Monday, 29 February 2016

David Moses - Here is what you can do with the the rules of photography

Lately I’ve been bored with photography. Well, not with photography exactly but by photographs. There is a process which every photographer goes through - when you first get a camera and set out to take pictures it is totally instinctual. You don’t have any style because you don’t know any styles. The shots come from the heart and if you are open enough to it, you get joy from those pictures. There are a lot of misses, but the hits really feel good.

Then, you want to find out more. So you read about photography, you learn about it. You get books that teach you about composition, technique and everything else and you begin to take pictures in the same way as other people who have learned the same things you have. The pictures become formulaic.

Then it gets worse, because people start applying these rules to every image and rubbishing the ones that don’t fit i.e. that image doesn’t have the rule of thirds, that image has blown out highlights, that image is blurry etc etc. This makes people afraid to do anything outside of these rules and they learn to hate their own voice. Now, my totally uninformed opinion on this is that most people doubt themselves and so doubt that their own view is worth anything.

Now, I will state here that I think this process is necessary in order to grow and develop (no pun intended). But you must put these things aside. The rule of thirds is nonsense, correct exposure is nonsense and I could go on, but you get the gist. None of these things matter.

What set me off on this was viewing Martin Parr’s recent work about the Rhubarb Triangle. I read comments about how Martin Parr is a poor photographer who doesn’t know what he is doing. I just couldn’t believe it. He abandoned typical viewpoints and photographic tropes and shot from his heart, giving us new work, from his eye alone. His legacy is enormous and his work valuable and enlightened. An inspiration to us all. Bloody keyboard warriors.

So how do you stop taking picture that look just like everyone else’s? You must actively set about abandoning these conditions. Stop using the same visual language as everybody else and start playing around. Take whatever you have learned and do the opposite.

David Moses

Monday, 15 February 2016

Tom Langlands - The Barnacle Geese of the Solway Firth

The Barnacle Geese that overwinter on the Solway Firth, the estuarial water that divides Scotland from England on the west of the country, all come from the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago high in the Arctic Circle above Norway. These birds represent around 30% of the total number of Barnacle Geese that visit the UK each year.

As Arctic winter descends, the Svalbard Barnacles start to head south towards the Norwegian coast before making the final stage of their journey across the North Sea to Scotland. From early October in excess of 30,000 Barnacle Geese will begin to arrive at the Solway Firth. This figure represents a truly amazing conservation story, for in the years immediately after WWII the number was only around 300.

Throughout the war years there was considerable conflict between the disparate parties that held a vested interest in the land around the Solway; wildfowlers, fishers, farmers, conservationists and the military that used the area for explosives production and testing. Barnacle Geese and other species were unable to feed undisturbed. The great naturalist Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) in 1946, was a regular visitor to the area. He worked with the landowner, the Duke of Norfolk, and the various parties to establish specific zones for the different activities based on sound conservation principles. The result was the founding of the WWT’s Caerlaverock reserve in 1970 which, as part of a wider National Nature Reserve, provides undisturbed winter grazing. Consequently, Barnacle numbers have increased dramatically.

It is essential that the geese feed well with minimal disturbance in order to build the fat reserves that will enable them to survive winter and the long journey back to Svalbard in the spring. They may need to rely on these reserves even further when they arrive in Svalbard depending on the weather conditions.

The WWT has been ringing Barnacle Geese since the 1960s in order to understand where they go and what their breeding patterns are. Recently, some birds have been fitted with satellite tracking devices to show precise migration routes and journey times. This data can be used to influence planning decisions regarding such matters as the location of wind farms in the UK and in Norway. The study of Barnacle Geese by the WWT is one of the longest running migratory bird studies anywhere in the world.

Barnacle Geese are a protected species and with numbers having increased a hundred fold in a few decades it would seem that all is well. Sadly, a new problem may be emerging at the other end of the birds’ migratory range. As the geese leave in spring and return to their summer breeding grounds in Spitsbergen the worst of the Arctic winter should be over, leaving them an uninterrupted breeding season in which to raise their young. Polar Bears, which also frequent these parts, should be following the colder weather north to search out their food sources of seal and other animals but over the last decade, warming seas and thinning ice flows have caused Polar Bears to become trapped on the islands in the summer months. To avoid starvation, the bears are turning to the eggs and young of breeding birds, including Barnacle Geese. Many of the geese are ground nesters on small coastal islands and they make easy targets for the bears. A mother bear and cub can quickly destroy hundreds of nests and eggs. Thankfully, Barnacles also breed on cliffs and these ones escape the worst of the predation. However, there are limited cliff-nesting sites and it is unclear if ground-breeding geese could ever adapt.

While Barnacle Geese are not classified as endangered they are regarded as vulnerable. Sadly, Polar Bears are vulnerable too and they shouldn’t be relying on an inadequate diet of young birds and eggs. The presence of Polar Bears in the summer breeding grounds of the Barnacle Geese creates a conflict of nature that simply shouldn’t be happening!

Tom Langlands

Monday, 8 February 2016

Roger Lever - Gannets and The Bass Rock

Bass Rock has been described as the 8th wonder of the world. One could easily think that if you have been dumped in the middle of a colony of 150,000 gannets on this big chunk of Basalt jutting out of the Firth of Forth.

Getting there is another story however. A bit like St Kilda, landing on the island is governed solely by the weather and sea conditions. You have to prebook your trip months in advance and keep your fingers crossed that the weather is going to be kind for you. It took me 5 attempts the first time I tried BUT on the fifth all went smoothly. The 3/4 hour trip from Dunbar went on time at 6am and we were assisted onto the concrete staircase that takes you up onto the Rock itself.

The first thing that strikes you even before you have landed is the amazing visual spectacle of thousands of gannets flying around, landing and taking off in all directions. It looks like utter chaos but you soon begin to realise that it is not. There is actually an ancient organisation within the colony. There has to be otherwise there would be total meltdown and death of the colony. The next thing is the noise which is loud and constant.

After 3 or 4 hours in the midst of it your brain seems to cancel it out. And then of course there is the SMELL. Well what else would you expect when 150,000 birds shit guano many ( hundreds) times a day either from their nest site or from above. The thing that I noticed was that birds on the nest fired it horizontally so as not contaminate their own nest. I don’t think they really cared where it landed after that! The winter rain and storms do a good job in pressure washing the island ready for the gannets return the following year.

Making ones way up the path towards the centre of the colony is quite and obstacle course, the obstacles of course are gannets - of all ages. They breed from early spring through to late autumn. Over the last 50 years the original small colony has grown to take over 80-90% of the available surface area on the island. Seen from a distance the island looks almost totally white. The nesting sites are crammed together with a small but finite distance between them. Needless to say at this short distance there are mistakes resulting in arguments and brief encounters with other parents offspring.

Gannets generally mate for life unless one or other dies for whatever reason and they occupy the same nest site each year. The gannets life is governed by body language, displays and call signals developed over thousand of years. Of course they are organised! They are also very prolific hunters of fish, travelling sometimes hundreds of kilometres a day returning with crops full of fish for their single offspring. All this has resulted in the gannet being one of our most successful breeding seabirds.

We wouldn’t know all this of course without the intense studies made by Bryan Nelson and his wife June. They lived on the island in a wooden hut for three years. How better to study any species of animal. Live with them.
I have been very fortunate to meet Bryan and June. Bryan's book ‘On the Rocks’ is well worth a read should you wish to find out more about their adventures studying the various gannet species around the globe.

I have made two short films of Bryan one in my studio and the second at his home in Kirkcudbright which was not that long before he died on the 29th June 2015 at the ripe old age of 83.

Here is his obituary from the Herald newspaper

If you wish to watch the first film then click below

1000 Faces Scotland - Bryan Nelson from Roger Lever on Vimeo.

Roger Lever

Monday, 1 February 2016

Holly Burns - Just for the love of it

I think it’s fair to say that I am most well known for my dark side – my surrealistic fine art portraiture. It’s no wonder as, with few exceptions, this is the only part of my photography that I really advertise online and in galleries. It’s the part I decided was the way in which I could be ‘different’ from everyone else and market myself accordingly but like everyone else, I can get bored of being in one box and feel the need to jump into others at times. I have done just that recently when I decided to go back to nature when inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi and the Wabi-Sabi idealism.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing pottery, usually with lacquer and gold – hence the name, which literally means, “joining with gold”. Many ancient Japanese arts are centered around the philosophy of simplicity, including the art of Kintsugi.

It holds dear the idea of finding the beauty that is already present in the world around us. Whilst mending together broken pottery, the cracks are highlighted rather than hidden which is part of a Japanese philosophy where exists the idea of “Wabi-Sabi,” the act of embracing the flawed or the imperfect.

So how did I jump from learning about the traditional Japanese methods of repairing pottery and its philosophical values to creating this series of works completely unrelated to my normal style?

I was feeling completely uninspired one day until I picked up this leaf.

I remember thinking it was just beautiful. It was a shame it was dying, but still, look how beautiful. I chuckled to myself “how Wabi-Sabi of me”. I kept it and it didn’t last much longer, a day or two later it disintegrated, I wished I could have kept it somehow. I was reminded of how Kintsugi gives broken, or in this case dying, new life. It rejuvenates the earthenware and so it can be used once more. I wished I could have done that with this little leaf.

I realised that I could have through Photography and became inspired to go out foraging for dying or dead foliage and rejuvenate it once more. I collected only from places I always walk on a day to day basis. Just changing my perspective on what I consider to be beautiful made me notice so much more around me. I very carefully painted each one and photographed it.

These are my results, not my usual style but done just for the love of nature, photography and seeing beauty in simple things.

Although visually these images are not my typical style, I have really enjoyed the process of making this series. I have become reacquanted with my natural surroundings and now see things around me that I so often ignored. This series has again shown me how photography allows a view of the world from a different perspective and by doing so highlighting the elements of beauty that we so often take for granted.

Holly Burns