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Slogans, selfie sticks and loving the holidays

For someone who thinks they are basically a portrait photographer I seem to take quite a lot of different photos when away on holiday, amongst all the family snaps I mix in some of my old love for documentary. I did do some "real" work on a Mamiya rangefinder but have still to develop the film, there being a distinct lack of labs nowadays.... More on that when the film comes back.

I  mostly snap with Hipstamatic on iPhone just because I find it fun. I joined Instagram a couple weeks back to upload some of these snaps so you can go over there if you fancy. I also got a cheap Lumix GF2  but the wide angle is a bit limiting although nice and flat.

Enough technical-schmechnical and back to the holidays. This year what really struck me was the selfie stick. Not content with the arm length selfie, people now use the selfie-stick (something that has been popular in extreme sports for quite a few years).

Before I start to get all derisive over the selfie and selfie stick, let's not forget we were all snapping away on our Nikon FM's into mirrors and windows, selfie-ing ourselves crazy long before the reverse-view function (not the technical term...) made it easier on mobile phones. But it was in black and white, and on film, and you printed it yourself. Maybe....but really, so what?

The selfie is a different phenomenon now though. In one regard, it acts as a means of putting one's mark on a place; if we were tom cats, we'd be pissing all over the world.

I have always taken snap-selfie's too. But part of the fun was not being quite sure what you would get in or not; bits of noses, forehead, something lovely and/or unexpected. Or nothing at all really.

Anyway, the selfie-stick..... it was everywhere. In Rome, in front of St Peter's, inside St Peter's, at the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum: basically any and all various random parts that looked like they could be, or had been, or might become, ruins. I am part-intrigued, part-embarrassed, part-envious, part-bored of it. Also who can be bothered carrying that around all day?

I was sitting next to what I thought was a selfie-stick at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow recently. After the guy held it in the air for the entire evening (+4 hours) I'm reckoning he was filming (or perhaps partaking in a new selfie craze I'm unaware of ?)

Sorry I'm not going to offer up a selfie stick photo - they are superbly documented elsewhere on twitter and Instagram and there's a kind of kick back where people photograph the selfie stick photographer etc etc etc. It's getting confusing but interesting all the same.

So after the selfie stick let me get back to that slogan - 'Sun's Out, Guns Out'. Yep, gotta love the holidays.


A little story

girl_stone_dunblane Certain ideas and people have been returned to over time. Family, relationships, bonds. The subject here is my niece, who I photographed several times as she grew up.

Sometimes a photograph has more meaning for the photographer; that is both the beauty and the weakness within the medium. This is one such case of that. For the viewer it is just a girl and a stone. For me it is much more.

I grew up in Dunblane and when the news of the school shooting came out I knew my niece and nephew were at risk. I was phoning from Edinburgh and at first didn't know which school was involved (primary or high) and then I couldn't remember if my niece was still in her final year at primary or not. And if she was I knew the layout of the school and that the p7 huts used to be next to the gym.

No one was answering their phones because they were all running to their neighbours and the schools. And it was all landlines back then. After several hours I knew they were safe. Although my immediate family were not effected, so many in Dunblane were. It is a horror I still find hard to contemplate.

Not long after I went up to Dunblane and photographed my niece. We wandered around a bit and chatted then I took this photo. So yes, it is a girl and a stone but for me it's a little bit more.

Thinking of Dying etc

I've been thinking about death, or more precisely, death and photography. Quite a popular area this mortality/art malarkey but it always seems to get contemporary photographers (and artists, and art-photographers, however, you want to be described....) into all sorts of bother; either in their own minds or in the public and/or critics' eyes.In the 19th Century, death and photography were no stranger to one another, with portraits taken to remind the grieving of who they had lost or to send to relatives to alert them to the news. In recent times, I have seen members of my own family photograph the headstone of their dear departed and send the pics to other relatives. Not quite a body but a safer alternative. Oh, and not appreciated by the receiver (not myself).

I read a great book once by Jessica Mitford called "The American Way of Death" which looked at historical and present day funeral rites. It reinforced how abstract death had become to the 20th and now 21st Century griever. Ignore the subject, sanitise the act, then wonder what happened when we get hit with a wall of unresolved grief.

The Victorians were right to photograph their dead. Their Queen kept old Prince Albert, on his deathbed, close by in photographic form. The Victorians, well they just grieved and remembered and then got on with it all. Many people nowadays face death with loved ones, they do see it as a process and are there, all the way. Some people still have wakes. Some people secretly photograph their dead on their mobile phones in an act of remembrance they cannot quite understand themselves.

Annie Leibovitz photographed Susan Sontag dead to the outcry and chagrin of many. Fellow photographers, Sontag's family and critical thinkers all felt uneasy and even angry at how Leibovitz could "break" this taboo. But what taboo? She was dead, Leibovitz loved her, it was a final moment, a tribute in perhaps the only manner Leibovitz could comprehend.

Others saw it as a coup, the shiny photographer photographs the magnificent essayist. How could she resist?

Sontag talked of how:

A fiction about soft or easy deaths is part of the mythology of most diseases that are not considered shameful or demeaning.

Perhaps the photographic image can redress the balance, bear witness to varying deathbed realities; not only in the dead face of Sontag herself but in others whose deaths may be easy or may be hard.

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990–2005 was on at the National Portrait Gallery in London.Oh there's a book too . Let me know what you think of that dead photograph.

Postscript: I wrote this piece a few years back but left it in draft form. Since then my own sister has died, a horrendous cancer ridden experience of dying. I photographed her at home with her adult daughters the day before she died. I had no informed consent which made me uneasy with the process. She was dying but looked dead. The daughters wanted the photograph because it was them and their mum, yet since it was shot, they have never asked for it and I have never offered. It resides in my computer and most likely always will. So no photo with this post.

I ♥ Hipstamatic

© Margaret Mitchell Olympic Hipstamatic Photograph It's funny all the hoo-ha about real photography and camera phone apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic. I've read a few pieces where people are getting very upset about these apps and what they do (and do not do) and to be honest it really confuses me, where this dislike comes from.

I recently posted a photo of mine that I took in London of Tower Bridge and the Olympic Rings to Hipstamatic Facebook page and it received over 2,700 likes and many shares. This probably makes it my most viewed photo of all time and probably my most appreciated.

The irony of this is not lost on me.

However, I love Hipstamatic. It's a great little app. It sits there on my phone and is ready to use unlike the camera that I never carry with me (used to think I would, but never do....). I stick to a couple of "lenses" and "films" and find it quite amusing the whole "processing" aspect. Of course there are limitations but that is always the case with any chosen technique in photography, each one is chosen for aesthetics and suitability to the content.

It is nonsense to talk about "real" photography. Very tedious. Photographers have always selected equipment, processes, played about, used chemicals unconventionally, all in order to achieve image "enhancements". Why do current day photographers use 19th century processes if not to achieve an aesthetic outcome? Some haters of Hipstamatic forget  that  photographers still have to take the photo. Some photos by Damon Winter using Hipstamatic won  third place in Pictures of the Year International and he talks sensibly about his use and approach in some detail in a piece here.

Anyway, maybe I will tire of Hipstamatic but I think its a great app, great fun and can add to the image making process. I also did cyantoypes for fun for a time too, but after a while didn't really see the point or suitable application for that either.

Hipstamatic also has a touch of the Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment and no cropping malarkey, so loved by some (mostly "real") photographers. Which brings me to why my photo pains me: the composition is not right. In my defence, I was on a fairly fast moving boat, with shifting light, a flapping flag, with my kid, on my hols ....taking fun holiday snaps.

Ultimately this is for me a happy-snap that satisfies the purpose for that it was created for.  I have a nice memory of my travel up the Thames under the Olympic Rings because I had Hipstamatic's fun little app right there on my phone. In time I might use it for more than quick snaps (or not) but presently, to all those purists (or whatever they are, I'm not quite sure), all I can say is "lighten up and ♥ Hipstamatic".


Google Street View: the new documentary

I realise I am probably coming late to this party in discussing Google as the ultimate documentary photographer but I'm going ahead anyway. Jon Rafman's Nine Eyes of Google Street View has been getting quite a lot of coverage  online in the past couple of weeks. Having myself completed several uneventful "journeys" by Street View when trying to locate a certain place, I realised that it must have been quite a trawl for Rafman to carry out before collating the found images. In doing so, he has made one thing very clear: Google is the definitive documentarist. jon rafman

Pre-digital,you might consider it good fortune to get 5 usable photos from a 36 exposure film (just check out the Magnum contacts if you don't believe me, actually maybe 2 usable photos....). Google has nine eyes, travelling as many roads as it can, seeing, recording, documenting. If it was a 36 exposure film, it would probably come home with nothing.

So what does this mean. Is Google Streetview the ultimate photographer? Actually, I think yes. And it creates a new way of working for the photographer/artist. The new armchair photography can thank Google for being in the right place at the right time.

Other projects of note are that by Doug Rickard, the MoMa blurb stating "he composed images on his computer screen", giving rise to a new photographic language too perhaps. All in, Rafman's project seems rather more honest: by including the google arrows and controls, more questions remain with the viewer on society, technology, art.


What's it all about...well Lady Hawarden for a start

After writing some of the text to go beside my old work I couldn't stop thinking of an exhibition that I had seen at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery many years ago. Women in white: photographs by Clementina Lady Hawarden was all about contained interior lives. Some detractors claim she was simply a bored, rich housewife with a big house, available models and a cool knack with wet processing. Then again, with 10 children and a death before the age of 43, she was rather prolific. And had quite a bit to say about women's lives. Go on, give her a Google and check out that containment.

 Check out her pics at the V&A.