One of the highlights of my summer is teaching at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. This year the course is slightly earlier, running Wednesday, 15 August 2018 – Friday, 17 August 2018. Our title this time is “Sense and Perception: Bringing Together Yoga, Mindfulness & Photography.”
The yoga sessions will be gentle and suitable for beginners, with an emphasis on mindful practice rather than physical ability. Mats and blankets will be provided, but you will need to bring a digital camera you are comfortable using – your phone camera will be perfect.
The course costs £170.00 non-residential or £245.00 residential and places can be booked online with Woodbrooke by following this link.
I hope to see you in August!
I think my journey towards learning to see rather than look really started to take shape during a holiday in Norfolk which turned out to be the hottest week of the year. I couldn’t face lugging my heavy rucksack stuffed with camera gear around with me all day in sweltering temperatures, but what I wasn’t going to leave behind was, of course, my phone. Seeking out shady places, I could sit to admire the view, watching holiday life ambling by. With my phone camera it was easy to take impromptu snaps and the seafront provided endless opportunities for creatively composed shots. Mind you, given that half the time all I could see was my own reflection in the screen, much of my success was entirely serendipitous!
My evenings were spent selecting filter effects, adding hashtags and uploading my shots to Instagram. My technophobia extends to post-processing the thousands of images languishing on my hard drive, so this immediacy was as liberating as leaving my camera bag behind. There are some amazing images on the Internet and it’s been really inspiring to see what other people all over the world are doing with their photography. Exploring hashtags reveals whole communities taking images of everything from pets and sunsets to weird and obscure aspects of our world; there are tags for barbed wire, rust, decay, and my favourite, #hingelove, a whole tag just for door furniture! I am not alone!
Since then, my interest has not waned. Living in a city and being interested in photographing nature has often seemed less than ideal and I have tended to plan days out with my camera rather than looking for subjects closer to home (other than the garden of course!). My new-found love of photo-sharing has opened my eyes to my everyday surroundings and I am now drawn to record details I wouldn’t have previously given a second glance to. By looking outside my self-imposed box my creativity is blossoming as I am finding ways to make the most of what is available instead of sighing over unobtainable images of fabulous mountains and seascapes in magazines. Beauty is all around us, if we take the time to see…
Don’t so many people have their story of the one that got away? The fisherman outwitted by the wily (and always enormous) fish, the winning goal narrowly missed, and in this case, the perfect, once in a lifetime, never to be repeated photographic opportunity not to be missed but sadly nevertheless not recorded onto film or sensor. Perhaps the settings were wrong? The card corrupted? Or the moment occurred when the unwitting photographer was just not ready for it.
My moment came when I had just arrived in Dovedale on a very soggy and blustery afternoon in late December. I have gotten into the habit of leaving my camera in my bag til I have a feel of a place, taking time time to absorb my surroundings before taking any pictures, and this day was no different. Plus, it was not an ideal day for photography; the light was poor and I was concerned about getting my non-weathersealed DSLR soaked in the frequent showers.
I paused to watch a pair of dippers working their way up the opposite bank of the River Dove, fascinated by their flitting movements and amazed by the beauty of their song, which I had not appreciated before. Suddenly I realised we were not alone…on a mudbank in the centre of the river next to me, perfectly still, stood a large heron. Perhaps the largest I have seen and almost, it seemed, within touching distance…and with no camera in my hand!
By the time I was able to remedy the situation the heron had taken flight for a safer perch on the nearby hillside and my only shot is of a blurry ghost. Even so, I could not bring myself to delete it and here it is, my personal reminder of the perils of being unprepared.
Each moment of each day brings something new and in order to record those special moments we need to be ready. But who knows when they will happen? Maybe we are not able to preserve that moment in time with our camera, but we can still be present to experience it as it happens and store the memory away to cherish in the future. Despite the photographic user-malfunction I experienced, this was still an amazing moment and I have learned a few important lessons!
If taking photographs has become so all-important that we are too busy snapping away to enjoy it the moment as it happens perhaps there is a benefit to taking a break and spending some time just seeing, with our senses to experience and our memory to record the moment.
Sometimes everything just seems to come together and add the results are far more interesting than the individual parts.
This happened to me recently, when several of my interests combined in an unusual way.
I have long been in the habit of baking my own cakes. This week I decided to try a new recipe that asked for water and oil. I duly added these to a mixing bowl, which happened to be made of glass. I was immediately struck by the beautiful patterns made by the oil floating on the water’s surface. Now, oil and water as a technique for creating beautiful semi-abstract images is not new. Usually the artist places some colourful item under the dish. Maybe a bowl of smarties, flowers, or even patterned wrapping paper.
But then I suddenly thought, what if I put a scrap of watercolour painting under my mixing bowl? I have amassed plenty of pieces which include some pretty bits but the overall painting is uninspiring. All part of the learning process! in a flash, I was scuttling off to find a camera. My mobile phone in fact, as I had an eye on the time and the need to bake my cake.
This week’s picture is one of the results of my sudden flash of inspiration. Beauty finds us in the most unexpected moments and lightens up the day. I hope you like it!
Hanging out the washing last week, I was delighted to see this beautiful peacock butterfly enjoying the flowers of my buddleia bush. This is the first wild butterfly I have seen this year that isn’t a cabbage white, so I just had to dash inside for a camera, any camera. The first one to hand was of course my phone and thankfully it was behaving for a change, or else you wouldn’t be looking at this picture now. The startling eyespot markings on the wings that make the peacock so striking to look at are actually intended to deter predators. In this case they attracted my camera! This beauty was happy to bask in the strong morning sunshine and by using my phone camera I had no worries about getting sufficient depth of field to focus on my subject.
Considering the delicacy of a butterfly, it is amazing to think that the peacock is able to overwinter as an adult, getting a head start on other species the following spring. They go on to breed, laying eggs in their hundreds on the underside of nettle leaves. All the more reason to leave the weeds alone! After the caterpillars have feasted on the nettles and formed a chrysalis they emerge in August as an adult to start the cycle again. I am guessing that this fabulous visitor was one of those new adults, seeking substance in preparation for the winter to come.
We live in a chaotic world. Natural or man-made, there is a constant whirl of colour, shape and decoration around us that can be exhausting in its complexity. Amidst the chaos I am drawn to simplify, reducing the visual cacophony to find a calm centre in the storm. Such minimal images can offer a moment of peaceful reflection in the midst of the frenzy that is everyday life.
My favourite way to achieve this is working in monochrome. Simplifying colours to tones and shapes helps me make sense of what is before me. My other go-to technique, is to get up close and personal. Working at close range helps me to see the simplicity within the complex design. Sometimes indeed it reveals a whole new microcosm of beauty that would have otherwise been ignored.
Sometimes the weather offers a solution. A blanket of snow is perfect for obliterating unwanted details and reducing a scene to its basic elements. Fog or mist can have a similar effect, removing distant eyesores and creating a sometimes eerie glow to a scene. Both of these also help to simplify the colours in a scene by creating a muted, peaceful palette of hues.
Whilst the weather can offer a seasonal solution, in Birmingham we are generally blessed with a mild and benign climate that limits its uses. And so for the final solution; shallow depth of field. Working with an aperture of f/4 wider, depending on the subject, can reduce the background to an attractive blur that directs the viewer’s attention to our intended subject. I have used this technique to successfully eliminate all manner of undesirable objects from otherwise attractive scenes by turning them instead into blurry colour swatches that emphasise my focal point. It might not be quite what I actually saw, but it certainly ensures the viewer sees what drew my attention.
When we are busy getting stressed about life we are often told ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. However, when it comes to photography it is precisely these little things that can be the most interesting. I have recently been trying my hand at painting. Although I have always been involved in crafts of some sort or other, this has never involved painting or drawing so this is a completely new venture for me. This week’s photograph is of what happens when you allow cheap watercolour paint to dry out overnight on a plastic palette. My attempts at painting may involve a great deal of wasted paper but I was entranced by the work of art my leftover paint created for me by morning and spent a happy hour with my camera recording its curves and wrinkles. Even the simplest of things can be transformed if we take the time to look.
Despite the recent regular threats of heavy snow, my corner of England has managed to avoid more than a sprinkle. Whilst this saves a whole lot of hassle when it comes to daily life, it does mean we miss out on the photogenic beauty that is a snow-filled winter wonderland.
So, no snow. But we have a few icy starts, with puddles transformed into wonderful abstract art. I arrived at my class last Tuesday to find myself parking right next to one such puddle. I couldn’t resist taking this picture, even though it could only be with my phone. And was promptly reminded of the impermanence of all things as an SUV then drove up and crunched through the middle of the ice I had just moments before been admiring. Easy come, easy go.
I had a minor epiphany this week reading the May issue of Black and White Photography. In an article about the photographer Gordon Stettinius he is quoted as saying that the majority of his work “flirts with unbeautiful things…not ugly subjects, but the strange, forgotten and the whatnot around the margins. I like moments when the ordinary has momentarily lost its ordinariness.” Yay! I couldn’t have put it better myself!
I had been beginning to wonder if my interests were a little, um, well, weird! Whilst so many people like to photograph beautiful things; sunsets, colourful flowers, stunning cityscapes, I am usually concentrating my attention on a patch of strangely twisted grass or cracks in the paving. The curious shapes of a contorted leaf or one small fragment of a dying flower. The juxtaposition of old and new or gentle, slow decay.
I feel a certain reassurance to know that there are others out there who also focus the lens of their camera on the obscure and unbeautiful. I have frequently been on the receiving end of strange looks as I devote my attention to the apparently uninteresting. But, it seems, I am not alone. Not for me the overtly adorable, the perfectly photogenic or the luscious landscape. It’s as if sometimes the beauty is so great the image cannot do it justice. That’s when I find myself ignoring the view and photographing patterns in the rocks. Or seeking to find the beauty in the unbeautiful. I can manage that.