TAKING STOCK

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the sleepy Devon seaside village of Salcombe. The light is bright and the shadows are deep, and the streets are thronged with locals and tourists making the most of the bank holiday weekend. Families hustle from one ice cream shop to the next with relaxed parents trying to keep track of their highly excited children as they weave through the narrow streets. The pubs are full of interesting characters and the harbour is awash with boats and their nautically-styled owners. 

Salcombe, May 2018

Salcombe, May 2018

I am sat on the sun terrace of one of the seafront drinking establishments in the village, a pint of beer in my hand and my wife sat next to me enjoying the sun. For me, it’s the ideal conditions to be out shooting and of course, I have my camera with me. However, on this day I am happy to let the world slip by along with all the photo opportunities that I would normally be out there hunting down. Don’t get me wrong, I have grabbed a few images during our pub-to-pub exploration of the village, but I’m in no ways committing the focus of my day to shooting on the streets of Salcombe. 

Artist at work. Salcombe, May 2018

Artist at work. Salcombe, May 2018

No, this trip is a break for both of us. A break from all we have going on at home and also a chance to take stock of all that has happened lately. It’s also a chance to reflect on my work over the past few months of my year in black and white as I approach the halfway point of this project. I have been really satisfied with the work I have produced so far in 2018 and I feel it has evolved as I have moved through the months. I have learned so much in this year, but I know I have so much more to learn.

A talk I went to by a well-known photographer at the end of April left me thinking about two changes that I needed to make in the way I go about my documentary and street work. 

First, slow down. Slow down everything. The pace you walk at, your movements with the camera, your observations of the world you are in. Take the time to understand with the eye before trying to capture it with your camera. To consider a scene, understand its meaning, and then develop a composition that tells the right story, takes patience. Something I don’t always have. 

Second, shoot more, A LOT more. As I look back at last months number of shots I should feel happy with the 8 events and outings I have shot in May. However, I know it’s not enough. I need to do more. This passion demands more time to be committed to it, along with the consumption of a greater variety of subject matter. I already have 8 quite varied shoots lined up in June so I’m heading in the right direction. I just need to maintain this pace, but I know I can do this because it’s easy when you are doing something that you love. 

Sunlight breaking through the clouds at Hope Cove. May 2018

Sunlight breaking through the clouds at Hope Cove. May 2018

Taking some time out from photography to think about your work, and what you need to do to keep it moving forward, is very important. Getting out and shooting is obviously critical to anyone’s development in this field. Just as important however is taking the time to properly review your work, curate it, and plan your next move. For me, that’s going to involve learning from those people who have already walked this path, while also taking criticism of my work, and being critical of it. This way I will hopefully stay on the right path, and continue to put out work that pleases me, and hopefully others too. 

SHADOW, LIGHT & FORM

I have no doubt that anyone who has followed me for more than the last 6 months has noticed that my style of photography changed pretty drastically from 2017 to 2018. As I’ve said in previous blogs, the aim of launching as Fraser McGee Foto was to develop myself as a photographer and included within this was the process of finding a style for my work. I’ve talked before about the importance of knowing what you want to shoot and why and style plays a major part in this. 

I’ve been shooting for the last 6 years, however, I really only feel like I’ve started to come into my own as a photographer in the last 12 months, in particular in 2018. In part, this is because I have managed to find a style of photography which I am happy with and that I can focus on. In turn, this has broken me out of the cycle of shooting only for Instagram and allowed me to find a level of satisfaction with my work that is based on what I now like.

The big change in my style has been that of a simplification in a way. At the beginning of the year, as I pulled my website together, I went through a process of selecting some images to put on my portfolio landing page. It was through this selection process that the aesthetic of the black and white images in my portfolio at the time grabbed my attention. The simplicity of the palette allowed the composition of shadows, light, and form to take centre stage. 

Grand Central Shadows. Birmingham, December 2017.

Grand Central Shadows. Birmingham, December 2017.

In this simplicity I recognised that part of my development should focus on the study of these three factors; shadow, light, and form. Trying to master these elements of composition is an important step in improving my work I believe as an image can be elevated through their correct use. While photographers can be thought of as people who paint with light, shadow is also an important tool in their box with negative space often adding much-needed drama to an image. 

The removal of colour from my work, which in the past I would have used as a safety net for a poorly composed image, demands a more brutal discipline with respect to image composition. The lack of color requires the use of shadow, light, and form to be perfect for an image to stand out. This is typical in the early black and white work of Saul Leiter, any of the work by Salgado, and contemporaries such as Walter Rothwell. Get these elements wrong and a black and white image will be unremarkable. 

So what started as a recognition of a development path has now very much grown into a focus and a style. High drama black and white imagery has become an addiction for me. Whether it be in portraiture, landscape, or my now main focus of street photography, this style has been the common thread throughout all of my work. It’s been almost 5 months now of shooting this way and I’m loving it. It is my full intention to limit myself to black and white photography throughout 2018 in an effort to progress my development. 

I am in no way a master of the use of shadow, light, and form in my compositions and I doubt I ever will be. I am hopeful though that by putting such a limitation on my work, my images will become more striking in their composure leading to the further establishment of my photographic style. 

 

China Town, London

China Town's are a regular feature of many of our city's here in the UK and I think it is often forgotten how much Chinese culture has permeated that of the West. How many of us consider Chinese food (albeit a British version) to be their favourite cuisine? I wonder if people in China feel the same about a Sunday roast, or a shepherds pie? Somehow I doubt it.

I recently spent a night down in London shooting the hustle and night life in our countries largest China Town. It was a Friday night and the streets were packed with people dining out, tourists passing through, and the local traders trying to tempt customers into their establishments. The area was not short on street photographers either with my final count for the night totalling 4 others trying to do the same.

I tried to capture the highly varied life and activity in the area around Gerrard Street and Lisle Street using my old Canon 5D and Sigma 85mm Art lens. The area was so full of life, and its occupants so used to street photography, that it was easy to feel comfortable shooting out in the open. Nobody challenged me as I shot images of workers in restaurants and tourists passing through. That's definitely one of the benefits of shooting street in London, no one seems to care if you shove a camera in their face!

I originally shot in colour which I felt was the only way to do justice to the life and light in the area however when I tried editing in mono in Lightroom, I felt that the black and white look gave the images a different feel. Here are a selection of my favourite images from the night.

Smoke break I.

Smoke break I.

Watching people watching people go by.

Watching people watching people go by.

Prepping.

Prepping.

Door man.

Door man.

Welcoming party.

Welcoming party.

Smoke break II.

Smoke break II.

Portrait with lollipop.

Portrait with lollipop.

Steam.

Steam.

Smoke break III.

Smoke break III.

Late night delivery.

Late night delivery.

Access to Opium.

Access to Opium.

Still life.

Still life.

Give me a break.

Give me a break.

Window shopping.

Window shopping.