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Posts tagged ‘Hangberg’

Writing a short artist statement

‘Art is not something one does, it is what one is. An artist is made up of all that she or he has ever done, felt, experienced or been. And the art that the artist creates—if she or he is true to self—is an expression of all that has been done, experienced, felt or been.’  Paul Donohoe (social documentary street photographer).


It has become increasingly clear recently that I had to sit down and come up with a short statement that defines the vision and focus of my socio-documentary art photog.  It is often a requirement when submitting work and it is an essential part of putting forward what drives and motivates me as a photographer in my work.  While I have a clear idea in my head, putting it all down on paper is a trickier business than it looks!  I spent a good hour going over my pics and reading all the synopses to try and define it all in a few sentences.

But it was also a great personal exercise.  Getting away from the ‘who, what, why, where and when’s’ of documentary or more precisely news photog and being given the freedom to express some sort of humble vision is emancipating and brings me closer to my own work in ways that I didn’t feel before.

Having to be more introspective has helped me to understand myself in ways I didn’t really appreciate too – the fact I am always seeking out the absurd and abstract in life at the frontiers of modern life is a reflection of my own desire to always stay on the outside – be the observer – maybe even voyeur but never truly engaging.  Photography was almost a match made in heaven in this respect.  It has allowed me to seek out the weird and wonderful but by being able to put a large camera body up to my face – it has preserved the distance and disengagement which I guess really mirrors my own way of life in many ways.

While I am excited to be finally presenting my projects soon (it has been a long time coming!)  Whatever the outcome I know I have become a better photographer because of them.

Artist Statement:

My work seeks out the spaces where clash creates the wonderful and surreal at the frontiers of homogenised Western society – Be it in wide open deserts or in densely packed urban spaces. Where contradiction creates upheaval and change. Where the chaotic and abstract evolve. Where the end of one cycle gives birth to something transformative that is always innately beautiful. I am driven to capture the process of renewal that on a larger scale are reflected in the rhythms of nature and life.


Xmas hols in Hangberg

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Took Nils Herrmann – Paris high-end jewelery, product and fashion photog into Hangberg yesterday.  Was great having a fellow photog around…. sometimes shooting over the last year the project has felt directionless at some points… esp coming from a news orientated background where your focus is always short-term and you know pretty much what the type of shot you want… working on my long-term book project there is such a different fish for me… it was good therefore to get another photog to come in and listen to his useful opinions and views…he seems overall to have loved it all as much as I have loved Hangberg the past year… always enjoy going in and hanging out there… hope the end product will do Hangberg justice…

Anyway – as this is the last post of the year… Wishing you a Happy New Year! Hope you all have a good one.  It looks like I might be heading into South Sudan early in the New Year (depending on the very fluid situation there)…  so will def enjoy my NYE and think (and blog!) about it all much later!

Awards and Hangberg work…

A walk through Hangberg - the coloured district of Hout Bay in the suburbs of Cape Town

Well award season is upon us as photographers.  The 4 main ones I tend to enter are International Loupe, Photography Masters, World Press and Sony.  Just a single Bronze Merit award for early Hangberg work this year at the Loupe Awards for above pic.  It is an incomplete project (and maybe should have waited before entering) but last year I achieved 9 Bronze and a Silver mainly for work in Mogadishu so still slightly disappointing – As I have blogged here many times I am trying to evolve my work away from conflict zones and the such so maybe to be expected for now…

I like the Loupe Awards cos there is a chance for feedback on work from the judges of which some has been useful.  I am at the initial feedback stages of my Hangberg work at the mo too and I realise I need a few extra months of shooting as I home in on what are its strengths…  have some early images for the Masters too and will see how it does come nxt March… Last year I achieved Nominations in 3 categories… anything close on that n will be happy for now…

On a different note, I am immersed at the mo with shooting a full fashion shoot time lapse sequence – possibly nxt Monday morn.  In the quieter moments last and this week during a job, I came up with some basic rules that will help turn out a decent stand-alone piece.  I do question whether taking on something so different like this with my other 2 personal projects is wise.. (I will blog soon about child rape crisis doccie)…. but having thought a lot about how to make it viable I do believe it is possible to turn smthg of mild interest into smthg with potential commercial application… to be very honest – on a personal level – I really love the medium itself and it is always a pleasure playing around with time lapse… Will blog nxt time on the success or failure once theory turns to application!

The Heavy Personal Price of conflict zone photography and Moving on….

A walk through Hangberg - the coloured district of Hout Bay in the suburbs of Cape Town

I have done a lot of blogging in the past about photojournalism, war-type photography and how it just doesn’t work as a business model.  I haven’t said too much though about the personal effect it has had on me and how I have felt undertaking such photography.  I remember when I did my postgrad at LCC in London, on the first day of the course we were asked if anyone would want to be a war photographer… I remember my hand going straight up and talking about what I then thought were the merits of doing such work.  I got into photojournalism mainly on the back of being in awe of greats such as Don McCullin, Capa and Lee Miller.  I would have given anything at the time to have been able in an ever so small manner to be able to walk in their great footsteps and achieve even a miniscule portion of what they had.

What I came to realise later on though is that things had changed so much than what they were back then for photojournalists.  In the past there were far fewer photographers doing such work and when magazines such as LIFE were in their hey-dey, such photographers were truly witnesses to the world for the rest – on an altruistic mission to reveal what was going on at great personal risk to themselves.  Today though (and for the past 30 years) there are so many conflict photographers out there.  The editor of a large European magazine once told us that during the Libyan conflict she was inundated with so many emails from freelancers simply stating they were on location and if she required any pics for the mag.  When there are so many of us – and now of course with the advent of citizen journalism – conflict photography, in my opinion, begins to lose that one altruistic justification – of being a true witness for the rest – that made it viable to run around conflict areas.  When it just becomes a desperate race to beat the competition to the action in my humble opinion it becomes no better than paparazzi photography.

I was at a funeral a few Sundays back taking shots for my Hangberg book project.  Around the open coffin there were standing young family members of the deceased, completely inconsolable.  For a second my old instinct came through and I thought what a powerful picture that would make.  But in the same instance I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos.  I found myself instead really empathising and I was quickly overwhelmed with emotion.  I stood there and just observed.  It suddenly struck me how much I had changed as a person as well.  In the past, I wouldn’t of hesitated to take that type of photo.  I suddenly wanted to apologise for every time I had stuck a camera in the faces of other people’s misery.  This might be a tad epic and overblown – but it was real to me and I had to hastily leave the funeral cos I could hardly breathe.

I began to question what had I truly risked so much for really – and the trauma of the things I had seen have taken a very heavy personal toll – a nightmare from which I have only recently been able to escape.  I had a conversation a few months back with an ex-British soldier.  We were comparing stories and discussing the trauma the things we had seen had caused us.  After an hour I came to the conclusion that the difference between us was not what we had seen – but in a strange way – I felt more traumatised because I had been inactive in all the situations I had been in whereas a soldier is active and involved.  I felt I had to carry the shame of ultimately running around a conflict area for the simple purpose of trying to get my pics in publications and on the wires.  Some might say these feelings are misplaced – but it is truly what I feel and it has been my own personal experience of such work.  I can honestly say I will never again go to a conflict zone to photograph and take such pics.  That time of my life is over and gone.

Getting to Grips with Panned Time Lapse Sequences

As part of a larger mission aiming to bring South African expertise in photography and certain high-end and niche film and commercial techniques to the African commercial market with my colleague, Sean Ackermann (I’ll blog about that soon), we started messing around as almost a side interest at first with time lapse photography. 

It was initially never meant to be part of our portfolio, but a quick look at the possibilities such as a look at Dustin Farrell’s or Rob Whitworth’s work and both myself and Sean were instantly hooked.


Achieving the bar set though has been a challenge as the art is certainly a complicated one and to master it takes time, effort and a bit of investment.  But in the simple matter of a couple of weeks, we have started to understand and are beginning to get a firm grip on the processes involved.  What excites me most at the mo have been the panned sequences achieved (where the camera moves across the time lapse sequence).  For the time being, with a simple 2 foot slide and glide we have been experimenting and trying out the medium.  

A quick look at the best panned time lapse sequences and what seems to work is a pan along a prominent well-lit or bright foreground subject juxtaposed against a darker background that goes against the main movement (usually sky and clouds) in the time lapse.  The other way to achieve great pans, which has been Sean’s realm of interest (I am currently useless with video editing software!) has been to use After Effects to pan and zoom through a static time lapse sequence. We have also been brainstorming some ambitious ideas that will involve some of the lighting techniques we use in photography… but for now back to basics…..

The first thing I will say – is that with the basic equipment that is at our disposal for now – so much can go wrong with even the most basic time lapse sequence.  To keep consistency in exposure and white balance throughout all the images you firstly have to set all controls to manual (though even this isn’t enough and I’ll come back to that in a bit).  Simply put even a slight jump in the exposure or white balance in 1 or 2 of the images in a sequence becomes obvious to the eye when played back at 25fps later on down the line.  Judging exposure becomes a bit tricky if the light changes a lot.  The general rule I find is to under-expose by 1 or 2 stops (using an ND filter also helps).  If dealing with scenes with massive exposure changes such as sunsets these become very tricky to change exposure incrementally so as not to ruin the sequence.  Bulb Ramping (which adjusts exposure incrementally in each consecutive image as the light changes) is the best way to achieve this and can easily be done now with the new firmware for DSLR cameras called Magic Lantern (I am so appalled that the Canon TC-80N3 intervalometer doesn’t have a bulb ramping feature when even the generic makes do).

But even manual settings are not enough as on all DSLR’s they will invariably still adjust the pic exposure and white balance (I never knew this until I started messing with time lapse) for some scenes.  This will create the unwanted flicker effect when jumps in exposure occur throughout the time lapse sequence.  The best way to get rid of this is with a technique called lens twist (or aperture lock) which effectively cuts communication between the camera and the lens but still allows you to take an image and locks down the aperture.  This is done by holding down the depth of field button and lens release and twisting the lens ever so slightly until aperture reading is 00.  The downside of course is that you have no control over aperture now throughout the time lapse but it all but eliminates one of the biggest problems with the medium.  Mirror lock-up is also another effective method and of course making sure to switch off functions such as Auto Lighting Optmiser and Noise reduction feature.

The other thing that can destroy any time lapse is the slightest movement of frame.  Sean has applied the image stabilisation feature in After Effects to good effect on some of the sequences where there was blatant movement, but even this can’t get rid of large movements (wind in Cape Town has been a big problem recently and ruined a few good time lapse sequences). Everything must be dead still for the entire duration of the sequence. 

Now adding a panning motion on a slide and glide and things begin to get more and more complicated. Especially as at this point we don’t have a mechanised head.  This will change in the next few weeks though. Our first attempts at panning were pretty bad – completely misjudging the number of pans between frames and movement (in mm) that is best for a smooth pan.  By trial and error we found that a 2.5mm – 5mm movement between each shot (at around 5sec intervals – anything slower and another flicker effect comes into play) is best. 

Now achieving this manually has caused me some serious stress I tell you!  Sitting and concentrating sliding a camera along after each shot every 5 seconds exactly 2.5mm takes concentration and when things go wrong (as they invariably do).. there is nothing more deflating than having to start the whole process again!

I am sure we will sit back over a few beers very soon as the mechanised head does its thing and laugh at the days when we used to do the whole thing manually! With time lapse – to avoid agony – it is worth investing in the basic kit but the possibilities are endless – just take a look at what Vincent LaForet is using for his time lapse sequences..


I am excited to take this whole process forward and with the right tools and effort time lapse photography can become an exciting extra dimension to our work.

Time Lapse Photography in Khayelitsha

I was recently commissioned to shoot a few interviews and a time lapse sequence for an international charity with an office here in my locality in Cape Town.  They made up part of a larger promotional piece for the charity that is still in post-prod.  Interviews were pretty straight forward shot with the 5D MkII on video legs and using a simple shotgun mic for audio stream…
The time lapse provided somewhat more of a challenge.  I was specifically asked to shoot a sunrise over a township where you would first see the sunrise associated with the beauty of South Africa and only as it came up would you slowly realise that this beautiful scene overlooked one of squalor and poverty that is of course the trademark of many townships still in SA.Living in Hout Bay I tried first to shoot it locally over the tonwships in my locality of Hangberg or Imizamo Yethu.  Getting the shot meant I could only try once of course every day so got up at 5am on two separate days and went to a pre-chosen location.  I found in Hangberg – in the colored township (which I am of course doing a photo book project at the mo) there weren’t enough shacks to make the piece viable and in IY – while it was def what they would be looking for, the sun unfortunately rose from behind me onto the township that is set on a mountain side and couldn’t get it to work logistically.

There was only one thing for it in the end.  On my third and final attempt (given the strict time-frame within which I had to make the piece) I drove into Khayelitsha – the main township in Cape Town at 4.30am.  While I have been many there many times, driving in on my own with all the camera equipment when it was still effectively night time was a bit daunting.  Once I had pulled out all the equipment I did get loads of dodgy stares and a few people shouting ‘watch out for your stuff – be very careful!’ from their cars as they past which didn’t instil any confidence! But mostly people were friednly and mostly inquistive as to what I was doing there so early standing on top of my land rover on the side of the road with a camera!

Before I could get my equipment out though I had to first find a location where the sun rose over the township at a point where there were enough shacks to make the piece viable.  In the dark, this was not easy to say the least! I also had the problem in that I didn’t know where the sun came up from! In the end, I pulled out my iPhone and used the compass to work out where east was and drove around – jumping on the roof rack of my land rover from time to time – to find the perfect spot.

In the end – after much fretting – I got the simple piece done.  Technically, it was a bit of a challenge too in terms of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed manually as the lighting conditions changed rapidly especially once the sun began to come up (thankfully – due to the mountain cover in the background the sunrise delayed on the loaction and I had til 7am to find my location and set up).

My one concern once I had put the piece together in post-prod was that I noticed that on top of a Land Rover – the slightest movement – esp from the passing buses whizzing by and causing the Land Rover to move slightly on the shock absorbers – caused the picture to move a bit. Otherwise though – the piece came out to spec and the charity that commissioned me seemed more than happy with the piece.

I am excited by time lapse photography to the extent I went out and purchased the Epic 100 robotic camera mount.  In conjunction with the intervalometer, it will allow me to take stunning time lapse sequences where the camera will seem to pan across the scene I am capturing… look forward to playing with it soon!!

More from Hangberg…

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Haven’t blogged for a while… never been good like that unfortunately!  Doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t been busy and exciting developments are happening which I will share soon….

My Hangberg project is taking on a life of it’s own and for the first time it is beginning to look like it is morphing into something that might be presentable as a book project… There is still a long way to go and there are aspects of the community that I haven’t yet touched upon.. but I’m content with the way it is beginning to turn out!!

A Church Service in Hangberg – between Light and Dark

A walk through Hangberg - the coloured district of Hout Bay in the suburbs of Cape Town A walk through Hangberg - the coloured district of Hout Bay in the suburbs of Cape Town

I spent Sunday morning photographing in Hangberg at a church service this time.  The likeable Reverend Derek Maragele was kind enough to give me permission to shoot amongst his congregation and those who attended (as ever) were happy to let me wonder amongst them (almost) unnoticed and take images.

I’ve been cleaning and editing quickly yesterday and this morn.   One great thing about having an assistant is that editing images is greatly helped by having someone artistically minded look at the images and who is not involved in the work.

I took both these images at nearly the same time.  I took the first one with a near to normal balanced ambient reading and then looked again and shot a second using a spot meter reading from around the main cross area over the Reverend’s head. I have lightened the second image slightly though.

The reverend’s head is slightly off-centre in the second image, making composition slightly better in the first but I still personally lean towards the darker image.  One thing I will say about the Hassleblad is that while  there is more noise at higher ISO’s the tonal gradation in shadow is supreme.  I’ll prob end up editing in the first image (if I use it at all in the final edit) but still love playing around in the darkness with the Hasslebald!




Hangberg and a different type of photography

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Been a while since I last blogged but that’s not to say haven’t been busy.

I’ve hired an assistant to help me out with all the backlog of work  I had accumulated and was dreading to face – mainly helping with the cleaning and keywording of stock library images (which is not what I think she had in mind when she took the job – imagining exciting adrenaline-fuelled work and the such!).  I’ve strengthened my relationship with AMO who I love working with and also began engaging with a lot more with Alamy.

Apart from taking the whole stock library income stream seriously, I’ve also pushed forward on a couple of long-term photographic ideas and brought them through from conceptualisation, to proposal stage and have begun shooting them – one in Hangberg, a poor coloured community set in an amazingly stunning surrounding near where I live. And another in the Karoo – a vast desert expanse north of Cape Town.

The doccie on front-line services working on child rape took a break for a few months.  There have been a few problems concerning access that I have been dealing with and decided to stand back for a bit because the mild pressure I was applying had become counter-productive.  We have decent emotive general interviews now with all the key players except the police in Khayelitsha but what we really need to do is to follow a couple of cases through the system which is proving harder to do.

There is an ongoing Commission of Enquiry into the police force in Khaye at the mo looking into the high level of vigilantism in the township and looking at why the police force may not be stepping into the security vacuum.  This has managed to irk the police there no end and has lead to them being a lot more reticent in allowing access to media and the such.  I think it will happen but in the meantime we have been filming at the Thuthuzela Centre in Port Elizabeth where access is a lot more open.  Doing so has given me untold headaches though in terms of having to re-focus the short doccie away from Khayelitsha which was the main scope and re-writing the entire documentary script to incorporate all of this.

In the meantime, I was happy to work with the journalist Claire Simpson on a piece that gave a bit of publicity on the forthcoming short doccie in Vice magazine (UK) which can be seen here:

As for the photo projects, Hangberg is tentatively ready to put up here (which I have done above) although I realise I am still a very long way off from completion of the project.

I’ve done a lot of blogging about how I would like to evolve my work away from news photography into more long-term book and gallery exhibition projects.  Well – finally I can put my photos where my mouth is.  This is the first such project I am undertaking and has been a great joy to shoot as I’ve always wanted access into Hangberg.  Going back to the Benefits of Teaching Photography blogs I wrote – well, I managed to gain access through one of my more prodigious students I worked with on one of the courses I taught through the local charity Lalela and who now regularly works with me as my assistant in Hangberg.  I will be doing more teaching with Lalela and look forward to the opportunity to work with the kids again.

As for my assistant in Hangberg, he has been a masterstroke and am so happy I had the opp to meet him.  I sometimes walk into his house not knowing whether I will be beaten up or whether he will assist me – such is the look of anger on his face – but he is a solid – ‘all I’ve got in this world are balls and my word and I don’t break them for no-one’ type and trust him completely – so much so that I decided to shoot the project on my Hassleblad.

I have wondered whether it would have been better to shoot the Karoo desert project with the Hassleblad and the Hangberg project with my Canon 5D MkII (soon to be upgraded to MK III – can’t wait to use the new AF system – finally Canon have got it spot on!).  I originally thought that using the Hassleblad in Hangberg would force me somehow to slow down and take more static images rather than working with the faster and more dynamic Canons which would lead to more new-sy type images – smthg I of course have been trying to get away from.  The results have partly vindicated the decision but I have lost a lot of decent images there too mainly in very low-light conditions and esp at night where the Hassleblad struggles and where at ISO 800 (the max on the H4D-40) a lot of noise is introduced into the images.

I worry sometimes that the old reflexes as a news photographer didn’t come to play in the decision to employ the Hassleblad, simply so I can prove to myself I can walk around with it there –  Hassleblad may have got a camera on the moon (their own marketing blurb) but I bet they’ve never had one in Hangberg type thing!

I’ve had one or two hairy moments there – a gangster there told me outright he was going to steal my camera – when I laughed nervously he told me he was in fact very serious – I told him I knew he was but knew also that Denrico (my assistant there) is well-respected in the community and I was safe for now.  The gangster said as much.  Anyway – he was gracious enough to let me photograph him and I have given him A4 prints in return for the favour and we often greet each other now amicably enough.

As I’ve said – there is a long way to go with the Hangberg project but I am happy to put some of the images up now.  I have found the road away from my old type of work long and hard but without any initial feedback – I am happy with the new direction I am taking and with the type of work I am beginning to put out.  I am excited to get the short doccie finished too and know once that (and the Karoo photographic project) is complete, my shift will have been complete and I will be able to offer a new style and services to potential clients.

Teaching photography and the great rewards that come from it (part 2)

Winning Image: A view of Hangberg and Hout Bay beyond. With such clear economic divisions in South Africa as a whole it is hard to foresee a time when true reconciliation will occur in the country. Until such inequalities are addressed, South Africa will never truly be at peace and stable as the current labour unrest is further evidence of. As in many Western societies, peace and social redemption is rooted with the emergence of a strong and large middle class in society.


One of the students who I was working with won the photography prize for the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation Awards – There is no greater reward in teaching than that..


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