some the excellent end results from my students from a recent mobile phone photography course I ran in Hermanus, on the Garden route in South Africa.
Posts tagged ‘South Africa’
How I learnt to love mobile phone photography after I started to teach it.
I have written a short diarised version of my current trip to NYC to talk at the SVA, show work and attend PDN Photoplus. I freely admit that I have modelled it a bit on Peter Dench’s excellent diary series ‘The Diary of a Sometime Working Pro’ in the UK-based ‘Hungry Eye’ journal (a must-read for both photogs and film-makers alike). I guess in Peter’s seemingly random daily ruminations I see my own disjointed life narrative that makes up my sometimes surreal and very personal experiences as a photog.
Thursday 13th October
Wake up at 4am after a bad nights sleep still jet-lagged. I had added an extra day to my trip before giving a brief presentation at the SVA in the hope that I would be well rested but no luck there. Start the day completing a general marketing brief, sending material for social media and website updates for the studio in Cape Town and preparing for talk later in the day. I try and sleep some more but with no success. Go into Manhattan to do all my international magazine and journal shopping – smthg I am very much starved of in Cape Town. Come back at 4pm – plan to relax a bit and make my way to the SVA at 6.30pm.
8.50pm – wake up in a daze… where am I?! Oh yeah – in NYC – isn’t there smthg I am meant to be doing?… FUCK!!!!
In a confused mix of daze and panic I phone the SVA event organiser Lavonne Hall. She confirms the event is nearly over but is thankfully merciful and relaxed about the whole thing. She tells me we will re-arrange the talk and confirms our meeting the next day anyway.
I decide that getting some sleep is a top priority.
Friday 14th October
4.30am – awoken by messages on my SA phone asking me about studio hire and equipment rates in Cape Town on Saturday the next day. I am instantly annoyed as I just know this request won’t happen by the tone of message. Go through the motions of arranging with my ever reliable first assistant and get back with other info. Tell the potential client to confirm before 3pm SA time knowing full well they won’t and try and get some more sleep.
Spend morning showing work briefly and then end up at the MoMA with Lavonne. End up seeing photography work much of which I’d mostly seen before. Nan Golding’s exhibition there for example… interesting little exhib of scenes of destruction from Aleppo, Syria in back-lit mahogany boxes. Lavonne comments on the fact you can see the shadow of the wiring coming through in a few of the boxes. The Photographer could probably say it was all intentional. That’s the beauty of art photography.
Trump – Trump – Trump-ety Trump everywhere. I can see why the US is so sick of it all – away from the TV in NYC, all mentions of Trump are usually a comedic ruse at money-making.
Saturday 15th October
11am – Outside of photography I have 2 goals for the immediate future. One is to become good at kitesurfing (or at least not get blown into the bushes at the back of the beach so much) and the second is to watch as many Arsenal football games in as many different settings as possible. I decide to go to the Blind Pig off Union Square to watch Arsenal vs Swansea. I only make it for the second half in the end… but the pub is crammed full of Arsenal memorabilia, TV screens all dedicated to Premier league football and with American Arsenal-loving supporters almost as mad and passionate as fans in the UK… this could honestly be a pub around Finsbury Park. ‘God Bless America’ I think. Can’t resist the temptation of ordering a pint of Guiness to take in the atmos…
1pm – Go get a bite to eat and spend the next couple of hours drinking as many liquids as possible trying to get rid of the buzz that comes from 3 pints of Guinness before going to an open gallery event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
3pm – The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an interesting place. Packed with studio spaces for various types of artists – from photographers to painters to sculptors. Spend the next few hours mostly trying to find all the exhibited work in the sprawling redevelopment…
Sunday 16th October
On the way to meeting a friend for dinner, I pass through Times Square. The buzz and atmos of the place – and of Manhattan in general is amazing – it almost feels like in the areas immediately surrounding Noting Hill in London as people walk away from the carnival – but all the time. The throb of people becomes uncomfortable as I pass an event dedicated to the ongoing Hindu festival of Diwali. Having been to a few in London I am not so interested and instead take pics of the statue of Francis Duffy there – a priest and First World War hero – juxtaposed against images of 20th Century icons. I hear one of the speakers talk about how there is renewed evil in the world and about harking back to better times. I am instantly annoyed and see in his speech undertones of the ‘Make America Great Again!’ theme of the Donald – I wonder whether the speaker was at or even helped organise the recent ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in New Jersey (where Trump infamously and nonsensically said ‘I am a big fan of Hindu and India’)… ‘Humans have always been evil dude’ I think to myself and walk off to meet my friend – my disinterest in the event complete.
Monday 17th October
3.30pm – Had an interesting meeting today at Polaris Images – my reportage and documentary agency with the legendary in photographic circles, JP Pappis – its head. Before the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to receive a cheque for library images sold… that’ll cover my spending (and part of my drinking money) on this trip…I look at the list of images sold. One particularly lucrative sale was for: ‘Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’ – ‘Fuck’ I thought – I’ve never photographed Hamid Karzai – I’ve never been to Afghanistan for that matter’… I consider for a while whether I should mention it and risk losing the sale. In the end I mention it… turns out it was thankfully a small admin error and the sale was mine.
Spent over an hour chatting to JP.. awesome character. He gives me the lowdown on the ever-depressing state of the reportage and documentary world of photography. Apparently Getty caught everyone unawares this year at Perpignan by announcing that Getty Reportage would close down and be replaced by Verbatim – still run by Aidan Sullivan – but focusing on corporate work instead. We also talk about the rise of Shutterstock and royalty free micro stock images and what it has done to the business. He tells me about his accident where he tripped and broke three ribs a few days before having to travel to Perpignan (for Visa pour l’image – the annual photojournalism festival in France) – but still got on a plane and went- even driving to and from Barcelona. As I say – legend.
I tell him about all my new focus on different types of work and that I don’t do reportage and news any more – ‘I’m 40 and I’m Greek – it’s all about the money now!’ I joke. We discuss putting up a corporate portfolio on the soon to be revamped Polaris website. I get interested though in discussing how the South African narrative – internationally speaking – has stuck with independence and Mandela when so much has changed since then. I offer to send some story pitches in this regard as well… guess I will always have a finger in the reportage pie one way or another.
I leave the Polaris offices happy that my last meeting was so fruitful… I go to the bank and cash the cheque. Walking up to meet a friend in Bryant Park about 8 blocks uptown, the wheels of my roller bag which I use to transport my smaller portfolio catches on something. I aggressively try and free it before realising it is catching on my one and only decent leather jacket which was draped over the bag. I inspect the damage to the jacket and ruminate that a new one would cost as much as the cheque I had just gotten. I arrive in Bryant park in a dark mood. A Hare Krishna passes and offers a small bright, golden-coloured leaflet. I take it – partly out of curiosity to see whether it was yet another NYC hustle and partly because I have an affinity with Hare Krishnas after they had kindly and mercifully put a blanket around my shoulders almost two decades before during one particularly bad moment at Glastonbury when I had lost friends and had run into their tent to seek shelter from the torrential rain. The young man stops and turns with a speed and focus that can only mean he is about to ask me for money. ‘Take it back take it back take it back’ I say firmly waving the leaflet over the palm of his now outstretched hand before he can say anything. He takes it back and leaves me alone.
Wednesday 19th October
wake up at 4am again – I decided before the start of PDN Photoplus today and the start of very hectic 12 hour days (if you include openings and after parties), I should say smthg about my trip to NYC on social media. I get depressed thinking that very much in the same way that if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it making a sound, then if I go to NYC and don’t talk about it on social media – did it really ever happen?
I write 2 blogs then decide to get an hour’s sleep before having to head to the Javits… I set my alarm this time.
Just came back from a week’s trip in the Karoo – as a continuation of a long-term photo project I am currently undertaking out there (Karoo – A Changing Landscape: http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/karoo/ ). I was determined to undertake the challenging off-road journey out there- even if I have been distracted with things back in CT recently… Looking over past work in preparation for the trip, I realised I had to focus more on its wonderfully eccentric peoples to balance the opening part of the project (that has focused more on abstract and landscape images). In the short space of time out there, I managed to start fulfilling that goal (although of course I also shot a wide range of appropriate landscape shots – it is so hard to resist the temptation in the idiosyncratic Karoo!).
Even in the short space of time out there on this occasion – the wonderfully warm and friendly peoples of the Karoo – from all walks of life – helped make my pic-taking job easier. In many ways it is a hark back to a vanishing and more idyllic and simple existence – A way of being that I believed had been swallowed up by everyday modern urban life long ago. Will be making a 3 week trip in the next few months again… really looking forward to getting back out there too…
Palm Springs Festival – Part 3: The Video Editing Workshop and Moving Forward and other Issues with the Child Assault Documentary I have been shooting
I spent an important day away from the photography side of things to do a Video Editing course with Fletcher Murray. The course itself was educational and I got to ground myself better in the important post-prod side of shooting video. I have been undertaking a doccie last couple of years concerning the front line services, including counsellors, forensic doctors and police department involved with the dark issue of dealing with the deluge of child assault cases in the main township of Cape Town called Khayelitsha where as many as 1 in 3 children will suffer some form of sexual abuse by the time they are 18.
I have shot a fair amount of footage – mainly talking heads though – but have been unable thus far to move it forward. One problem has been technical, falling a bit flat at the first edit stage partly. In the past pre-digital era, editing was more formulaic but these days, editing is increasingly one of the most important part of the doccie production process and knowledge of it and technical know-how of prem pro or final cut is essential even if I am not going to edit the final cut myself ultimately. It is not just techinical though – knowing what to cut and what to keep – even when I know my story intimately has been difficult for me.
Taking the course was important and will allow me to begin to move the doccie forward again. But it is not just on the technical side where I had issues:
For starters, while being a strong and important topic to tackle, in practice there is not much leeway of what can be shown. I was hoping to depict the gravity of what was being dealt with and essentially the ‘unseen horror’ (which could never be shown directly for obvious reasons) through the emotions and reactions of those working with the issue. But what has happened essentially given the monumental task of achieving access through South African Governmental departments and of course the police force is that access is very controlled and restrictive and what essentially I have is a whole load of talking heads.
Professionals are also hardened to the issue and it is very hard to capture the emotionality of the subject and therefore the ‘unseen horror’ with people who have to protect themselves and form a professional barrier between their personal feelings and the terrible nature of what they deal with on a day to day basis. And it is especially hard when the access is limited to a series of interviews.
I also realised a while back and even at the Palm Springs Photo Festival where I was pulled in so many directions – from photography to time lapse and then back to video editing – that I have very much spread myself a bit thin professionally and something had to give. I see myself as a photographer first – but also know that I got into it as a photojournalist with a love and training in essentially telling linear stories. The days for doing that in photography are essentially gone or going but in documentaries the possibilties are there and very much relevant. I certainly feel that I will possibly end up in this field one day – but for now I have had to put the documentary on the back burner as I decide what to do and how to get the essential B-Roll that will make or break the doccie. I have ideas and with more ideas about editing and the principles behind it will certainly help.
A photograph changes according to the context in which it is seen… the meaning is the use.
Susan Sontag – On Photography
Spent the last few hectic weeks in the UK and a small trip to Europe preparing amongst other things a portfolio of my 2 long-term projects: ‘Of Religion and Gangsters’ & ‘A Changing Landscape’ – that is making large prints, presentational Blurb self-published books and new cards and websites (frustrating work in progress this last one!). At this early stage, the most important thing when showing the new work has been the feedback from peeps well-placed in the industry whose cumulative opinions ultimately help my own decision-making process in what way to take my own work.
The highlight of these meetings for me was definitely getting to hook up again with my old mentor from the Northern Lights Masterclass, Marc Prust in Amsterdam.
Marc is one of those rare successful guys who is also a genuinely friendly and open guy. Spent a pleasant afternoon chewing the fat and of course trying to put the world of photography to right over a couple of beers. For me, getting feedback from Marc is a bit like being broken down in basic Marine training – all my ideas (read here delusions) about my own work quickly evaporate, but in the long-run from that come the crumbs that help build stronger more relevant ideas around my own work.
I have known for the longest time that presenting my own work has never been one of my strong points. I have always been one of those photogs more comfortable hiding behind agencies and not having to market myself directly. Assignments have always come relatively easy in that I have always been good at implementing someone’s photographic specs (however ludicrous and unrealistic the logistics and timelines etc may sometimes be – and always with a big fat smile on ma face!). But to truly progress as a photog, unlike many other professions, this is simply not enough. Professional photography – in all fields, but especially in the world of book, gallery and art photography has this added dimension where you are and must be in a perpetual state of self-promotion. At the end of the day, if you don’t keep up with the newsletters, emails, blogs and portfolio reviews (but the relevance of portfolio reviews is questionable and will write about in a future blog), then with so much competition out there, you will simply be forgotten and quickly at that matter.
Given its importance, it has been essential that I bring these skills up to scratch. To say it has been a hard experience preparing is an understatement to say the least. But as Marc, who first sat me down on a couch like some Freudian interrogative session before even looking at my pics rightly pointed out: The problem and strength of my own presentation of the work, begins way before deciding how to show it. I have go way back to having an airtight idea of who I am professionally (esp now I have decided to leave the world of news photography behind) and essentially where I am going. I previously had some vague notion that I was doing these two projects to test the waters and either create a book (which I now think is def possible) or approach a gallery space or even to use as promotional tools to make contacts in this new field and from that build relationships that will eventually lead to the same goal with future projects. After our convo, I realised that this idea needs serious development. I have began formulating a much more solid idea and essentially a business plan – of where I want to be in 5 or 10 years. What now seems obvious, is that without this – it is hard to decide ultimately the best method to convey the work or even the best way to edit it: Understanding whether the work is strictly art portfolio, has a documentary-style narrative and therefore where it’s final destination will be will at the very start determine how best to present the work.
The other side of getting the basics right is having a solid conceptual basis for both projects to work around. It is interesting that even before I presented my work, the concepts for both have evolved and transitioned into something very different from where they started life and especially for my ‘Of Religion and Gangsters’ project.
I find it so interesting how the same set of images, edited and presented differently with a totally different conceptual idea can have such different meaning and be made more profound and relevant on the back of a great solid concept (and hence the Susan Sontag quote above). Of course, you can’t fake it at all. In all probability I will have to go back and shoot a lot more for both projects but at least once I have the concepts for them firmly nailed down I have a great set of images as a starting point and ultimately the rest will fall into place rapidly.
I knew conceptually both projects needed developing and being able to bounce ideas has been a god-send.
It is interesting that what came out though organically from the meetings was that I am moving towards tying them both to a narrative that is in both cases loosely based on a framework around the concept of apartheid and its continuing effects on South African society. I do hesitate in ever doing such things. I find it contrived and cliché to even mention it as many have done before and as many who live in SA know, the everyday narrative has transformed and moved forward a lot. But in many ways it also hasn’t – and more significantly – in the all-important international world of opinion, SA is still viewed through the eyes of apartheid and the positive redeeming journey towards the relatively peaceful transition to independence. In photography (as in many art and media platforms) it is work and concepts based somehow on this idea that continue to have appeal in the West.
Of course, there are well-established photographers out there who have done an amazing job of moving and helping to transform this perception of SA and even Africa as a whole. Pieter Hugo immediately comes to mind and who is currently my stand out photographer (check out his new work ‘Kin’ based on his relationship to his surrounding environment i SA which has now become more releavnt to him after having a family) and of course there is the forefather of a new South African narrative Roger Ballen and his seminal book ‘Outland‘ (not a big fan I must say though). Might or might not do a future blog on African narrative in photography which is something dear to my heart.
I must say though by attaching an interesting and innovative angle based loosely around the framework of apartheid to both my long-term projects, I see them in a new and exciting light and has given them a more profound visual purpose that genuinely excites me. Evolving both concepts and setting out to finish and shoot both projects is something that gives a new breath of life to the work and the feedback, especially from Marc (however punishing and ego-shattering!) brings with it much welcome new possibilities… and I can’t wait to see where that road might lead.
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.
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!!
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!!