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Philosophy on photography and issues relating to photographic integrity

Photographing Festivals in Bhutan

February 22nd, 2014

When I am at these very important festivals I try to remain as unobtrusive as possible, bearing in mind that this is their festival, and I am a guest.  I tend to stand quietly in one place for quite some time, on the corner of a building or off to the side of some steps, watching and when the opportunity presents making an image, like this one.

Bumthang Tshechu dancers having a tea break.

Dancers having a Tea Break at the Prakar Lhakhang Tshechu in Chumey

Not Getting in the Way

The Bhutanese are lovely friendly people and a regular occurrence when they see me standing at the back is to invite me forward (to stand in front of them) so I can see better… Now I am 180cm tall and most Bhutanese are somewhat smaller than that, so if I stand in front of them they won’t be able to see a thing.  Naturally I decline, but often that simple interaction is enough to start a conversation where I often discover that the person I am talking to studied in Australia (Engineering, science or similar), or has a brother, or sister, or Son or Grand Daughter studying there.

Image shot with the Hasselblad H4D-60 and the 100mm f2.2 lens… without getting in the way or being a nuisance.

Concert for the Kimberley is HUGE!

February 26th, 2013

Concert for the Kimberley with 20,000 people!

Concert for the Kimberley with John Butler 3

John Butler showing 20,000 people how its done

The message for little Colin Barnett was pretty clear on Sunday when approximately 20,000 people turned up for the Wilderness Society’s Concert for the Kimberley.  But was he listening?  Does he ever listen?  Do any politicians ever listen? Read the rest of this entry »

Concert for the Kimberley in Fremantle

February 19th, 2013
James Price Point, Kimberley Region of Western Australia

At Risk… James Price Point is just the beginning

This Sunday afternoon in Fremantle is the Wilderness Society Concert for the Kimberley, specifically, James Price Point which is the current hot spot.  The day starts at 1.30pm with a March through Fremantle down to the Esplanade Park for the concert itself, where we will have John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins and Dr Bob Brown will be speaking.  The best bit is that its all for free but of course donations are welcome and its for a fantastic cause.  Bring your dancing shoes and put your hands up for the Kimberley!

A Victory at James Price Point

December 6th, 2011
Woodside laydown area at James Price Point, Dampier Pensinsula, Kimberley

Illegal activity at JPP ©Nigel Gaunt 2011

Amazing News for all Western Australians (except Colin) and in fact all in the world who care about James Price Point and the future of the KImberley Region.  The State Governments recent underhanded stance of threatening compulsory acquisition unless the Traditional owners of JPP handed over their land for industrial rape and pillage has been declared illegal by the Australian High Court.  Its back to square one for Woodside and their pocket politicians.

This is a major Victory against the might and political power of corporations and their ability to simply buy what they want regardless of any environmental, cultural and moral rights, and it brings to light in very plain terms the sheer incompetence of the current WA state Government. Read the rest of this entry »

Kimberley Exhibition opens tonight

October 20th, 2011

The exhibition is up on the wall, the programs are all printed and its only 3pm, i’ve got time to spare… so i thought i’d share what i’ve put on the wall at the beginning of the images.  I’m sure i’ll offend somebody, but, some people are just easy to offend.  lets see.

Download the pdf here

 

James Price Point looking South towards the Gas Precinct.  Kimberley WA

James Price Point looking South towards the Gas Precinct… This is where they want to put it!

The Kimberley – A Photographic Exploration

The Kimberley gets into your blood with the red pindan, it simply becomes a part of you, and you become a small part of it.  It is a difficult place to leave and it will always call you back. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from the Kimberley

September 5th, 2011

I’m back… Back from the Kimberley, and back in Blog land.  I’ve actually been back in Fremantle for a month now, but i’ve been so busy catching up with everything that had been put on hold, that time to write on the Blog never materialised… also, i am a great procrastinator, possibly one of the best, and anything to do with writing is what i’m best at procrastinating about Read the rest of this entry »

James Price Point hots up

July 11th, 2011

The fight for  James Price Point continues.  The police have now begun arresting the protesters for what they call an illegal action… ie: getting in the way of the woodside bulldozers.

So the protesters are being arrested for illegally stopping Woodside from clearing land  they have no approvals to clear…  The democratic process in action, seems like Woodsides vote is worth more than mine.

Colin Barnett has told the protesters to move along, because, they have made their point and now its time to let Woodside get on with the job…  If the protesters have made their point it seems Colin may have missed it.

Below is an image (courtesy of Wil Thomas) of  from the air of what Woodside have achieved with a bulldozer in only one day of clearing.  and all this without any  developement approvals at all.  I wonder if they would let me take a Bulldozer up there and clear a bit of land, Maybe for another gas plant i’m thinking of building…

James Price Point destruction

This is merely exploration…

 

Photographic Technique

March 15th, 2011

Technical Information

6x17cm Transparency images shown to scale

617 transparencies on a lightbox with my hand for scale

All my images are printed using leading edge digital technology; the original image however is shot on film, at least for now. For this I use a selection of large format panoramic cameras, mainly the Fuji GX617 (see a review of the Fuji GX617 here). The 6×17 denotes the negative (positive actually) size in cm, 6cm high x 17cm long, that’s dramatically bigger than a standard 35mm negative, in fact 11 times the area. That greatly enlarged image area combined with a fine grain high colour saturation film (Fuji Velvia) creates an image of superb detail that can be enlarged to enormous proportions without going soft or blurry.

So why Digital, and is there a difference between digital printing and digital manipulation?

Fuji GX617 camera with 35mm film canister for size comparison

Fuji GX617 with a 35mm film canister to show the size

Photographic Printing

Digital printing is making use of advancing technology, it now offers a quality surpassing older traditional techniques with many added advantages.

Traditional Process

With a traditional process the photographic image is projected with an Enlarger onto light sensitive paper by shining a light through the transparency and focusing it with a lens, in fact a camera in reverse. The printer, a highly skilled technician, then adjusts various aspects of the image such as contrast, colour balance and density using a combination of lens tuning, coloured filters and exposure time. He/She also lightens areas that are too dark and darkens highlights that are too bright to bring the image into balance, this is the traditional printing method,  not digital, and I spent many years working in printing labs doing exactly this. These procedures are to compensate for the fact that film has a much shorter contrast scale than your eye and the printing paper has one even shorter still, so some manual manipulation is required to bring the shadows and highlights back into balance.  There is nothing worse than an image with all the shadows running to black and all the highlights burning out to paper white.

Repeatability

One of the essential problems with this kind of printing is the repeatability of the printed images. The results are very much subject to how much sleep the printing lab technician had the night before, what kind of day they’re having and the mood they are in. The results can vary to such a degree that it’s sometimes difficult to pick them as the same photo!  This really becomes a problem when somebody sees an image on the wall and orders a print a different size or on a different media type, sometimes it takes 4 or 6 print attempts to get the image right.  This is further exacerbated the bigger the image gets, due to the difficulty in handling huge pieces of photographic paper in the dark, and the light fall off as the distance between the enlarger and the paper platform grows.  Printing huge images in a traditional darkroom with light sensitive paper really is a nightmare, in fact, prior to the advent of digital printers it was very rare indeed to see a 2m photograph, whereas i regularly print images that big and often much bigger.

Imacon 848 scanner, Eizo calibrated monitor and mac pro computer workstation

A 617 transparency being scanned on the 848 scanner

Digital Printing

The difference for me with digital printing is to add a step in-between the film  and the paper image by scanning the 6×17 transparency into a very high-resolution digital file (980mb to begin with, a finished image will end up about 2.9Gb) on a high end Imacon 848 film scanner.  All colour balancing contrast and densities are then handled digitally,  the same processes as the manual darkroom but done using Photoshop and a high end computer (a Mac of course) with a colour-calibrated screen. Once the file is complete to my my satisfaction, i would then save the layered image into an archive and then flatten, resize and sharpen a version to be sent to the printer, usually as a smaller test print first for a hard copy confirmation.  I have had various large format digital printers over the years, from an Epson 4000, to an Epson 7600, an Epson 9600 and now the latest model Epson 9900 (as of December 2010).  These  are technically inkjet printers, though that is a bit like calling a formula One race car simply “a car”.  The Epson 9900 uses an inkset of 11 colours, including 3 varying shades of black (grey really), each ink cartridge contains 750Ml of pure pigment based ink and a full set of inks currently costs AU$4,000.

Epson 9900 large format printer in action printing 2.5m canvas

Epson 9900 in action. Image is 1m wide

Contrary to a popular belief, the process of colour correcting an image digitally is not easy, nor is it fake. The job of digital technician is easily as skilled and demanding as a darkroom technician. In fact I would say considerably more so, speaking from the experience of having done both extensively.

I do all the digital colour correction of  my own images and when out shooting I will spend many hours, sometimes days, waiting for the perfect light. I spend many months every year getting to these beautiful places  and I spend many hours and many miles of walking finding just the right spot that conveys just the right feel so that the final photo will carry just the right impact. When I return I will then spend many more hours in front of the computer to ensure that what you see is exactly as it should be, every time.

Digital Manipulation?

So how then does this differ from digital manipulation? Definitions can be a little tricky, but lets say digital manipulation is the fundamental altering of a photographic image such that the final result does not truly reflect the original state, i think thats a pretty fair summary. We’ve all seen it or read about it in one form or another. An easy example is the fashion industry where models can be made to look slimmer, curvier, longer legs, bigger breasts even different coloured eyes! Yes that is all possible, but is it necessary or even desirable?

Thankfully I need to do none of that, nature is amazing enough just as it is. You just have to stop and look sometimes, look a different way. Stick around a bit longer wait for that special time of day, take a deep breath and open your eyes a bit wider. Get up earlier when it’s still cold and a little bit dark. Or stay till after the sun has set for the magic of twilight, the magic of the pre-dawn. At these times of day the light is soft, it allows the subtle colours to come through, the colours that are normally swept away by the intensity of sunlight. Then all you have to do is stand in the right place, point the camera the right way,  don’t forget to focus- and push the button. Let God do the rest, whatever God you believe in, you want to see proof, watch a sunset in the Kimberley!

Sunrise over the Pentecost river in the North Kimberley region of WA

Sunrise on the Pentecost River in the Kimberley

I don’t create the scenes you see here, I only record them. I couldn’t possibly take the credit for something so awesome, so overpoweringly amazing. Something that has been millions of years in the making, that would be ridiculous. The art of photography, my job, is to be able to see the infinite of nature and translate it to the finite of a photograph and still transmit the splendour of the original, to create a window out of a fragment that contains the essence of the whole.

Long Exposure Techniques

Many of my images are made using long exposure photography. That is leaving the shutter open for long periods sometimes hours at a time. I’ve been told on several occasions that this in fact is image manipulation because the result doesn’t truly reflect the original! I would argue that this is not the case; in fact the opposite is true. Long exposure photography more truly reflects the reality than an instant snapshot. These are not still life images, bowls of fruit on a table. Nature is fundamentally dynamic, it is constantly moving. Wind blows through the branches of the trees rustling the leaves, clouds skate across the sky, water flows ever downwards, oceans are never still even on the most tranquil day. I would say that an image that stops all this is more of a manipulation than the one that allows the flow of nature to be visible. Perhaps it’s not the way you are used to seeing it? Take another look, if I can help you see things a different way, a new way then I’ve achieved my goal.

Photography as Art

March 15th, 2011
Sunset at Redgate Beach, Margaret River Western Australia

The art of nature

What is Art?

Before we look at Photography specifically, I think it would be useful to define what actually is art

This definition will always be  very subjective and personal, something I consider art you may think is rubbish and vice versa… It’s usually like that, very black and white, you love or you hate it. And perhaps that’s the answer to the question anyway, art is something that provokes an emotional reaction within us…? But is that all it is? Is the guy next door filling his bin with last nights bottles next to your bedroom window at 6.30am on a Sunday art? That certainly evokes an emotional reaction. OK, so it must be more than that. Is it a skill or an ability that is beyond most of our abilities applied in some creative and innovative manner? Perhaps that’s closer, especially when you combine it with the first definition. A skill or ability beyond the normal applied in a creative and innovative manner that evokes an emotional reaction. Or does it simply come down to something that resonates with something in the viewer/listener/audience, something that captivates.

But can Photography be art?

So much for definitions, art, I think, defies a simple definition, it is elusive. So lets try to apply it to photography, can it be an art? This has been argued since the first days of photography, and is especially relevant today with the arrival of the digital age. But does owning a camera make you a photographer? Does owning a paint brush make you a painter? Am I just being pedantic? I don’t think so, this is the type of thing I have heard, “I know where that spot is, I’ll go and take it for myself… why should I buy one of yours?” So how do I respond to that? Well, OK, Good luck. I certainly didn’t make the scene I photographed, so I have no rights over the location.

So what exactly is it I am I selling when I sell a Photograph?   Certainly not the piece of paper the image is printed on, not even the hourly rate for my time to take the image in the first place, I’m selling the emotion and the feelings that image evokes in you when you look into it.

I think the art of photography, specifically landscape (though I think this can be generally applied), is to stand in a place, breath in the ambience, the feel, the beauty, the whole essence and distil that into one image that conveys the feeling of being there.

Because after all, the beauty of being in a forest is not just the colour of the leaves. It’s all around you, the height of the trees, their majesty and sheer grandeur, the earth under your feet, the wind in the leaves. The sounds the smells, the whole feeling. That can be applied to all types of landscape images, the feeling you get from being there is not just coming in through your eyes, it’s a whole body and soul experience.

Boranup forest in the South west of Western Australia

Feeling the wind in the leaves

Thats Not it at all…

Have you ever got your photos back from one of those amazing places you’ve been to, and thought… “Oh, that’s not it at all…” How many times have you heard… “It was much more amazing than the photos look…”

I often get asked, “what do you think I did wrong here?” Well the answer in a nutshell is, the camera was pointed the wrong way. The camera doesn’t feel what you feel, it cant, it’s an inanimate tool, a highly sophisticated hammer, you have to direct it to hammer in the nails.

When I am in one of these amazing places I will routinely stay for hours or even days, without even taking the camera out of the bag, not looking for angles, just getting to know the place, how it feels, its moods, how it makes me feel. What is it about this place that makes it special? Rarely is there a simple straight forward answer to that question, rarely is it right in front of me. Though you may get the feeling from where you are standing, that doesn’t mean the shot from that spot will transmit the feeling.

Sometimes it’s only a matter of a metre or two to one side or the other, or a little higher or lower. Sometimes it’s shooting in the opposite direction. It’s all about creating the window that allows you to see into the whole space and the feeling that space gave you. Even more important, it’s about transmitting that feeling to somebody who has never been there

So, I would consider that photography can be art, just like painting can be art. But, just like painting, it is not necessarily so. Owning a camera doesn’t make one an artist any more than owning a paintbrush does. Am I an artist, is what I do art? That’s up to you to decide…

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