Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Digital photographers
Before and after perusing the remains of that demo I chanced upon yesterday, I was photographing photographers. Here are a few of them:
As you can see from the top left snap, he is photoing Westminster Abbey, and those two dramatic crouching shots, top middle and top right, are of photographers wanting to get the upper reaches rather than the lower reaches of Westminster Abbey in the background behind their friends.
Several quite good additions to the Interesting Hats sub-directory there, especially the gent, middle left, who looks to me like he’s in The Hunt For Red October. Is he being post-modern and ironic? Or does he, perchance, actually mean it? Either way, I don’t like it. I mean, do people now wander around London with swastikas in their hats? But, if you were guessing who the spy was, you’d have to pick the one in the Union Jack hat.
The lady bottom middle is a bit out of focus. But, her hat gets her included nevertheless.
And the gent at the bottom left is not very bald, but he is a bit. He makes it into that sub-directory.
At that demo a week ago today, there were, of course, and abundance of smartphones being used to soak up snaps:
And there were tablets being used as well:
But more intriguingly, and this was a first for me, I saw smartphones …:
… and tablets …:
… being used actually to demonstrate. And as you can see, I wasn’t the only one who was interested.
I’m not sure what this means. I simply note that it was happening.
Here’s a nice coincidence. There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker. And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:
It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann. Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”. These pictures really do only work as photos. Until they are photoed, the job is not done. But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.
One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio. For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive. Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking. So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds. Clever you. But, why? Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.
But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it. And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing. But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed. Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.
As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind. My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally. Basically I became a desktop publisher. (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier. Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”. Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff. I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger. And, I bought my first digital camera. At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well. Now, they mix very well indeed.
Indeed. Behind the photographer is a coach:
Passing buses and lorries make fine backdrops for photos I find. I especially like this because the picture on the coach (in aid of this enterprise, I presume) is so bizarre. This is exactly how the picture emerged from the camera. No cropping, no rotating, nothing. It was taken last September, outside Westminster Abbey, looking away from the main entrance and towards Parliament Square. None of which is even at bit clear, because of the coach. Unless you are a railings spotter.
I spent the day building CD shelves, hence the need for a quota photo.
At the end of November 2014 (on the day that I also took these photos) I made a small pilgrimage to Tower Bridge, the excuse being that I might be able to photo up someone’s skirt through the observation floor that they had recently installed at the top of that bridge, and the reason being that I simply like to go on random pilgrimages in central London, for the sake of what I might see on the way there, there, and on the way back.
As often happens with these small pilgrimages of mine, I got there not at midday, but towards the end of the day. By which I mean just before and during the ending of daylight. And the ending of daylight is a very good time for taking photos, especially with a digital camera that is good in low light conditions, and especially if you are someone who likes taking pictures of other photographers in ways that don’t show their faces but do show the screens of their cameras. At dusk, those screens tend to show up particularly well, as a number of these photographer photos illustrate:
The more I photo, the more I find myself liking to take categories of photos, photos in sets. At first, my photos of photographers were just photos of photographers. But soon I was subdividing that huge category, into photographers taking selfies, photographers looking at the photos they’d taken. Recently I have found myself making further subdivisions, often of photos I have been taking for some while but which I had not been putting into a separate category in my head, if you get my meaning. So, above, in addition to all the photos of photographer’s camera screens, we see contributions to the photographers taking selfies category (subdivision: couples taking selfies), to the photographers looking at the photos they have just taken category, but also a good addition to the bald blokes taking photos category, and two for the photographers with interesting hats category.
And of course, there is that vast category that has hove into view in the last few years, of people taking photos with their mobile phones. No less than seven of the above twelve snaps are of people doing this. This was not a decision on my part, merely a consequence of me picking out nice photos of people taking photos.
My favourite photo of these is the last one of all, bottom right. The light is nearly gone, but that means that the view of the shot he is taking (with his mobile phone) shines forth splendidly, as strongly as what he is photoing. And I love that I got what he was photoing as well as his screen picture of what he was photoing.
It was the essentialness of posting that one photo, very late but not never, that made me, while I was about it, also stick up the others, all twelve having already been subdivided into a separate little directory.
Back when I took these two pictures (September 15th 2007), this was the camera that most impressed me, because its screen was so big:
More and more postings here, I predict, are going to be of pictures I took a while back.
Nothing, apart from this, here, today, but I did manage a posting at Samizdata entitled Anton Howes on the Golden Age that never stopped.
I say nothing, but here is a picture I took of someone in a woolly hat taking a picture at Piccadilly Circus:
Gotta love that Golden Age we’re living in.
When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party. That’s right. The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall). I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them. I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks. I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they. Or so she said. The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.
So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister. When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes. But, too many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.
So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy. Three things, however, cheered me up.
First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes. And it turns out that he has a new blog. How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all. I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me. Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out. I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing. Was this uncouth? Probably. Would I look like an old prick? Presumably. But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway. And immediately I cheered up. Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking. And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached. Oh dear. “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick? And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it. And what did he say? He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect. Hah! I was now an officially designated photographer. I was someone. Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me. Hurrah!
And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.
Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography. Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties. But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.
All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do. But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them. So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting. This I promise.
By way of proof that these people were not the only ones perhaps failing to behave in a way that would be considered by some to be entirely appropriate for the solemnity of the place, here are some photos that I took of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies:
I too was being inappropriately frivolous.
Click to get the bigger pictures.
Those snaps are picked because the focus, such as it is, is on the bald heads, rather than on the cameras or what the cameras are pointed at. Bald heads are, I am learning (more than I ever did before), infinitely bizarre sites, like maps of strange deserts from the air, full of mysterious marks and indentations, with subtle changes in the vegetation.
But, inevitably, after picking out those snaps, I came upon other pictures of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies that I considered also to be deserving of notice.
This one, for instance, is one of the burst of about half a dozen that I took of Bald Bloke Number 3 above. This one focuses on the picture he is taking rather than on his baldness, and I particularly like how it came out:
Or how about this one, which is a first, in my quest for Bald Blokes Taking Photos. Two Bald Blokes taking photos!:
Does the Bald Bloke nearest to me also like to take photos of Bald Blokes Taking Photos?
Finally, a bloke photoing The Poppies who is only pretending to be bald:
Note that he hasn’t shaved his head for a few days, but a few days ago, he did, entirely.
This is the snap that proves, as all who care already know well, that this totally bald look is a fashion statement, rather than just bald blokes pretending to make a fashion statement, to disguise their partial baldness. Because here is a guy who is not bald at all doing it. He has nothing ignoble to disguise, yet he adopts this look anyway.
Classic photo of photoers (which I found here):
It’s the new see through walkway at the top of Tower Bridge. All the reportage concentrates on what you can see looking down through it. But when I visit, I am going to check out what you can see photoing through it from below. Which will have the added benefit of being far cheaper.
Zoom lenses are rather good these days.
And guess what, I actually want other people to have the same idea, so I can photo them photoing upwards also.
One of the problems of big arrays of Poppies is that, like at funerals, you feel a certain pressure to adopt the proper tone of solemnity, like you being solemn is going to stop the First World War having happened, or something. No, really, I do get it. It’s very sad, what with all those soldiers having died, and what with lots of the people present perhaps remembering particular departed loved ones. You probably shouldn’t be enjoying yourself too obviously.
And in particular, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. But, you do it anyway:
But maybe that is just me, being a bit grumpy, and using my grumpiness as an excuse to violate the privacy of strangers who really weren’t doing anything very wrong. Nobody else seemed to have any problem with these selfie takers. The feeling seemed to be: This Thing means, to you, whatever you decide it means to you. If what it means to you is a chance for you to take a smiling selfie with lots of bright red in the background, well, okay. And I think I agree.
I certainly had fun photoing these people.
Doing photography makes me happy, both as something for me to do and as something for me to photo others doing. Before digital photography, I had the usual dislike felt by people of my nationality and with my approximate level of upbringing and education for crowds of tourists, barging their way around my city, bumping into me and making me feel insignificant, like they owned the place which of course they sort of did and sort of do. The Masses were bad enough as a mere idea, but actually seeing them, Massed, made it even worse.
Tourism, I used to tell myself, unthinkingly, is not “real”. But tourism is every bit as real as an Amazonian rainforest, just as affluent suburbs are as real as inner city sink estates. And ever since I discovered the joy of photoing these crowds of tourists, tourists taking photos, photos of my city and of each other, and of themselves, I have deliberately mingled with these crowds, which basically means that I have become a tourist myself, in London, the city where I live. A state of silly and unthinking grumpiness has been replaced by a far more thoughtful and philosophically elevated state of happiness and smugness. Happiness and smugness are also just as real as misery, and my happiness and smugness is all the happier and smugger because provoked by the exact same things as I had formerly been making myself miserable about.
Crowds like those pictured below, in other words, are just as real as the events that all those red Poppies that everyone has come to see hark back to. One of the many remarkable things about these Poppies is the huge - truly enormous – scale not just of the Poppies themselves, but of the crowds of people who have journeyed to the Tower of London to look at them. Here are a couple of my better Poppies crowd shots:
My single most unforgettable Poppies Crowds Moment did not happen to me when I was actually there being a part of one of these crowds, but in a tube station in some other nearby part of central London, the weekend before last. I was on an escalator, and an intercom voice started saying that if I intended visiting the Tower of London to see The Poppies (I didn’t – not that day), then I should definitely consider using another tube station besides Tower tube station, because Tower tube station was jam packed or words to that effect. I should go instead, said the voice, to another nearby tube station (the voice offered several suggested alternatives) and walk from there, from only a little bit further away. That’s how big the crowds have been. And instead of snarling with silly rage at that announcement, I instead said to myself: I must remember to put that on my blog. Which has been another source of great happiness to me, and would have been even if I had not got stuck into photography.
The way to photo “iconic” buildings is to muck around with them. You can’t just stick up your basic passport photos of them, so to speak, because everyone’s seen that, even the foreigners.
You have to put your iconic building next to something else, perhaps iconic in a different way ...:
… or, you bounce your IB off a non-iconic building covered in slightly bendy glass.
Or you photo it through a Riverside Thing …:
… or behind an Iconic Bridge (the one that wobbled (see the posting immediately below)).
Or you put something else in front of it, like a photographer, and have the IB itself behind and way out of focus.
That works fine because the whole point of an IB is that you can recognise it even if it is ridiculously blurry, the way you never could a regular building.
Or, you photo it on the screen of another photographer, perhaps even a bald bloke photographer. I am now collecting bald bloke photographers, and believe me, the species is now very abundant. And by the way, if you click and look at bit carefully, you can see that the bald bloke had the same idea as me about photoing the reflected version of the Shard, rather than just the Thing itself:
As the autumn light fades, the screens of other photographers shine ever more brightly. (LATER: And, on the right there, I see cranes.)
I picked those four snaps of snappers entirely because I liked them. But, they are all pictures of snappers using their mobile phones. Mobile phone cameras are getting better and better. But of course. I mean, would they be getting worse?
But having said all that, I do like this:
No frills, no complications, just the top of the IB itself, with a bit of orange light from somewhere.
All of the above photos were taken on my way to and from the Tower of London, about tendays ago, to see all those poppies.
LATER: How in the world could I possibly have failed to include, in this, this?
Shard on camera screen, and poppies. But, this time, a clunky old camera camera rather than a mobile phone camera.
The other day, I forget which one, I worked something out that had been confusing me. Why, given all the fun I get out of photography and given all the time I spend doing it and thinking about it, have I not immersed myself in all the technicalities of photography? Why is it that the only setting on my camera that I regularly use is the one called “Automatic”? Why am I no nearer to understanding manual focussing than I was a decade ago?
The answer is that it is the point-and-shoot sort of photography that strikes me as the most interesting sort of photography now happening. Not in art galleries where the latest black-and-white photos of plague victims or under-age African soldiers are on display, in photos that cost more to buy than paintings and took more trouble to produce. That is all so twentieth century, and even, actually, nineteenth century. What counts now, for me, are the photos you can take with your mobile phone camera, or with the jumped-up mobile phone camera that I use, and the sort of photos that regular people are now able to take, of regular stuff rather than of foreign catastrophes that someone will pay them to take art-gallery standard photos of.
In short, I take point-and-shoot pictures because I like to be part of history, and this is where the history of photography now is. (If you disagree, realise that what you are reading is not an argument. It is a description of a feeling.)
What I have is called a “bridge” camera, but all that this means is that it is a bog-standard point-and-shoot camera that takes somewhat better photos when you go click, and which has a twiddly screen, and a lens that can go from close-up to mega-zoom without any faffing about with multiple lenses. I have the best cheap camera that I can get, rather than the cheapest proper camera. Oh, you can set my camera on manual and go all Real Photographer with it. But if you want to do that, you should have a proper Real Photographer camera, not a bridge camera, and you should have a rucksack full of lenses, each perfect for each oh-so-carefully-taken shot. What “bridge” means is the best camera you can have without having to give any thought to “photography”. Instead, you just think about the picture. More precisely, you think about what you see and which of the things that you see are the most interesting, and why.
My camera is not really any sort of “bridge”. Bridge suggests that I am going somewhere with it, somewhere different, as in different from the technical point of view. But I’m not. Technically, I am staying right where I am. If I am getting better at photography, it is because I am getting better at choosing what to point my camera at.
A bridge camera is rather like “crossover” music in that respect. Crossover music is not for people who are actually doing any crossing over, from one sort of music to any other sort of music. Crossover music is its own sort of music. The people who like crossover music (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are people who like crossover music and who will continue to listen to crossover music, with no actual crossing over from any other sort of music to any other sort of music happening at all.
No links, because I thought of this all by myself.
Today, blogwise, has been one of those days. By that I mean not that I have been too busy to do any blogging. I merely mean that I haven’t felt like doing any, and have in fact not, until now. I have had plenty of time to blog. I just haven’t used any of it to blog.
So, it’s just as well that, I now discover, there has been an incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled:
If you want to ride a really old bus, here is your chance.
Which reminds me that, recently, when mostly photoing photoers photoing Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, I found myself photoing, instead, this:
He wasn’t taking photos. He was checking through photos he’d taken earlier.
I can remember when buses like that were the latest thing.
LATER: More about those Tower of London poppies. I read that Guardian piece before I discovered Guido was already on to it, and I thought it was weird too. Like one of the commenters, and Guido, said: clickbait. Plus, as another commenter said: yeah, the general public likes it, it means something, no wonder the Guardian art critic can’t be doing with it. Let’s hope Natalie Solent gives the piece a good fisking like it’s 2004.
I know what you are thinking. That there is no connection between a big red historic thing which people just never forget about and a big red thing about an historic thing which people just never forget about. Something along those lines?