Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dining Outdoors.jpg


Armidale NSW Australia November 2015

The Decisive Moment that Lead to the Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004), is considered a pioneer of photojournalism, though he himself claimed to be a surrealist photographer; it was Robert Capa who suggested to him that if he wanted to get any photography work, then he should call himself a photojournalist.  Cartier-Bresson is revered by many modern street photographers, and rightly so. What many don’t know is that as a young man he spent some time in Africa, where he got into a bit of trouble, made heaps of sketches and then, finally something happened that changed his life and the history of photography too.

Cartier-Bresson was trained as a painter, and that really was his passion and way of recording and interpreting the world around him. In a sense he wouldn’t necessarily describe himself as a “photographer”; he said that he turned to photography simply as a way to ‘testify with a quicker instrument than a brush’. But what led him to this change, to the picking up of a camera?  Well, still in Africa, he saw a photo in a magazine. This photo:

Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika (1930) Martin Munkacsi 


Seeing this extraordinary photo by Hungarian photographer  Martin Munkacsi, Cartier-Bresson understood immediately that, ‘photography could reach eternity through the moment’. He realised the potential of the camera to capture the ‘decisive moment’.

So, that was that. He bought a camera and the rest, as so many say, is history. Using a 35mm camera with a standard lens, allowed Cartier-Bresson to work quickly and unobtrusively.  The title of his book, Images à la Sauvette (changed for US publication to The Decisive Moment) means images on the sly; in other words, candid photography. I am not fond of the word sly, but that's just me. We know what it means really don't we?

Cartier-Bresson insisted on strong composition. He used the viewfinder to frame subjects precisely, preferring to crop the image in the camera (though, contrary to popular belief, he was no purist and cropped images if it suited his needs or what he wanted to say).


He shot in Black and White because he regarded the camera as simply a ‘sketchbook’. It's as simple as this. Perhaps this point may be a contribution to the black and white versus colour debate in street photography? Something to think about at least. For Bresson the choice was not one of aesthetics; it was merely a practical choice that met with his requirements and purpose.

Anyway, I digress. This simple but lovely photograph of a moment of joy being expressed by three young boys was a decisive moment which prompted this great artist to produce not only some of the finest photographs ever made, but also to actually shape the history of photography and especially street photography. 

Or, is this photo really of a very ordinary moment that, with the keen observation of the artist who senses when all the elements just come together to form a harmonious whole, is made decisive because it has been recorded? Makes you think of all those unrecorded moments doesn't it?

Three Friends.jpg


Armidale NSW Australia November 2015 http://flic.kr/p/A8LsHk

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Remembrance Day: Some Thoughts & a Poem for Them All

Where have all the Flowers Gone? (Adelaide Australia November )


To say I have a complicated attitude towards days like today, Remembrance Day, is a massive understatement. I was born with a predisposition towards pacifism, a tendency that was strengthened by experiencing the damage done to my father from his time in the army and especially his time with the Australian army in Vietnam during the war. Then there was the impact on my family of his time there: the family basically imploded, with the subsequent effects on each of us.

Then there is my knowledge of military history, both as it is lived by the people doing the actual fighting and from the broader geo-political perspective of historical movements and imperatives, as well as the reasons for going to war. Not to mention my acute awareness of the lies we are told to justify war and the hiding of the real reasons a government will wage war.

At the end of the day it is these lies told by politicians and our so-called leaders and their manipulations of events and the revision of history, that has me now saying no to all wars.
At the same time from deep in the core of me I feel a love and affection, a pride, for the people we send (yes, we) to do the fighting, killing and dieing; I feel for and care about those who return from the fight wounded in body, mind and spirit.

Whatever the individual’s reason for ‘joining up’ to fight, they have all done the dirty work their society has demanded of them. Their efforts—their sacrifices—need to be looked at as completely separate from their governments actions and reasons for sending them to fight and what they have done must be looked at separately from any outcome of any given conflict.

I have always been deeply revolted and disgusted to the core by those who place blame and then abuse or attack those who have only been doing our (yes our) bidding in war. Anti war should and does not mean, anti those who have done the fighting.  To not make this distinction is to abdicate one’s own responsibility as a member of society.

On days like this, Remembrance Day, and all other commemorations that purport to remember and honor those who have died in war, there is a militarization that in many ways excludes an honoring of the dead by people who do not wish to, at the same time, promote or celebrate a culture of war and conflict. And that makes me sad.

My father (who had served as a Major in Australian Army Intelligence before, during and after the Vietnam War) died in 2000 as he ran for a train on a hot summer’s day. I don’t think there were too many moments in the thirty odd years between his time in Vietnam and his death that he was happy; not too many times he was at peace.

PTSD; Depression; violent mood swings and behaviours; constant and consuming distress and an ongoing inability to settle into any semblance of what we call a ‘normal life’. These were his rewards for doing his ‘duty’, for doing the things we (yes, we) asked him to do.

No need to go on. Suffice it to say, my siblings and I are the children of a Vietnam veteran, and to some degree or another we have inherited that legacy of suffering. Just like so many others, in so many wars, all over this benighted planet and through time.

About ten years ago I wrote a poem about my father and his post Vietnam life and death. Here is it as my offering at the memorial to all who have had to suffer as a result of all wars everywhere.

Lest We Forget to not only oppose war in all its guises and disguises, but let us always remember to create peace in our lives and in our communities.


Peace to you all.

IT’S A ’NAM THING

My father, many times he hit me.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father hurt my sisters.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing
My father, he beat my mother.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father had a shrink at 150 an hour.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father tried to get sane.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, he kept his demons.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father used to run for trains.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, one day thought he was late.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father ran hard for his train.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father caught that train, of course.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, his heart attacked him.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.
My father, on that train he died.
But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

Hobart Australia
?2004 or 2005

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Reading in a Quiet Spot.jpg


Armidale NSW Australia November 2015 http://flic.kr/p/AgGPTv

Create and Share That Which has been Created: A Mantra for all Artists

Hello My Darling (Melbourne Australia December 2012)

I wonder how many of your know that I am a poet. Well, to put it more accurately: I sometimes write poems. I might go a year with no poems appearing, and, then, as has happened recently, I will write one a day for several days in a row.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I was reflecting in my journal (yes, I keep a journal too, and have been for over 35 years, again with the occasional break) on one of these recent masterpieces, and I found myself writing that I was really quite pleased with the poem and how I expressed some real feelings in the piece and that it contained some really nice images (of the wordy variety that is).

I stopped writing at that point to think about it a bit more. Then I started writing again. Here’s what I wrote:
I’m really struggling to come to a point where I do all my creative work and especially my photography simply because it is what I want to do, and to let go of any expectations of it being liked by anyone else or commented on or whatever. I am trying to realise that my role is to create and to share. That is all
Then I stopped again. After a few moments, I wrote in bigger letters and in the middle of the page:

 Create and share that which has been created

Okay, it’s not a new idea, this do your art because it’s what you want to do and don’t worry about the reactions of others. I'm sure you've read the same thing on other blogs, but it’s an idea worth talking about again; it’s a kind of reminder to self (and maybe to others?) that it is why one does something that matters most. Although of course, being human it’s always nice when people approve of what one does. I guess it’s about not worrying overly much about what other people think. It’s about not thinking about what’s popular, what sells, what gets the most “Likes” and the rest.

So, that’s what I am trying to do in my work as a street and social documentary photographer: make the photos I want, for the reasons I want to make them. I always aspire to make my photos the best I possibly can, just as I always try to have the best possible reasons or motives for making them. In a sense, once I have done my best to send them out into the world, I have no control over what impact (or lack of impact) my photos have. Same goes for this blog or anything else I do.

Anyway, I am glad my sub-conscious presented me with a new mantra as I wrote in my journal:

               Create and share that which has been created.


 Peace

Monday, November 9, 2015

Not so Well Hidden in the Suburban Jungle: When Camouflage isn't Camouflage

Not So Well Hidden in the Suburban Jungle
(Armidale NSW Australia November 2015)

I'm not a fan of camouflage, of the literal or the metaphorical kind. If you need camouflage, then you are trying to hide, trying to disguise yourself. But, I make no judgement here: I mean we are all prone to hiding something from someone at times aren't we?

Anyway, yesterday I was walking on the street leading to the centre of the small town we're staying in right now. And, I spotted this car parked outside some shops. Not a common sight, you might agree: a camouflaged 4x4 in suburbia. So, I made a couple of photos because it's such an unusual sight. Also, I liked the contrast with the shopping trolleys against this strange looking vehicle.

I then moved in to have a closer look, being the curious character that I am. The guy in the photo saw me, so I said hello.

'I bet most people don't see you coming driving this thing?' says I, in my best ironic humorous tone.

'Yeah, 'specially out bush. I park her under a tree and nobody sees me,' he replied.

We laughed, wished each other a good day and I walked on. Hey wait, you might be asking, why didn't you find out some more of his story? Well, the truth is, the guy must want his privacy. And if you are going to drive a truck like that, well, what's there to tell?

Peace

Thursday, November 5, 2015

From Russia with Love: Making a Life of Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness


Tibet Himalayas, 1933by Nicholas Roerich (courtesy of Vanishing Ice)


Nicholas Roerich was a Russian, one of those crazy Russians who believed in beauty and art and culture as the means to create peace. Well, if he's crazy, then I sure would like some of whatever he had. Bring it on, that's what I say. Here's just a tiny snippet of what he said, as quoted in a very groovy book called Nicholas Roerich: A Master of the Mountains by Barnett D Conlan:
'... every Art creation is a dynamo charged with uplifting energy and a real
generator of enthusiasm and he (Roerich) looks to Art as the most effective instrument for leading towards a life of 'Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness', to a
'Fearlessness which possesses the sword of courage and which smites down
vulgarity in all its forms, even though it be adorned in riches.'

In the years before World War II Roerich set up what he called Centers of Culture around the world. I don't know too much about this aspect of his work, but I plan to check it out. His idea was that Art and Culture were the perfect tools for attaining peace. He was a painter (I went to his house in Naggar in the Himalayas in India which is now a gallery and museum. His paintings are almost not of this world; ethereal and radiating a kind of gentle but powerful energy of their own. If you want to see some of his paintings, go to this link), an explorer, linguist (he was the first to compile dictionaries for various Tibetan and other central Asian languages), and a writer.

I've been thinking about what he says about every work of art being a dynamo full of uplifting energy. Whether you are an artist or not, you are bound to feel this sometimes when creating or looking at a piece of art, in whatever medium. Of course it is also true to say that so much of what passes for 'art' or 'culture' is lacking in any energy at all; it's lifeless, made to serve the needs of the ego, the market or some other materialistic purpose. And then there is the art that, while it might be that dynamo full of energy that Roerich describes, has been created with sinister or destructive purpose in mind and emanates a whole other kind of energy.

I guess what I'm saying is that it is the intention of the artist that is key. Most of the artists I know (including myself) create with the intent of making something from our hearts, from our souls, and that we can put out there into the world carrying goodwill with it. These artists (me too) seek to record and interpret the world around us in a way that is enriching for others as well as, of course, for ourselves.

Whether we are aware of it or not, every time we unleash that 'dynamo charged with uplifting energy', we are contributing towards a life of  'Beauty, Simplicity and Fearlessness' for all of us. There could not be a more positive, more true reason for creating Art ... whatever that means for you.

Peace from me to you

Monday, November 2, 2015

Photographing the Moment: It's a Vision Thing

There is one thing that photography must contain: the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough; there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.                                                         
      Robert Frank

What is it exactly that Frank is saying here? I think, put simply, he is telling us that for a photo to be potentially (my italics) successful, it must contain not only a moment of the life of the person or people being photographed, but it must also contain something of humanity as it was expressed in that moment.

We see a lot of Street photography that clearly is made with the intention of producing a kind of technically correct result. (Disclaimer: I'm not going go anywhere near debates such as the "sharpness in Street Photography is overrated" paradigm doing the rounds at the moment).  And of course we do have to have some technical expertise and aspirations for our photography. But oftentimes we try so hard to copy the styles of the "masters", or the latest "trends" in street photography, or to get our heads around "zone focus", or "depth of field" and "bokeh" and the rest,  that we, either lose sight of the vision we brought to street photography in the first place, or we deny ourselves the opportunity to develop our own unique vision and voice 

But even worse than all this in my opinion is the missed opportunities to celebrate the humanity in the moments we are so fortunate to share with the people we photograph. At the same time we disrespect and objectify those people; we begin to treat them as simply one more (but not any more special than any other) element in our photos.

Now, I'm not saying that people in our photos are not to be considered as compositional, aesthetic or narrative elements; what I am saying is that at least for me, people must be the primary element. Or to put it more precisely: in order to inject humanity into our photos we have to make the moment as the people in our photos are living it the focus and the most important consideration when we make a photograph. 

Not all my photos are "tack sharp" (though for me the people I photograph deserve to be seen as clearly as possible whenever possible in a way that doesn't detract from the meaning of the moment); not all my photos are composed in accordance with the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean and the rest (though I study composition and I hope it informs that unconscious part of me that "sees" while I am in Street photography mode. Again I owe it to the people I photograph); lens aperture is only important to the extent that it allows me to show the people I photograph in the best light (to coin a phrase). No need to go on: I'm sure you get the picture (get it? picture? haha)


At the end of the day it comes down to finding a balance: My choice is to work towards a balance that favors the humans and their lived experience in my street photos, while still making a photo that is as technically good as I’m able. As Robert Frank says ‘… realism is not enough; there has to be vision.’ 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Victory to Truth and Honor: A Salutation Like No Other

For me and for so many other street and social documentary photographers, and especially those of us coming from a Humanist position, creating good photos that celebrate humanity and tell stories and show scenes that enrich the viewer, it is not enough to have the right camera, understand composition and the rest. Of course I for one will never know enough to fully do justice to the work I do. But like all things in life, it's a lifelong learning process.

No, for me and those others, the making of good work comes from a broader based learning. It comes from an engagement with other art forms and movements. It comes from an ongoing study into what makes us human, why we do what we do. It comes from a knowledge of how society functions, how we all fit into our environment. In other words, in order to be a good street or social documentary photographer I believe that one has to at least be making the attempt to become a well informed, well rounded, human being.

Today's post isn't directly about these ideas. It's more about an aspect of communication in which we have the opportunity to not only revive an old courtesy that seems to be fading away, but also to let others know a little at least of what drives us: the ongoing and never-ending pursuit of honor and truth.

A while back I reconnected with a very good friend. We'd been out of touch for a many years, and I tell you it was really good to hear from him again. I think we've kind of taken off just where we left off. Anyway, I was looking at old emails from him (he used to send his poetry out to people on his list; ah, the good old days when you had to actually email people to share your writing, thoughts, ideas, whatever), and I noticed a really nice sentence he used on one as a way of signing off. He wrote:
Vishwa dharma ki jai

This is Sanskrit and means (according to my friend), 'victory to universal truth and honour'. When I read this expression, I was moved. Now, I don't have a problem with 'yours sincerely' or 'kind regards' and so on, as ways of signing off  an email or (just imagine)  a letter. Indeed, I think those salutations (is that the right word?) can be meaningful and can carry heartfelt and sincere wishes from one person to another.

However, as with all things we do 'automatically' and as a matter of course, these expressions seem to  have lost much, if not all their true meanings. In fact, how often do we get emails with no such signing off, and with merely the sender's name at the bottom? Actually, now I think about it, I remember emails that have no name signing off. On the face of it that might seem rude, but most often it isn't: people and  the way they communicate are changing; I guess some of these so-called 'niceties' are just naturally going to be lost.

So, when I read my friend's Sanskrit salutation, I thought, hey, I'm going to make sure that I for one do not forget these traditional expressions of good wishes and salutation. And what better salutation for a truth seeker (that's me) than my friend's?

It might be that a wish for the victory of universal truth and honor sounds a bit old fashioned, a bit formal even. Not at all: how up to date, how necessary in our materialistic, fast-paced and sometimes lonely and corrupt world, is it to seek truth and to act with honor. Honor isn't the fuddy-duddy, formal term you might think. Look it up: it's about honesty, truth, right behavior, integrity, all that good and right stuff.

So, I'm going to try to use this great salutation whenever I can. After all, it does say a lot about my attitude to my work as a street and social documentary photographer.

And my message to you, dear reader? Vishwa dharma ki jai

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fingers Poised? Look Before you Leap, I Mean Click

A few years ago when I was still reading newspapers, I saw a report about a columnist at a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia who was ‘let go’ because she sent some ‘controversial’ messages via Twitter while at a TV awards night. Now, I would not be surprised if you hadn’t heard of this: it’s hardly Earth shattering, and it isn’t really important on any number of levels if you ask me.

What I want to talk about here is a follow up opinion piece I read a few days later. In it the commentator, while claiming to put the responsibility squarely on the offending Twitterer, writes, ‘... the availability and immediacy of the technology intrude upon the normal choices and judgments which people make.’ He adds that services like Twitter, Facebook, emails and the rest, ‘bring into the public realm many things that would previously remain private.’

Of course, he’s right there isn’t he? You read all sorts of stuff out there in social media land and it ‘ain’t all pretty, as the saying goes. This guy goes on to say that we are at ‘an evolutionary disjunct between old notions of the public and private spheres and the means of communications now widely available.’

Therefore, it seems to follow that it’s not your fault if, when visiting social media land, you blurt out something that you might later regret or that is offensive or libelous or otherwise insensitive. Or is it? Well, of course it's your fault. You, like me and everyone else, are responsible for what we say and do whether it’s online or in person or on a postcard! 

There is a story about US president Franklin Roosevelt. As we all know Roosevelt had polio and used a wheelchair. However, for public speeches he stood with ‘discreet assistance’. Apparently, one day he actually fell over and lay sprawled and helpless in front of the assembled Washington press corps. Of the dozens of photographers there guess how many took a photo? Go on guess.

Okay, I’ll tell you. Not one. That’s right: no photographer thought it was relevant; they all—each and every one of those hungry ‘vultures’—judged that it was a personal matter and therefore not to be reported. You can bet that if a world leader fell in front of the cameras today it would be in your inbox, on YouTube and plastered all over the Internet before he or she was back on his or her feet.

Something similar happened to me a while back while I was working on the street. I saw a guy leaning against a tree. Instinctively I raised the camera to my eye; then, just as instinctively I lowered it again and went to the man and asked him if he was okay. He told me he was feeling really sick, so I offered to help him to a doctor. To cut a long story short, he had nothing serious and it all ended well.

My point is that, just like those Washington photographers, I had a choice: make the photo or not. Like them I decided this was not a photo “opportunity”, so put the camera down.

You know something? I have always thought that if there was one tool that shouted ‘availability and immediacy’ it’s the camera. This isn’t a new idea of course: it’s about the decisive moment and all that. Photography 101 you might say.

So how come it’s so different with the buttons on your mouse or your mobile? Especially as you usually have to type a message before you get to send it. If you ask me that’s a lot less immediate than the camera shutter. What I’m getting at here in my usual long-winded fashion is this: if those photographers could make the decision in the heat of the moment to not press the button, why do we need to make excuses for us ‘modern types’ with our keyboards and mobile phones and whatever?

Of course, the answer is we don’t. As I said, we are all responsible for what we say and do. I suppose a good motto to follow in our online or other communications—and in life generally— would be ‘Do No Harm’. Or at least, do as little harm as possible.

Now, I am not saying here that I’ve never said anything on Twitter, or on Facebook or any other place, that was hurtful or insensitive or judgemental or in other ways just not good to say. Mind you, I do try to stick to my little motto, Do No Harm (it’s not mine of course, I just adopted it).

And for those times when I have failed, I apologise very sincerely. I do not make excuses; I can choose to press send or click OK or whatever after I’ve typed a message (note my italics please), just as I can choose to press my camera’s shutter button.

Let’s not have any more of this ‘evolutionary disjunct’ stuff. Though, when you think about it, we actually are at a lot of those type of places right now, don’t you think? It’s just that I would rather not use this particular disjunct (I love this word) as an excuse to be sloppy when it comes to how I communicate with friends and strangers alike in cyberspace, or in terrestrial space, or even in my head! 


Monday, October 26, 2015

All I Need is a Dollar a Month

Over the several years I have been focusing more and more on my work as a Street and Social Documentary photographer, and sharing my photographs with you all on the internet, I have received so much support, love and encouragement from so many people all over the world that I can hardly find the words.  I’ve discovered that, not only do many people like and value my work, but they have also shared me with how much they admire and support the vision that motivates me and informs all that I do.

And that leads me to the reason for this post. A couple of days ago I suddenly thought all I need to continue and expand my work is $A1 a month. Well, actually that’s a dollar a month from each one of you! I have so many plans, so many ideas, and while I intend to carry on as I am creating photos, expanding on my blog and whatever else I can think of to get my vision out there, that $1 a month will make it a lot easier and less stressful for me, help me get more of my work out there and enable me to share my vision with as many people as possible for as long as possible.

Some of you may be asking: Why should I give him $1 a month? What’s in it for me?  
These are both very good questions that I think only you can answer. You have to decide whether you want to support me and my work in this way; you have to decide if what I am doing is worth it.  The best way I can try to answer your questions is to tell you a little bit more about myself. 

UPDATE: As a thank you gift, I would like to offer anyone who chooses to support me in this way at least two full resolution, electronic versions of any of my photos for you to print and frame as you wish (the vast majority can be printed up to very large sizes).

As many of you already know I am a Social Documentary and Street Photographer. I come to my art from a Humanist perspective which means I strive in my work to celebrate humanity in all its diversity and specialness.  I believe strongly that there are no ordinary people, nor are there any ordinary moments. And I seek to share some of those moments. Love, Compassion and Empathy are the guiding principles that inform my work. If you would like to read a little more about my vision, you can read my Artist’s Statement here.

A few years back my partner Pauline and I decided to simplify our lives in order to focus on the things we consider most important. So, we sold our house, cars, furniture. Gave away our books, records, CDs and all the rest of the material evidence of over 30 years (and you should have seen the tons of rubbish we threw out as well!).

We live a very simple, minimalist lifestyle: we now have very few possessions (only what we can carry) and as a way to explore more places and live more frugally, we do house and pet sitting. We support ourselves through the sale of my work.

It is not an exaggeration to say that my work, my art, is my life. I am either photographing or writing, thinking about photographing and writing, researching and learning, communicating with others about their work and mine. In fact it’s part of my plan to really focus on sharing the work of others much more than I have in the past.

You can find out a lot more about me by going to the links below. Or you can talk to me directly with any questions or comments.  If after learning more about me and my work, you decide to support me with $1 a month (or more), then just follow these steps:
  1. Go to my blog here
  2. At the top of the right hand column you'll see a section with a Subscribe button and a dropdown menu
  3. Click on the dropdown menu and choose the level of support you prefer
  4. Click on Subscribe. You will be taken to PayPal
  5. Follow the prompts at PayPal  to complete the (very secure) process

Thank you all so much for your support, whatever form it takes. I hope that I can continue to share my photographs, my experiences and my vision, with you all

with love
Paul


Links to my sites.

Paul's Pictures (my website)Instants Out of Time (my blog)Flickr (my photostream)About Me (a page with all my links)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Flag Flies in Suburban Fortress.jpg


Scone Australia October 2015 http://flic.kr/p/ztB6D8

Windswept


Sydney Australia Augustt 2015 http://flic.kr/p/ztrGC5

Walking the Dog.jpg


Terrigal Australia June 2015 http://flic.kr/p/zLmtFz

Reap What You Sow.jpg


Sydney Australia June 2015 http://flic.kr/p/zH18jq

Love is Love.jpg


Sydney Australia Augustt 2015 http://flic.kr/p/zKiRbV

Footprints on the Path.jpg


Sydney Australia July 2015 http://flic.kr/p/zsMmUz

Boarder Crossing.jpg


Sydney Austalia August 2015 http://flic.kr/p/zGX5ym