Monday, May 27, 2013

Historic photographs. The work of C.D.Hoy in Quesnel and Barkerville at the turn of the last century.

I recently found a book in the Ganges library that chronicles the frontier days of B.C.
'First Son. Portraits by C.D. Hoy.” by Faith Moosang, combines reproductions of Hoy's photographs with a thoughtful account of the early days of Barkerville and Quesnel, especially the easy going relationships between Native, Chinese and Caucasians in this frontier environment compared to the racist attitudes prevalent in the major centres at that time. It is the photographs that drew me into this little book and it just goes to show that all these years later that it is the person of the sitter that remains important rather than the 'artistic' treatment that I might favour in my own portrait work.

It is the hands of the sitters that are prominent. Working with available light only, Hoy, especially when working indoors, was restricted to long exposures and wide open apertures with their narrow depth of field. By his putting the hands in sharp focus we are drawn by what they reveal about every sitter, irrespective of race or nationality. It would also explain why so many images were made outside in natural light. It is in the fringes of the photos, what we would crop off today as distracting, that so much detail emerges about conditions at the time; a Caucasian family poses on the porch of their nice home, the steps however are roughly built of raw lumber.

Perhaps because the photographer was Chinese himself, the people before the lens seem so relaxed, so secure within themselves and this is for me the real appeal of Hoy's photography. They look at us across the hundred years of history that separate us and we feel ourselves to be their kin, we smile back. We know them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Looking up! Photographing subjects in difficult places.

I recently painted and then mounted a bird-form piece of driftwood on the top of a tall pole in my yard. Not difficult to make and only mildly dangerous up the ladder, but a challenge to photograph later. 

From ground level, even with my maximum zoom lens, it still looked like a tiny blob so out came the step ladder which I could move around to try different angles. From one angle the 'Raven' was bigger, but still a black silhouette, and when the sun burned through the overcast I had glare into the lens. Only then did I realize that my 'problem' was really my best creative solution. Raven, in coastal mythology is the one who stole light and released it into the heavens, and here, if I could control it, was Raven and the sun together. By putting the bright light behind a fir branch and then turning the camera to achieve a more dynamic angle for the pole I got a useful shot.

I also decided to photograph the crow on its nest of twigs that faces back across the driveway towards Raven. Once more I used the step ladder, tried a number of angles and settled on one that showed the detail of the carving, its forward leaning stance and 'nest'.

There was something creative but practical about this self assignment. In reality, although the subject matter was unusual, the same concerns applied here as in any other photograph, how to achieve the best possible image within the lighting and physical conditions present at the time. As in a wedding assignment, or garden spread for a magazine for example.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hand tinting your paper print using powdered graphite

It is easy enough to 'photoshop' one's monochrome image but there is another way altogether that has a different look and harkens back to the early days of photography; hand tinting.

I have experimented with adding colour, usually water soluble pencil crayons before now, but the other day I bought some graphite powder from Island Blue Print in Sydney for a drawing project. Only later did I find that I could use it on two matte finish 12x18 black and white photos that had never seemed quite right. The images were far too busy with intricate details and I had put them aside. With nothing to loose, I started rubbing the graphite powder into areas on my Burgoyne image that I wished to tone down and later pulled fine detail back up with a sharp eraser. A touch of colour in a foreground detail for accent and I had created a one-and-only photo. A quick spray of odour free varnish sealed everything in.

In the second, Ruckle Park beach photo, the back lighting in the mid-distance was overpowering and I solved this in the same way, toning down the bright trees and emphasizing some detail in the foreground, altering the emphasis among the textural and tonal relationships.

These were subtle adjustments, but the sky is the limit when you start to hand adjust your printed images. The feel is quite different from doing this in advance on the computer screen, it is closer to darkroom manipulation, but making adjustments directly on the paper print has a directness, a personal touch and uniqueness that is very satisfying.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Picture with words. Breaking down the barriers of photographic tradition.

Most of the images we see actually have words in them. I am talking about advertising, posters, cards, films ( those credits and titles) and so on, and yet we have an ethic that says that a pure photo should not need or have words within it. True, but in reality we are accustomed to titles placed below and they tell us a lot about the photographers intent. Many photos work well with words so I decided to do some to explore the possibilities.