I enrolled in a WordPress activity a couple of weeks back with the same sort of gusto an overweight person subscribes to an 18-month gym membership and never once walks through the doors (true story). The idea was that I’d be sent a topic each day for a week and a bit, and by dint of burgeoning artistry and/or subtle pressure to produce something for the project, would begin to ‘develop my eye’. I’ll have no truck with this sort of plea-to-the-emotions tactic — sobbing supermodels, lop-eared bunnies, sad-looking older people, starving big-eyed children — I am immune to them all (drop a bottle of Tanqueray No.10 on the other hand…), but I do need help in the picture-taking department because I am an average/shit photographer, and would like to be less average/shit by the time I go to New York in April. Hence the uncharacteristically enthusiastic enrolment in the WordPress photo-thing. Unlike the notorious gym membership, though, this is totally free, and on that basis I heartily recommend it to everyone!
I have a very basic camera to mirror my very basic skills (and yes, there may be a photography in-joke in there somewhere, I suspect, but am unqualified to confirm). Anyway, there’s a dial-thingy on the top of my camera that lets me take pictures in fully automatic mode. This is awesome, because it means I don’t have to pissfart around with f-stops (if that’s what they’re called) and all that other wanton silliness. I can just set and forget, or, as the pros call it, ‘point and shoot’ which is an apt term because it’s exactly how I do it. Point the camera in the direction of something possibly photo-worthy and press a button which may or may not be called a ‘shutter release’ but I’m not certain. My method is probably not what the National Geographic photographers do, but it serves my modest purposes if I remember to stand still and hold my camera with both hands. Neither of which are a given.
Most (okay, all) of my best photographs were taken using this method, with a generous nod to happenstance and serendipity. I know plenty to amateur photographers who take their hobby extremely seriously, a little bit like those silly duffers who turn the simple act of swilling a lovely vat of wine into an epic fuc*ing ordeal every time, and they politely frown as if I am violating some kind of sacred covenant with the whole fully-auto thing. But I have seen a lot of their shots and most could enrol in the WordPress photo tutorial too, just quietly. But I suspect $5000 worth of equipment and the resultant super-inflated ego prevents them from admitting that they too are average/shit. And they all shoot in the RAW, which seems quite inappropriate.
So instead of going out and taking a bunch of photos every day and trolling through them to select the best one and posting it each day and tagging it and lurching awkwardly around some communal cyber-forum gibbering on about photos and stuff, I waited until the tutorial had finished, then went back through my old photos to see if I could find any that already satisfied the categories. The idea is to post these pictures and then at some unspecified time in the near, intermediate or distant future, follow-up with a second series of photos to see if there is has been any discernible ‘growth’ in my skills. Compare my ‘blue’ period with my ‘aubergine’ so to speak. While I’m not a big fan of touching-up pictures, there was a free program on my Mac that lets me tweak them a bit prettier or even turn them black and white, and you’ll see evidence of that in the photos below.
I’m sure there’s a wanktastic artsy explanation for this, but really it’s just one of my cats. Harry. He’s the dumb one. He hears you coming home after work and strolls down the hall to meet you at the front door, throw himself flat on the tiles for a pat, then dawdles to the back door where he waits patiently with his intelligent and impatient brother Hugo to be let out into the garden. Harry might actually do all of the above with his eyes closed, if he’s sleepy, as in the photo above. He’s a lovely boy though, if a bit dim.
What can I say. We were off to see one of the Shakespearean tragedies being performed at the Walsh Bay theatre, and this was taken from a pedestrian overbridge looking north towards the harbour. I am a fanboy of accidental perspectives, and I like the way the lines of the roadway draw the eye towards the vaulting arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a shit photo, totally out of focus, but I like the wishful intent behind it, hampered in the execution by a fundamental lack of ability. A bit like Matthew Reilly reading ‘The Tree of Man’ by Patrick White and bowing his head.
Because there’s water in it. Midwinter visit to South Australia, this is some marina in some dinky coastal town. My wife and mother in law rugged up in coat and beanie for a postprandial stroll. The distant arch is the controversial bridge to Hindmarsh Island, which you should check on TripAdvisor if you want a good laugh. Again, I manage to sneak in some perspectives, but it was really the bold strokes of black against the lovely blues that took my eye. Birdshit everywhere, too. Hundreds of seagull standing in their own faeces. Those birds have no class.
Because this photo, of some eminence looming out of the mist on day one of my June 2016 Overland Track hike in Tasmania, captures why I bushwalk. For six days it felt as if I were passing through some primordial land hidden in the clouds, with the only thing anchoring me to the real being a narrow waterlogged path I did not dare to leave. Tarns on the moorland reflecting a low grey sky. You do a lot of soul-searching when you hike alone, and the simple joy of being utterly self-sufficient, trusting in your body and you ability to push on through adverse conditions, challenging yourself to win the mental game. The feeling when it is behind you, and you have ‘won’ = bliss.
I composed this more carefully than usual, not that you would have guessed. A cloudy starless night, I positioned myself to avoid the glare of a floodlight behind the far left corner of the building in front, which illuminates the flowering jacaranda far-left. The near and low lights are from my car. Behind this building is a church (obviously) but you can barely see it. An interesting photo for me, because the building infront is a drop-in centre for victims of domestic violence, overshadowed/overshone by an institute which (uh-oh, controversial!) promotes or at least condones domestic violence. Connected? I think so. Another embarrassing example of my deficit of skill: so out of focus!
One of the first photos I ever took on this camera, it is unimpressively bland-industrial in full colour, but in black and white is really pops, I reckon. So I took the photo really for the sake of the contrasting textures, the vertical vs horizontal metal sheeting of the roller door and the walls of this empty warehouse. What makes it interesting photo is the pile of ‘garbage’ near the door. On closer inspection, these are the personal belongings and scavenged goods of a homeless man who lived here. He wasn’t present on the night I took the photo, but I saw him on subsequent nights. A few months later, they bulldozed the warehouse. I don’t know where the homeless guy is now, I never saw him again. In all the time he lived here, I never saw him other than alone.
Because mountain = big. I’m plundering my Overland Track hike again. I’m fairly sure this was one of the Pelions, not sure which, and it only popped out of the mist for a minute. Like the way the clouds, which were moving quick, seemed to rake across the mountain. I wouldn’t have been very surprised if a diprotodon had come snuffling out of the treeline, the place had that trapped-in-time feel about it. I felt very small and vulnerable a lot of the time. Infamously, this part of the world can experiences the classic four seasons in one day weather, which means a beautiful vista like this can change to a howling snowstorm the next. I had to wait a few more days for snow, but I was only about ten minutes away from some ferocious driving rain. Big sky, big country, little me.
Okay, so I’m having a little laugh here. I also wish I’d been the one to catch those kingfish, but the only one I hooked was 55cm long (i.e. 10cm under legal limit) so mine went back. I wanted to catch there gulls fighting, because when the one with the fish was very protective, doing the whole arched-neck aggressive posturing thing whenever another gull came close. I’m sure he could have shared: that is a big fish! But that’s the way with precious things, nobody wants to share.
This is taken at The Mint in Macquarie Street in Sydney, waiting while my wife spent a penny. I like everything about this picture, but it was the colour that got me. Why does it start blue at the top then fade through black to a beige at the bottom? Makes no sense. And all the lustre of that lovely polished wood to tie the image together. I had to keep a dude sitting bored on a bench beneath the staircase out of frame. I’m sure somebody with an idea would have composed it differently, but at least it’s reasonably clear because I could brace myself on the balustrade looking down. We had a nice meal in the cafe here, on a balcony overlooking the street shaded from the sun. Pork-belly, from memory, and a nice Peroni…
I am embarrassed by this picture. Sydney University, waiting for my son’s orchestra to begin a performance. I know this architecture is out of place in Australia, but it says something about our early alienation that we had such a hankering to model our colonial institutions on the Oxbridge style. I’m embarrassed because it’s just an iPhone snap, one-handed, on the run sort of thing. I made no effort with this, and the top of the photo just bleeds away into shitty irrelevance. If I’d taken thirty steps back, maybe used a tripod; shit, maybe used a camera!
So, what do you think?