Wednesday 27 July 2011

The importance of being Ernst. Or William. Or James. Or Steven. or YOURSELF!

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” 

Ernst Haas.


Thanks Ernst, that sums it up perfectly. As so many people these days want, or need, to take their own photographs I want to raise the issue of thinking more about how we both choose to do it and can explore our ability to do it. The blog so far has been very cider heavy and photography light, so today is the day the pendulum swings the other way.


I want to move away from my images, and cider, to bring your attention to some ideas and people that may help you think differently about photography.


For me, personal projects are where its at when you want to explore something and in my case I chose Cider. Any (unpaid) subject that you feel passionately about is the place to start. It should something you can go back to easily over and over again. If its likely to become a large part of you life, take the time to explain your ideas to the Mrs or any other loved ones you are likely to rely on and spend less time with. Having them on board will help you give the project the longevity it needs to become bigger than your everyday pics. The beauty of having an ongoing personal project is that it allows you time for reflection and is free from the constraints of commercial agenda. Money and art can make treacherous partners, so the opportunity to explore one free from the other is really quite liberating.


It sounds really obvious to say but how you choose to photograph something is entirely up to you. Its starts with you and ends with you deciding when you should to trigger the shutter. Whatever goes on inbetween those two points is your method and that is your opportunity to be unique. Whatever you point your camera at, you are faced with a choice of deciding how to capture it, whether to comment on it, how you feel about it, how others feel about it. You don't want it to be too obvious, and yet, you don't want to be different for the sake of it.

William Eggleston was reputed to only ever shoot one frame of his subject, then move on - the idea of which really appeals to me. I love his photos, they have a freedom about them yet they contain a dramatic narrative too. That method makes you feel decisive and free at the same time which can be a difficult combination to achieve as a photographer. Its like a formula for being unformulaic allowing your instincts to play a greater part before your brain gets the chance to cock it up. He has a very democratic approach where anything can be as important as everything else. Its more arts based and is something I aspire to be more like, certainly here in my personal work. 


Conversely the quintessentially English photographer James Ravilious revisted many places and people time and time again to get right under the skin of his projects. This approach allows you to build important relationships and familiarise yourself with the landscape and subject matter in a completely different way. It will either drive you mad or allow you to fall in love with your subject. W.Eugene Smith, often cited by photographers and many others as possibly the greatest photographer who ever lived, worked in the same way.


Another great way of looking at the different aspects of how to approach your photography is discussed here by the legendary Stephen Shore.


I have transcribed the following from the American Beauty video of him I found online where he describes the decisions he makes on the kit he decides to use (a chuffing massive 10"x8" plate camera) his 'visual thinking', his training and method. I love what he says and how he says it, its definitely large-format photography thinking.

'I think a work can hold alot of different things at once; explore the medium, explore perception and explore other psychological levels. In a simple physical way, the camera's recording with extraordinary detail and that allows me to see things of interest but not make them the whole point of the picture. For a person to see a scene with as much detail as this camera can record, might take several minutes but you can have the experience of taking it all in in a few seconds in a picture, so there is a sense of time being compressed in it. I've discovered that this camera was the technical means in photography of communicating what the world looks like in a state of heightened awareness. And its that awareness of really looking at the everday world with clear and focused attention that I'm interested in. There is a kind of visual thinking that goes on that is without words and not just words spoken but not even words in ones head. Most people think thinking has to do with words, this little voice in your head, but there is a visual thinking that doesn't have that. I spent maybe 10 years on a kind of formal exploration of photography and what happened is that I don't think about that anymore. I don't forget all that other stuff, but I don't think about it. You walk down the street when you were 11 months old , figuring out how to walk was the main focus of your attention. And you now you walk and you do it fine, you don't have to think about it, now you can think about where you are going. And I think thats sort of a similar thing, I'm thinking about where I am going with the picture.'

So there you have it. Think wordlessly.  Watch, be attentive to the world and its ways. Notice the things everyone else misses or doesn't think about. Shoot what you want to remember. Our search for the new is the most exciting bit. Whats next? What can I discover? Where can I go, what can I see?



Tuesday 12 July 2011

International Craft Cider Festival, Wales, 12th-14th August 2011

So you think you know about cider? Do you really? When was the last time you got the chance to try cider from France, Germany, Spain, England and Wales (and maybe Ireland) side by side all at the same time whilst listening to loads of bands and hanging out with lots of people that enjoy, and make, cider too??

Hmmmmmmm? Thought so. Time to open your taste buds up to something different..

In more seriousness, this is just a quick plug for a great event that I'll be attending and showing some photography at in about a months time. Set in deepest Welsh countryside, its more than just your regular cider festival, this is a chance to try some real cider from other real cider cultures all over the Europe. Esteemed writer and author Pete Brown and I will be doing a joint piece at about 5pm on Saturday 13th loosely titled 'The Secret Stories of Cider' where Pete will be reading from some of his newest notes and observations on cider whilst I will be slide-showing a handpicked selection of images to accompany his words. For those of you that don't know Petes work, do yourselves a favour and pick up a copy of one of his books- they're brilliant and a must for anyone that likes beer (everyone?)  He's been described as 'the beer drinkers Bill Bryson'- his tales recalling the characteristic, inquisitive, often harebrained and occasionally hapless adventures he undertakes into the beer world (in this case cider world.) Riddled with his trademark humour, cynical observations with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, its very English, slightly familiar, fascinating, hilarious and informative all at the same time.

Sounds like the only excuse you need to get a pint or three ready, find a comfy seat and listen up for 45 minutes of cider love (certainly more than any excuse I would need anyway.)

More details can be found at -get your tickets while you can, come along and say hi!

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Bridge Farm Cider

Bridge Farm is one of those cidermakers you hear about long before you ever find or meet or taste anything to do it with it. That in itself is a step closer to legend status in my opinion and is always a good sign; word of mouth being the best way to find what you want and I tend to take the lack of discovery as a sign that someone there cares more about their product than the advertising and marketing.

Nigel Stewart makes traditional Somerset cider at East Chinnock near Yeovil in Somerset (good soil there for apples.) He’s quite an unassuming man with a fine militaryesque moustache and on the few occasions I've had his ear, he generally has informed and relevant to say about whatever the topic of conversation is at that moment.

Doing justice to something you are passionate about gets easier when you experience it firsthand and recognise the difference between an imposter and the genuine article. Bridge Farm has all the right ingredients for a decent cidermaker and is as genuine as they get: it feels right when you're there. The press rails laid into the floor, the detritus of production, the wooden barrels, the scent of the dark shed, the lush long grass orchards, the mix of fruit... these are all things that inspire you as a photographer and I've learnt to latch on to them as a source of that feeling, you can only try and capture it...

Anyway, he's supposed to have a website but I couldn't get it up (oo er) so am posting the important stuff here should you need it. Go along and say hi and buys lots, its lovely.

Bridge Farm Cider, Bridge Farm, East Chinnock, Nr Yeovil BA22 9EA
Tel: 01935 862387

Monday 4 July 2011

Cider ramblings

Apologies for my slackness of late, my posting frequency has been more infrequent than it should be, it may have something to do with getting married and organising the wedding ourselves, followed by a fantastic honeymoon in Sicily (the apples are a bit rubbish there, but luckily they are about the only thing that was) and on top of that, being up to my nuts in work.

Seeing how the Sicilians seem to try and eat anything, it got me wondering if anyone Italians make any cider and apparently (and unsuprisingly) they do in a tiny corner of Italy known as Val D'Aosta. The town of Gressan (nestled in the foothills of the Alps between France and Switzerland) has an Apple Festival (second Sunday of the month), featuring the local cider and a vast assortment of apple desserts. It's a real personal point of interest how many cultures do cider, particularly if the growing conditions for apples are right. Surely it must be a case of, if they can grow apples they make cider or something similar? Someone must have a map of both hemispheres that highlights an apple growing band showing its northern and southern boarders? (If not, why not?) The US has a burgeoning interest in real cider, something I really hope to explore in the coming months. (Check out this nice little map of Dave White from Old Time Cider in US. It'll give you a good idea of whats going to start appearing in our shops over the coming years I suspect!) The Chinese are great drinkers, they have an old culture and alot of wisdom so surely they must make some kind of cider culture? And Russia. And India. And Kazakhstan to pluck a few more out of the air? Dessert apples are though to originate in Kazahkstan and our cider apples are assumed a result of hybridization between them and our native crab surely Borats ancestors must have dabbled in it? (which could explain alot.) I know Japan as a few cidermakers (they turned to apples amongst other things in WWII when rice was rationed.) Argentina, South Africa, Australia and NZ all make wine and cider and they are all on a similar latitude to ours. Pray tell - where is the most far flung place we can find native cider?

Incidentally, I read a fantastic book whilst on holiday called 'The Wilding' by Maria McCann (you may have heard of it) and I tell you this because the backdrop to the story is cidermaking of 1670's right here in Somerset. Its really well written, wonderfully descriptive and is a proper story. It has cidermaking info to hook a ciderlover in and enough plot, mystery and sauce to keep you there -I defy any of you to tell me its not enjoyable!

Anyway - here are some random pics to accompany your thoughts, I promise to resume normal duties with something more interesting, more photographical and more cohesive soon!