How easy was it to ‘Photoshop in’ the trees?

It’s strange. In picture terms, people’s perception of reality is often hampered by a literal interpretation. A camera never lies. I suppose this is debatable – the choices a photographer makes when creating an image  can distort  perspective in a particular scene. But this is usually intended to create interest rather than to misinform. Most of the time.

In 2009 I had a print exhibited in the Association of Photographers Open exhibition. A moody shot of St Paul’s Cathedral – unusual, but not controversial. Or so I thought.

View towards St Paul's Cathedral from Tate Modern

View towards St Paul's Cathedral from Tate Modern - Canon 5D MKII

“It must have taken ages to ‘Photoshop in’ the trees,” is the usual comment. It happened again yesterday.

“No, it’s one shot”.

“But there aren’t any trees next to St Paul’s Cathedral”.

“Look from The Tate Modern,” I reply. It sometimes takes a bit of explaining, and it isn’t always believed. Computer trickery is always assumed.

So this is how I did it.

St Paul's Cathedral taken from Tate Modern

view towards St Paul's Cathedral taken from Tate Modern, a few metres to the right of the original camera position. Camera - iPhone.

Technique – 50mm lens, Canon 5D MKII. I stood with my back to the coffee cart at the Millennium Bridge entrance of the Tate. Click. Simple!

Two new exhibitions: Shades of Winter at Fulham Palace, and Red Dot at the Association of Photographers Gallery

There are two new exhibitions where I have photographs on display, both in London. The first, Shades of Winter, is a joint exhibition at Fulham Palace, with photographer Caroline Ames. I have 10 of the Pinhole Impressions series on display (see previous postings) and Caroline has 10 photographs of Fulham Palace, taken last winter. A large version of 43 Gardeners’ Hands is also on display. This runs from 24th November 2010 to 27th February 2011. For more information and travel details, see the Fulham Palace website.

Pinhole Impressions 6 - Fagus Sylvatica Pendula

Pinhole Impressions 6 - Fagus Sylvatica Pendula

The second exhibition is the Red Dot charity auction at the Association of Photographers Gallery, where I have two images on display.  This is an annual event  where silent bidding starts at £40 for all prints. All profits from print sales will be donated to the charity Photovoice,  a multi-award winning charity based in London. Its mission is to bring about positive social change for marginalised communities, providing them with photographic training with which they can advocate, express themselves and generate income. You can view all images online, or see the images on display at the AOP gallery from 1st December 2010 to 13th January 2011 – Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm. Visit the website for travel details.

reflections, Grand Union Canal

Reflections, Grand Union Canal, on display at the Red Dot exhibition.

Cape Trafalgar, Spain, on display at the Red Dot exhibition.

Cape Trafalgar, Spain, on display at the Red Dot exhibition.

Eadweard Muybridge, the Muybridgizer and frightening chickens with a torpedo.

Last week I visited the new Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain. On leaving the gallery, I saw a note on the foyer wall saying visit the cafe and download the Muybridgizer app for your iPhone. I wanted it. But it wouldn’t download. I went home – no joy. I wanted it more. Several Google searches failed to find it. Did it really exist? Were the staff at the Tate pulling a fast one? Then I tried to convince myself that it probably wouldn’t be any good. This didn’t work. I still wanted it!

Finally, today it was there in the iTunes store. I rushed out with my iPhone to test it. Was it worth the wait? Probably not, but it’s quite addictive and fun to play with. So, my first results:

shadow 1

shadow 1

Shadow 2

Shadow 2

Polishing jewelry

Polishing jewellery

The exhibition was fascinating. There was a wide range of work on display and a lot was new to me. Before his experiments with time sequences, Muybridge made a lot of money in the United States from some of his landscape photography, particularly with stereographs. These were small cards with two photographs of the same subject, each from a slightly different perspective. Seen through a handheld viewer, the photographs were transformed into a 3D image. He also frequently worked with an 18×24 inch plate camera, and it was noted at the time that he cut trees down by the score in the quest for the perfect view! This has crossed my mind on more than one occasion in Richmond Park. It’s not specifically mentioned in the permit terms and conditions, so I assume it’s open to debate with the Parks Police.  Worth a go next time.

My favourite image, by far, was one of the sequences. Not one of the horses or athletes, which had the appearance  of  scientific experiments. Or the lady in a hat, jumping over a stool. Or even model 95, described as a 60 year old ex-athlete, who turned out to be Muybridge himself . ‘Frightening chickens with a torpedo’ must have been one of those tests carried out on a Friday afternoon for the sheer hell of it! It wins hands down for its pointlessness  –  and humour.  Good job Leland Stanford, Muybridge’s patron, had a lot of money. Unfortunately , at the moment, I can’t actually find a link to the image.

The exhibition is at Tate Britain and runs from 8th September 2010 to 16th January 2011

The Palace Art Fair and the New York Affordable Art Fair

Just a quick note to say that I will be exhibiting recent work at the Palace Art Fair, London, from 7th to 10th October 2010. Housed in the  splendid surroundings of Fulham Palace, and  arranged by the organizers of the Brighton Art Fair, it promises to be a great event.

I’m also excited that some of my work, the Pinhole Impressions series, along with 43 Gardeners’ Hands, will be at the New York City Affordable Art Fair this weekend, represented by Will’s Art Warehouse.

Tulip petals and Miscanthus sinensis. New work at the Palace Art Fair

Tulip petals and Miscanthus sinensis. New work at the Palace Art Fair

Images from the Manton de Manila series

Images from the Manton de Manila series. New work at the Palace Art Fair.

Clouds - new work at the Palace Art Fair

Clouds - New work at the Palace Art Fair

Favourite cameras – the Baby Rolleiflex

Baby Rolleiflex

Baby Rolleiflex

I have collected cameras for many years, and the display cabinets in my office have long been full of photographic detritus. Subject to many clear outs, the remaining equipment is an eclectic mix of stuff I have used over the years, or antiques I’ve taken a shying to.

My favourite  by far is the Baby Rolleiflex I bought on Ebay. Made in the early 1960’s, it is an example of great engineering. With precision wind on and a shutter that has a satisfying click, it is a world away from the clunk most SLR’s (digi or film) seem to have. A boy’s toy maybe, but it works as well now as it did when it came out of the factory! And it takes great pictures.

The biggest problem is getting film. 127 is a format which is basically obsolete, with just a few manufacturers producing small batches of colour or black and white stock. I’ve used 200 ISO colour negative made by Maco – a C41 film which did produce good results. But I did have a problem with one batch, where the backing paper was sticking to the emulsion – not through the whole length of film, but enough to lose several frames. And the spools tended to be fractionally too wide, meaning it was best to use an old metal spool in the take-up chamber to prevent jams.

You can also buy new Kodak film that has been re-cut and rolled using old 127 backing paper. I bought some at B&H in New York, and was alarmed to see it boxed up as Kodacolor X, a film last manufactured in 1974! The technician who processed the film was fairly cool with the C22 process label too – a disaster in the making for a modern processing machine had it been accurate.  So not for the faint hearted!

You need to be keen to use a Baby Rollei, but the images do have a ‘look’. Due to the erratic nature of the film supplies, it has now been retired to one of the top shelves in my camera cabinet! But I think I might consider a classic Rolleiflex at some point – 120 film looks as if it will be here for a while longer.

Empire State Building, New York

Empire State Building, New York, from the junction of Fifth Avenue and East 33rd Street, taken with Baby Rolleiflex

Brooklyn Bridge in New York

Brooklyn Bridge in New York, taken with Baby Rolleiflex

Central Park

New York Skyline form Central Park, taken with Baby Rolleiflex

View of Flatiron Building, New York, from Madison Square Park in Manhattan, taken with Baby Rolleiflex

Brooklyn Bridge in New York, taken with a Baby Rolleiflex

Empire State Building, New York

Empire State Building, New York, from the junction of Fifth Avenue and East 33rd Street, taken with Baby Rolleiflex

Some of the above images are available from Millennium Images

19th century revisited – Photogravure

A printing technique that has long fascinated me is photogravure, a black and white process developed in the late 19th century. Frequently seen in old books, the texture and tonality is beautiful, and very different to that you would achieve with silver gelatin printing. Often purposely dark and with lower contrast, the images may not suit everybody, but I was intrigued enough to attend a workshop recently.

With photogravure, an image is etched into a sensitized metal plate, which has been exposed to a large contact negative. The plate is inked and drawn through a press in contact with paper.  It’s not a particularly environmentally sound process, as the etching requires development in acid . But around 30 years ago, a new version was invented, using metal plates where images are etched into hardened polymer, and developed in nothing more than warm water. This new process is referred to as Photo Polymer or Polymer Gravure, depending on which side of the pond you are on.

Under the enthusiastic tutorage of Fiona Hepburn at The London Print Studio, I was taken through the various stages of the newer process with a small group of people. I was back in a darkroom for only the second time in ten years, so it was nostalgic as well as educational. It was great to operate a large printing machine again too. Though this one was different, a contact printer using ultraviolet light with the equivalent power of several dozen sun tanning beds! The original exponents of the process, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, would have used the sun as a source of ultraviolet, with exposures lasting many hours. On dark winter days in London, this is not reliable, if not impossible – two minutes with contact printer is far more practical!

At the end of the day I inked up my plate and ‘pulled’ my first print in the huge printing press. Being a perfectionist, I probably reacted a bit like petulant schoolboy who had just scratched his favourite toy car, as there were a few dust marks around the edges of the resulting print! But after a few deep breaths, I realized that actually it was  a pretty good first attempt, as the overall image quality was fantastic.  A bit more care at the preparation stage will be needed, but with more experience I think I can use this process.

Hands - Paul Debois

Hands - Black and white polymer gravure or photo polymer print

The workshop also involved transferring illustrations onto the metal  plates, as many fine artists use photo polymer in their work. As a photographer, this came as a bit of a shock. The last time I remember drawing anything, I was 12 years old! But it was interesting to see how it was done. Honest conclusion? I think I’ll stick with photography!

experimental photo polymer print

Experimental photo polymer print

Vistas and Views Exhibition – Will’s Art Warehouse, 30th January 2010 until 26th February 2010.

In November 2007 I started experimenting with film again, after a break of several years. More specifically, I was testing a pinhole camera. Digital had become very much the norm for commercial work and I just had a hunch about the effects that  I could achieve using really simple equipment.

The black and white photographs I took  at RHS Wisley through the winter of 2007 and 2008 evolved into a project I called ‘Pinhole Impressions’. They illustrate trees and the effect of wind as the leaves begin to fall. This series of  images has just gone on show at Will’s Art Warehouse, London, as part of an exhibition called Vistas and Views. The work has been included with that of five other artists, who produce landscape work in various media – Nick AndrewNicole EtienneElaine JonesJonathan PocockAmanda Ralfe and Sarah Ross Thompson.

The two Tilia Tomentosa or Lime trees were the first taken in the series and have always been my favourites. I have been asked several times how difficult it was to blur the clouds in Photoshop. The answer is always met with disappointment  when I say the  images were shot in camera with no trickery –  it was a genuinely windy day! The only enhancement is good old fashioned dodge and burn – but on my computer, not in the darkroom!

The Pinhole Impressions series, numbers One to Six, were previously exhibited in the  International Garden Photographer of the year Exhibition at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 2008 and at Wakehurst Place in 2009.

Will’s Art Warehouse – 180 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, London SW15 1LY England t: +44 (0)20 8246 4840

Pinhole Impressions, Tilia Tomentosa at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 2, Tilia Tomentosa at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 4, Acer Henryi at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 4, Acer Henryi at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 3 Lime tree or Tilia Tomentosa at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 3, Tilia Tomentosa at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 6 - Fagus Sylvatica Pendula or Weeping Beech at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 6 - Fagus Sylvatica Pendula at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 5, Poplar at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 5, Poplar at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 1, Poplar at RHS Wisley

Pinhole Impressions 1, Poplar at RHS Wisley