Serendipity plays a big part in my photography, I love nothing more than getting lost with a camera in a strange place and finding photos that perhaps I wouldn't have if I'd stayed on the beaten track. I was reminded of this when I was lucky enough to spend a month living in the beautiful Spanish city of Granada in Andalusia, home to the World Heritage listed Alhambra the famous moorish palace that looks out over the city, there was, to put it mildly an abundance of photo opportunities, a photographers dream location.
Most mornings after an orange juice, croissant and a strong cup of coffee I’d head out onto the streets with my camera, one day a local approached me and we got talking I mentioned I wanted to get a photo of the Alhambra from up high, to get the best shot he said I should take a walk up to a place called Sacromonte around dusk, from up there you can look down on the magnificent palace with Alcazar (fort) toward the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the distance, apparently Bill Clinton recently re-visited this spot whilst on a trip to Spain as he had been there once in his student days and had never forgotten the magnificent vista. ( I was also told that plenty of people like to have a smoke of the good stuff while watching the sunset, although I'm sure Bill never inhaled when he first watched it as a student.)
On a warm clear afternoon I set off through the Albaicin the historic Moorish quarter located on a hill opposite the Alhambra where Muslims settled in the 11th century, the neighbourhood still maintains the layout of narrow streets from that era.
I must admit to not actually looking at a map before I set out, I figured I could walk in the general direction of where I thought Sacromonte would be, quite why I assumed this would get me there I’m not really sure, perhaps it’s got something to do with my habit of never reading instructions first. I thought I was making good progress as I ascended out of the Albaicin, past flamenco bars carved out of the side of the hill where people come to eat, drink and clap along to the sound of strumming guitars performing flamenco cantes and “quejíos until the small hours of the morning.
With the Alhambra high above me on my right and the sun sinking ever lower toward the horizon I decided to take a road on my left that I judged might get me up to Sacromonte, however after ten minutes or so of walking I came to a dead end with just a couple of cave houses in the hillside and a small fenced off plot of land holding two beautiful horses.
Back on the main road again I passed an old deserted monastery the city was now out of view nowhere to be seen and my anxiety levels were rising as the sun was setting, it was too late to turn back now and restart. To make things worse I now found myself in the midst of a pine forrest wondering if I’d ever find this damn view when finally I rounded a bend and emerged from the gloom of the forrest into an open field,
Away in the distance I could see Granada, I was surprised at how far I had walked, I was well and truly off the beaten track and there was no Sierra Nevada as the backdrop, the view was from a completely different angle than the one I had anticipated, it was now towards the floodlit Alhambra out over the city and valley beyond, it was obvious why the original inhabitants had built the fort and palace there with it’s commanding views making it easy to spot an approaching friend or foe.
With no time to waste and with the light fast approaching that sweet spot where the ambient makes away for the artificial, I quickly set up my camera, from down below in the ravine I could hear the sound of dogs barking and in the shadows I could see the outline of cave houses, I framed the palace and city in the distance with the shimmering glow of lights and got my photo, not the shot I had been seeking but in some ways a better one.
The sun now gone I was in total darkness alone up on that hill with the twinkling lights of Granda far off, a warm gentle breeze coming up from the south, I stood there for a while longer enjoying the moment until from out of the darkness in the distance I could hear the the sound of barking dogs approaching, a moment of panic gripped me, quickly I packed up my things and stumbled down the side of the hill in the darkness praying that I wouldn’t topple over the edge of that ravine, the street lights down below my only guide, eventually I made it safely back onto the main road that had brought me there in the first place.
I stopped for a beer at one of those little flamenco bars and sat out the front relaxing, two players on their way to a gig at another bar sat down nearby and ordered tapas and beers, one of them picked up his guitar and started playing while his companion accompanied him with some palmas (hand clapping) a fitting end to a lost afternoon in the Andalusian hills.
It’s always been a bit of a challenge to get a self funded photo story published in anything major and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, so I’m pleased to have a double page photo spread run the ‘AFR (Australian Financial Review) Weekend edition’. The photo essay is about ‘Walking the Camino de Santiago in the Wintertime’ which I walked parts of in 2013 and found it to be quite a different experience from the warmer months which I did with my wife Tina in 2011. Read more here
In his early years legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, famous for his photographs on the streets of Paris would sometimes hide his camera under a handkerchief so he could capture truly candid shots of people and situations, however once when a gang of youths noticed what he was up to he had to exit the scene quickly, after that he decided not to hide his camera anymore, so even he wrestled with the realities of taking candid photos in public places. Much of street photography involves photographing people either directly or indirectly within a larger scene, a question I get asked a lot when giving a talk, taking a photography tour or doing a workshop is how I go about photographing in these situations.
If I think back to when I was starting out in photography and still on my L plates one of my first paying gigs was function and restaurant photography for a company called Happy Medium, the gig wasn’t so hard really if you didn't mind approaching strangers, dealing with lots of rejection and the occasional drunk. So how it worked was they would send me to a restaurant or function, once there I would endeavour to persuade as many couples and groups as I could to let me take their photo, I’d then jump into my car and race to a centrally located lab (a term I use loosely) tucked somewhere down a seedy lane in Richmond to have my film processed and printed. Then with a bunch of heavily vignetted photos under arm I’d hurry back to the restaurant where I would do my best to match somewhat inebriated happy loving couples with their photo in the hope of parting them from a sum of money. When I first started, the high rate of refusal from people had me struggling, no couples on film meant no prints and OMG! no sales, it was a little soul destroying dealing with that much rejection in one evening. One night having returned to the lab from the Hofbrauhaus restaurant with only one measly roll of film containing just 3 couples I was, I admit feeling a little sad and sorry for myself, why was I getting so many knock backs? Across the room was another photographer a dapper little Vietnamese guy, I had noticed in the few weeks that I had been there that he would always return from his functions with large bunches of film in hand bursting with couples, was it something I was saying or not saying. Seeing my grim look I think he took pity on me and came over and asked what was wrong, I told him my story of woe, whereupon he smiled and then gave me some very good advice, advice that I still use today when the situation calls for it, what he said was simple and also a little confusing at first, 'don't ask to take their photo, because invariably people will nearly always say NO it's their instinctive response'. ‘What' I said 'don’t ask, but how could you take somebodies photo without first asking?’, he smiled repeated the words as if to say you work it out, and with that he turned and went back to collect the mountain of prints waiting for him, maybe he was onto something.
I gave thought to his advice over the following week when I found myself back at the home of lederhosen slap dancing the Hofbrauhaus, however this time I had a crafty strategy, as I walked into the main foyer I started triggering my flash hoping the patrons inside, while they couldn't actually see me would see a flash going off and get a sense of something happening, then summoning up every ounce of self belief I could muster I strutted into the restaurant proper, walked up to the first couple and as I raised my camera as I gestured for them to cuddle together which they duly did without question, I snapped their photo and to my surprise and quicker than you could say ‘process this large amount of film’ pretty much every other couple in the restaurant dutifully fell into line and let me take their photographs, it was a lesson in human nature.
I tell this story because it has relevance to street photography, however the restaurant approach is a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut so you may need to nuance your approach for different situations because, while it is legal to take photos of people in public in Australia (you can read more on the law here) there are still ethical considerations to take into account, particularly if you are focusing in on an individual potentially intruding into a private moment in a public space, say as opposed to an overall scene which may have more than one person in it, I’m always mindful of this and it relies on judgment, common sense and respect for the individual or situation. As photographers we are always chasing that perfect street moment, think of those times when you've been out and come across a scene that you couldn't have dreamt up, you want to capture it but if you ask first and shoot second more than likely the moment will be lost, they'll stiffen up, move position or wave you away. So faced with a choice, you can do the above and possibly lose the shot, keep walking and put it down as the one that got away, shoot first explain later if needed, stand there with camera hanging around your neck pretending you’re not taking a shot when you actually are. It’s a judgement call, I've done and do all of the above. In this scenario when I've taken the shot mostly I'll keep walking, maybe give a gesture or smile if it seems warranted or I may go over and talk to them, tell them who I am and why I took the photo, ninety-nine percent of the time people are fine about it, you’ve just got to play it by ear there are no hard and fast rules, and remember, not everyone is fair game.
But of course, the first challenge is to simply lift the camera to your eye and start shooting!
The key to a good looking portrait is a combination of angle, lighting, clothes and a natural smile, not just with your mouth but with your eyes as well, the two go together, one technique..........Read More
A cry in her voice, a karaoke backing track and a captive rush hour audience, the only thing missing was Kenny G.Read More
Saturdays laneways tour started on a cool overcast morning with a few cracks of blue trying to squeeze through, a group of people were making preparations on the steps of the State library (our meet up point) for a marriage equality protest due to take place later that day. I noted on my way to our meet up spot that a large part of Little Bourke st in China town was blocked off as well as some lanes, so I adjusted that mornings tour accordingly. There's always something going on in the lanes and little streets, often public works are competing with artworks.
One of the things I like to do with the group before we head off into the lanes is to set a small challenge, I tell them to look for symmetry between things when framing an image, look for visual connections in a particular scene whether that be static objects or people, find the balance. In some quarters this is referred to as the rule of thirds, I don't subscribe to this method of dividing up a scene, it's too prescriptive. I believe you have to practice on an instinctive level until it becomes second nature to look beyond the obvious sometimes to the more subliminal elements, ask yourself, is there some kind of connection here? It might be shape, colour, scale or where someone is standing in relation to you and another subject, the scenarios are endless. Don't settle for the first view point, move around in an arc, go in closer or step back and then within your viewfinder compose the shot look for the balance and symmetry, then take the photo. With practice and patience you'll get better at seeing and in turn your photography will improve, and more and more you will see things where once you would have moved on thinking not much was there worth photographing.
Now having said all that, sometimes symmetry is not found within in a single frame but is discovered in a single lane, you can always rely on an artist to cut to the truth of the matter. I took the last two images in this blog in Hosier lane, by luck a shaft of light was reflecting from somewhere up high onto the poster, the subject matter is always topical, perhaps a little more so lately.
El Camino de Santiago – the Way of St James – is an historic pilgrimage trail
through north-western Spain. Once a Roman trade route, “ for over a thousand years it has attracted travellers from around the world who come to walk, reflect, find like-minded companions.”
Why in our secular age are so many people captivated by this medieval Christian pilgrimage? Over 200,000 people walked the Camino in 2013; nearly half were Spanish, followed by German, Italian, Portuguese, French, US, Ireland, UK, Holland, Canada, Korea.
Perhaps it's because in our busy modern lives, more than ever, we need escape valves like the pilgrimage, a chance to empty the hard drive and refresh the spirit, eight hundred kilometers, just you and the road, a crash course in life.
These are some of the questions and themes I've been exploring with this project, I am now in the process of approaching publishers with a proposal to produce a photographic book on the Camino.
You can view more photos and regular updates at: facebook.com/thepilgrimsway
The Uluru Children’s home near the village of Kadapakkam in South India cares for a particularly vulnerable group of girls in the Indian community. Since 2003, the Home has housed about 30, mainly rural girls who have been orphaned or abandoned by destitute parents, at the home they are given the essentials of food, clothing and shelter – all in a safe and caring environment. The girls are given a permanent home and a whole new direction for the rest of their lives, but more importantly, they have access to health care and education, which are crucial in giving them life prospects they would otherwise be denied.
Little Big Town : is a photographic exploration of the laneways and little streets of Melbourne’s CBD, ‘the village within the city’. LBT is an ongoing project photographed over 3 years, recording daily life in the many little streets and laneways, documenting the transformation of these locations from neglected back waters to diverse and vibrant environments. Little Big Town project is now a book published by The Five Mile Press in November 2014 and is available in bookshops or online