360mm Rodenstock ‘Portrat’ Petzval on a 12″x10″ Watson?) I will be trying a 360mm Flor tomorrow. I found out he actually took a picture of me taking a picture of him with his ‘new’ Olympus OM1 – 16 seconds at f3.5 (me, not his).

Jack Tidswell taken by his father and taking his father

A Gentleness of Shadows

We are offering our accommodation and all the photographic facilities at Villa Roquette for workshops and photographic services – the next collodion wet-plate workshop is the end of January 2015, run by Jon Brewer, book before the new year for a special price.

Seeing the Light, Feeling the Darkness

My friend Barbara Heide is a photographer. She is a good photographer and shares her work through Internet sites, she has also made some books of her photographs about places and people she knows well.

Barbara is also one of a group of us who meet regularly to discuss things like poetry, images, philosophy and cricket (in truth we never discuss cricket, but it sounds less pretentious than the other stuff). We call it “The Odyssey” (allusions to Tennysons’ Ulysses), Carole calls it “The Nutters Club”

But, I have a problem. Barbara loves showing her work on the computer and, as she uses a digital camera she does a lot of exposures, so there are often up to 100 images to consider.

I believe it is very hard, even for a great photographer, to make one or two good images, images worth showing and sharing, in a month of work. Recently I was in Paris at the Cartier-Bresson exhibition. One of the greatest photographers ever with a creative career of over 60 years. But, the exhibition was too big – over 500 images far far far too many – and, in my opinion, many (most) were irrelevant and not worth putting on the wall for the exhibition. I am sure these were important if you want to study the life of the man, but I want to see and feel the images and, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about the other stuff. It was the same at other exhibitions I saw this year, Brassai, Capa etc. It’s the same for all artists, luckily painting takes more time than pushing a shutter button, so usually an exhibition of paintings is less overloaded.

But with digital photography, I am often presented with scores and scores of snapshots all taken in a short time-frame. Many are simply the same shot from differing perspectives and perceptions, others are a multitude of landscapes, street scenes etc – each one perhaps has merit, but the visual overload of “yet another interesting door/window/wall/tree/field/hill/cloud, etc etc – completely defeats the purpose of sharing images. I am not saying they are all bad photographs or bad photography, they would be useful for the photographer to improve their perception – but please please please show me a few of the ones which tell me something – tell me a story – make me think as well as exciting me by the form and light I see and which was perceived by the photographer.

My other rant about digital photographs is that I know most, if not all, are electronically “enhanced” by both the cameras on-board computer and by other software by the photographer – so I know what I am seeing is something created and designed to be seen on a light emitting computer screen from a distance of 50 to 90 cm – not by reflected light on a wall from over a meter away – perhaps it is this that takes the “soul” away from digital work.

OK – all the technical stuff is (mostly) irrelevant if the image tells me something – if there is a story, if it creates in me a feeling – look at Capas’ “the falling soldier” often called the greatest photograph of the 20th century. Technically if is not good, but this is irrelevant, it is a very important and an extremely strong image and invokes deep feelings.

A photographer should (in my not so humble opinion) strive to show me something which makes me “see” and “feel” what they saw and felt at that moment of time – and then – only share with me the one single image which is relevant to that purpose. Less is more?

It was my son Jack’s birthday yesterday and he asked for a film camera. I gave him a simple Olympus OM1 outfit and one roll of film (Fomapan 100)- but – I only put enough film in the cassette for 10 exposures and suggested he looked for and took a picture of just one subject to share with me. He seems very keen to learn and I hope to carefully teach him to expose and develop to Zone System principles, so the sooner I can get him onto sheet film, the better (or collodion, but that is a different story). One image a month – a good goal.

Here is a picture from Barbaras’ “image poem” last week which did say something to me…

Collodion photography at Villa Roquette

Hands used for collodion photography – stains of silver nitrate

The purpose of this blog is to share our life at Villa Roquette and to tell you about our vacation accommodation there and the Photographic Workshops we are starting from Next January