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Philosophy on photography and integrity by photographer Adam Monk

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) 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…

More on Tiradentes, Brasil

March 2nd, 2011

I got curious last night after writing the last post on the Brasilian town of Tiradentes, seemed like i should know why it was thus named, and it seemed like i would have asked at the time.  Sometimes my memory is a little unreliable about stuff like that, so its lucky we have Wikipedia!

So, the town of Tiradentes is named after Joaquim José da Silva Xavier,  also known as Tiradentes (tooth puller) due to his one time profession as an impromptu dentist.  He was also a leading member of the Inconfidência Mineira, a revolutionary group formed in 1788 dedicated to the political independence of Brasil from Portuguese colonial rule.

Typical street in the town of Tiradentes in Minas Gereis, Brasil
Typical street in the town of Tiradentes in Minas Gereis, Brasil

The group, including Tiradentes was betrayed by one of their own members, and he was captured and eventually hanged in 1792 for treason, after a trial lasting nearly 3 years.  Imagine 3 years in a Brasilian/Portuguese prison in the 18th Century, i think the eventual hanging would have been a relief.

The Human irony  is that a man can be considered a villain by society one day, and for the very same reasons a hero the next.  The place in Rio de Janeiro where Tiradentes was hanged (and quartered…) is named in his honour (Praça Tiradentes), there is a town in the inland state of Mina Gereis that bears his name, while his likeness is on the Brasilian 5 cent coin.  He has been considered a revolutionary hero of the people of Brasil since the late 19th Century.

Another irony is that the town of Tiradentes, along with most of the state of Minas Gereis (which translates literally to General Mines), was built entirely by slaves (see previous post), and while the Inconfidência Mineira was agitating to lift the colonial yoke of Portuguese oppression from Brasil, they were still happy for the disenfranchised African slaves to be worked to death pulling the gold they so desired out of the ground.  In fact the driving force for the proposed rebellion was to stop the gold  that was being dug by the African slaves from the Brasilian soil being sent as tribute to the King of Portugal.

Slave built wall in Tiradentes, Minas Gereis Brasil.
A 500 year old slave built wall still shows evidence of the hand tools used to carve it out of the solid stone

So really what it all came down to was greed, thus the coin is flipped again, was Tiradentes hero or villain?.  Very little changes in the world it seems.

Both these images were taken on the Hasselblad XPan at dusk, and shot with Fuji Velvia 100.

Kimberley Marine Parks

January 22nd, 2011

The Kimberley Marine Parks the  West Australian Government have proposed in the far North Kimberley region of Camden Sound are part of   the worlds largest Humpback Whale nurseries.  They are doing this as an attempt to distract the Australian people from the real issue of industrialising the Kimberley, beginning with the enormous James Price Point Kimberley gas project. They are trying to buy us off.  How the two are connected beats me, instead of saying the Kimberley is unique and we will protect it all (as should be the case)  they have said, the Kimberley is unique, so we’ll put aside a bit of it before we set about ruining the rest.  Obviously these words are mine, but if you read the documents you’ll see that my paraphrasing is correct.

The Far North Kimberley Coast, Western Australia

The Far North Kimberley Coast, Western Australia

The Marine Sanctuaries as they are proposed are woefully inadequate with only 13% of it offering any real protection from commercial fishing and other industrial activities, which of course defeats its own purpose.  It becomes a Sanctuary in name only until our pro multinational government decides to sell it off to the highest bidder.

Until the 1st of February you get to have a say on what you think of the  proposal, so go to this link, have a read of the letter, do some research, look at some maps and if you agree, submit it.

Porosis Creek at Dawn, Far North Kimberley, Western Australia

Low tide at Dawn on the Kimberley Coast

I have been up to the Kimberley many times, and 2 years ago i had the opportunity to go on a boat trip through the Far north and see a lot of this isolated and beautiful coast that you can only get to from a boat.  It really is like nowhere else on Earth,  a unique place that should  be preserved.  The only reason this government  can get away with selling off the Kimberley is that few people have seen it and so most don’t know how special it is and  what we would be giving up.

I want to be able to show my Grandchildren the Kimberley, the wild untamed Kimberley, not a barren industrial dump that it will become if these greedy and unthinking men get their way.  Do yourself a favour, if you’ve not been to the Kimberley, go.  it will get into your blood and touch your soul the way few places can, and then you too  will know why this is one place we cant let the greedy bastards ruin.

River System on the far North Kimberley coast, Western Australia

Early morning light reflected off the King Leopold sandstone cliffs

The Kimberley, some facts

January 13th, 2011

The wilderness society of WA has just put out a new short video with some sobering facts on the James Price Point (proposed) gas development.

If you think the gas hub should be stopped, and the Kimberley left alone, there is also a link where you can sign the petition and add your message to federal environment minister Tony Burke.

Tony Burke has to give this project the nod before Colin Barnett and his Giant multinational bedfellows can begin the rape of the Kimberley.  Tell them no, take the 5 minutes it takes and click on the link.

If this project goes ahead we all lose.

Wilderness Society Video

Horizontal Falls at Talbot Bay North Kimberley Region Western Australia

The Horizontal Falls at Talbot Bay is another area under threat from current developement plans

Rally for the Kimberley

November 29th, 2010

The Cottesloe rally for the Kimberley was yesterday, and considering the heat (35 degrees…) it was a pretty good turn out, i’m not good at estimating numbers, but i would have said 300-400 people were there.

Most people opted for the shade around the edges

All the wilderness groups worked together to put on a well organised show of unity, it was just a shame the heat was so intense so early, i think that stopped a lot of people from showing up.  I know they were expecting much bigger numbers from the responses they had from facebook and other social network news, so if you were there, well done, if you were going to come but didn’t…  What happened?  Don’t you think saving the Kimberley from going the way of the Pilbara Coast is worth sweating a bit for?

A sweltering day… 35degrees at 11am

I really can’t stress this enough, unless they are forcibly stopped by overwhelming public opinion, the Barnett Government will ruin the Kimberley forever.  This is not what Colin Barnett claims is, “a pinprick on the landscape”  this is a giant, polluting, ecology destroying industrial zone that is going to cover more than 20 square kilometres and stretch 7km out to sea, right smack bang in the middle of one of the last pristine wilderness areas left on earth. That is just the beginning, there are at least 5 other projects in the pipeline that will piggy back off this one, moving right into the heart of the Kimberley.

We shouldn’t have to fight our own Government to get them to do the right thing, and raping the Kimberley is not the right thing for anybody except a few multinational corporations who will simply disappear when the minerals run out, leaving desolation and destruction in their wake.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we were remembered as the generation who saved the Kimberley from corporate greed rather than the one who let it be destroyed?

Kimberley Rally This Sunday

November 23rd, 2010

Don’t forget, the Kimberley Rally to show public opinion about the proposed  James Price Point Gas project is this Sunday, 28th November at 11am.  It is happening at the Cottesloe Civic Centre in Napier St, this is Colin Barnett’s own electorate so it will be interesting to see if he dares to show his face.  Tell everyone you know about it, lets get a bit of public opinion stirred up about this, before it’s too late!

If you care about the Kimberley, and you dont want your heritage destroyed by uncaring greedy fat bastards, you’ll be there.  The proposed Kimberley Gas Project will be an enormous loss for all of us, don’t let them get away with it.

Kimberley Rally Perth dates

November 10th, 2010

Well today Shell Oil announced it had sold 30% of its controlling stake in Woodside Petroleum (10% of the total shares on issue), and they are open to offers for their remaining 24% stake.  You might remember Woodside is one of the major players in the current bid to turn James Price Point into a major industrial precinct and is a big favourite of Colin Barnett. (The Australian.  The Melbourne Age.)

Now whether or not this fire sale has anything to do with the building groundswell of resistance to this current land grab at James Price Point is anybodies guess, but it is interesting timing, could it be that Shell no longer wants to be a part of such un unpopular and imoral project?

The case or not, its good incentive to add your voice to the fray by coming down to the Kimberley Rally at the  Cottesloe Civic Centre on Sunday the 28th of November at 11am.  Check out the info here.  Its going to be a great day of positive action, come along and find out whats going on and what you can do about the proposed Kimberley Gas Project.  You don’t have to chain yourself to a bulldozer to help, there are many things you can do to get your voice heard, come along on the 28th and be a part of it.  I’ll be there, I’ll be the one wearing the orange T-shirt!

Action for the Kimberley Coast

October 20th, 2010

If you’ve been keeping up with the James Price Point Debate, and you are feeling angry by whats going on but also frustrated because you don’t know what you can do… Try these links for a good starting point.

Save the Kimberley

The Wilderness Society

It’s only takes a few minutes, and it’s a numbers game.  If enough of us sign up for these the politicians will have to take notice.

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