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.

Sing in the Light to make a Harmony of Darkness

The more I practise wet-plate (collodion) photography, the more I realise how much has been lost from our culture due to the “convenience” of digital technology.

I have been thinking hard to put into words the reasons I prefer the restrictions and errors, the dust spots and chemical mistakes I have to accept with traditional photography. Why do I avoid the simple manipulations I could use with photoshop to “enhance” an image, decline to scan an image and print with expensive and time consuming chemistry, when for a fraction of the cost and the time I could shoot, modify and print digitally, with high quality inks, to a very high standard – generally cleaner and sharper than is possible with a mechanical camera, on an emulsion of chemistry on plastic or glass (or tin) and printed onto paper (or glass etc) coated with more expensive and fickle chemistry. Or not even make a print – simply send a digital image through the Internet to be seen instantly on any computer screen.

Well, the truth is I do this – here is a tintype I took this week…

5x4 tintype - 18 seconds f4 (ish)

5×4 tintype – 18 seconds f4 (ish)

This was a quick portrait I did of another photographer, it is to be used for the publicity material for an upcoming exhibition If you are reading this then you are seeing a hand-held snap I took of the tintype which was on our dining-room table, lit by a convenient table lamp – I took it with a 4/3 digital camera, so I am happy to use this equipment, there is no other way I would have been able to simply show it on this page (or Facebook or anywhere else).

But you are not looking at the original – you can have no idea of what the original represents. OK, it looks much the same – but it isn’t.

It occurred to me that the difference is, to me, the same as going to a live concert compared to hearing the same sounds on a digital (or even vinyl) player. Live music will probably have crappy acoustics in the venue, musicians will make mistakes and it may be uncomfortable and will certainly be more expensive than listening at home – but which is preferable – for me I would much prefer to hear something I loved at a live performance than to hear it from any recording. Live music has “soul”.

Possibly the most famous, probably the most important and certainly the oldest poetry we know is Homers’ Odyssey and Iliad (or Iliad and Odyssey, whichever way round you prefer) – This was made to be performed live – but – importantly, it was sung, not narrated or quoted, it was sung. It says so at the beginning of the Iliad.

Thanks to the need for companies to continue to make big returns for their shareholders, we are caught in a vortex of consumer evolution which is accelerating the redundancy of “goods” (or should some of this be called “bads”) so the marketing departments can use their skills to create in us a “need” to upgrade our possessions. For sure, but using technological innovation, many things can be made easier to use to get a result. Any digital camera today is much much cheaper to make due to the use of electronics and plastics and it can record and enhance an image very simply and at minimal cost (of the image) – but by not giving the user the need to understand what the hell is happening, the image taken has no need of any form or structure.

The image provided by a digital camera is a convenience and usually a compromise and will come from the programmed enhancements of the computers in the camera, not from the skills and training of the user.

In skilled and artistic hands the digital camera can be used as a tool to make images – David Hockney created with Polaroids, fax machines and now uses an iPad to paint with, he explores and embraces all tools which “enable” him. For me, he is a wonderful artist. So I am not saying that digital technology is in itself bad, but I am saying that a great deal has been lost by replacing the disciplines of traditional photographic procedures and processes with the simplicity of automatic “smart” cameras is a loss. It is a loss of perception and has enabled a tidal-wave of unconsidered images to engulf us.

I want to “sing” my pictures – to do this I have to learn my craft – I also want to make good images, to do this I have to learn to be a poet, a good poet.