Thursday, 26 August 2021

Making an exhibition of myself....

The 'Expressive Land' exhibition, after being 'on the walls' during the various lockdowns, finally opened a few weeks ago at Ffotogaleri yGofeb, Machynlleth. All the prints are for sale. 

Part of the 'Expressive Land'  exhibition 

The gallery also sells my books. Here is a brief video look around the gallery:

Having an exhibition which is on the walls for a few months, gives an opportunity to change the prints that are featured from time to time. As the gallery holds a lot of my work made over many years, the exhibition can be visited several times and there will always be something new to see. Plus, they have many more prints for you to look at that can be shown on the walls or out on display. Also, the gallery owners are very knowledgeable about my work and can answer any questions that you may have. It's not just pure commercialism but also about learning and understanding more about the work. 

Also on show are several of my field trip notebooks which may reveal something of my working methodology and thought process when making the photographs.

All the prints are made to archival standards and the gallery also holds a number of my platinum prints and other work besides my various landscape projects. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Photographic Platinum Printing

 The various periods of lockdown have been advantageous in one respect, that they have given me time to reflect on previous work, edit and publish three books one of which includes new work and spending more time making platinum prints.

My first platinum prints were made as part of my 'Cader Idris' work in the early 1990's when I produced a limited edition portfolio. you can see it here on my 'platinum' page on my website 

I mostly work from original 10" x 8" negatives but sometimes make enlarged negatives from existing work. After marking the negative area lightly on the paper; (my choice is for 'Arches Platine' 310 gsm.), I tape the paper to a stable flat surface for coating before mixing the solutions. A combination of platinum, palladium and ferric oxalate. 

For image 'colour' I prefer the cooler tones by using mostly platinum in the coating mix and just a smaller proportion of palladium. The mixture becomes light sensitive when the ferric oxalate is added. However, the whole process can be carried out in subdued incandescent light as the solution is sensitive only to ultra violet. The coating can be carried out by use of a coating rod or brush.

The solution soaks in to the surface of the paper giving a very different look to the finished image which is literally 'in' the paper rather than 'on' it. When dry the sensitised paper is contact printed using an ultra violet light source. 
After exposure, unlike printing on to silver based papers, the image is already partly formed. Mainly the low values or dark areas of the image are already partially printed out. This is simply the action of the U.V. light on the sensitised surface. 
Likewise, the development process is very different. Once in the developer the image appears fully almost instantaneously. Sliding the exposed print in slowly would cause one half to develop before another maybe causing stripes and bubbles so it's safer to place the print in an empty tray and pour the solution over every part of the print immediately. A brief rinse in running water is followed by a series of clearing baths, a final 30-45 minute wash before drying. 
These prints, as well as displaying an inherent beauty which is of a different order to silver / gelatin prints are fully archival and will outlast every other image medium. The platinum / palladium are noble metals and the paper base is 100% rag free cotton. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Rattling cages........

It appears that my last post has rattled a few cages in the camera club world. Apparently some folks in certain clubs have had apoplectic fits even though I was making general comments and no particular club was mentioned. A case, I suppose of - if the lens cap fits... I probably need to emphasise that when I refer to camera clubs, I am inevitably referring to British clubs, as my experience in speaking to and undertaking masterclasses for photographic organisations and associations in other countries is of a vastly different order to that in the UK. The members of organisations in other countries are primarily interested in improving their photographic understanding  and skill in order to make relevant and significant images and bodies of work. As I outlined in my last post, most members of UK camera clubs seem only interested in collecting pointless competition trophies for single images in spurious and irrelevant 'categories' dreamt up by so-called and self-appointed 'judges'. I don't actually blame, at least initially, the members themselves, as I'm sure many joined a club in the hope that they might gain from the experience. However, the brainwashing and stifling of any notion of contemporary ideas by those who run the clubs and who's own knowledge is severely limited I find disturbing and many club members are consequently, very badly let down. 

'Cynara', a new book in production

As an educator as well as a photographer, I feel a duty and a responsibility to encourage and maintain as high a standard as I can with those that I come into contact with regarding photography. Anything less would be doing a disservice to photography and also to those for whom you may have some responsibility for advising or nurturing. This is why I feel compelled to speak out. No-one with any grain of conscience or sense of caring for photography or education, would seek to 'dumb down' what they impart to others as a way of disguising their own lack of knowledge. Yet sadly, this is exactly what goes on in the majority of British camera clubs. Their refusal to even acknowledge the contemporary world of photography but to try to cling on desperately, like the souls on the 'Raft of the Medusa' to ideas and notions that have long since sunk to the bottom. In my last post I said that their ideas were a generation or two out of date when I was fifteen nearly sixty years ago. It seems that I may have been underestimating this.

'Globe Artichoke No. 44' 2020, from 'Cynara'

Among my large collection of photography books I have 'British Journal of Photography' almanacs from over 100 years ago. They are full of stilted images with flowery and contrived titles and the expressions 'monochrome', pictorial' and 'composition' are littered throughout. I find it quite extraordinary that these outdated ideas still persist in the face of all the many places and opportunities there are to see, experience and understand the world of contemporary photography. An analogy might be like science being taught and judged by a group of flat-earthers and creationists, forcing their views on to individuals with the promise of tawdry prizes in the face of all the contemporary evidence to the contrary. Clearly intimidated by the depth and breadth of photographic knowledge of young educated photographers over their own shallow understanding, they seek to smother anything that they cannot comprehend. 
'Globe artichoke No. 15' 2020, from 'Cynara'

Camera club competitions, in addition to being totally irrelevant to any notion of contemporary photography are not devised to improve or educate, but to temporarily inflate the egos of the recipients and to facilitate the organisers and amateur 'judges' continued stifling and dumbing down of ideas in order to disguise their own lack of knowledge and understanding. As a photographer and educator I find this distasteful. 

Monday, 14 December 2020

The Return of the Curse of the Photography Competition

 Just when you thought that the antics of British camera clubs couldn't get any more ridiculous, information about a competition came across my studio desk recently, which just emphasised how nonsensical the world of the British camera club is. Also how remote it is from the world of contemporary photography. 

Splott, Cardiff, 1969. From a series for a forthcoming book

Amateur photography competitions have always been a bit of a farce but the various categories and 'rules' that accompanied this particular club's annual outing were risible and in contemporary photographic terms, completely irrelevant. The 'prizes' were a series of rather pompously named trophies and fake silver cups, plates and bowls. In addition, laughably, were various tankards, shields and vases! A pair of vases no less, more appropriate for a flower arranging competition I would have thought. All these awarded for the different categories. I kid you not. Now, quite what a photographer is supposed to do with all those is anyone's guess. Although a full tankard of something alcoholic might be an aid to inspiration. Rather like the Poet Laureate receives an annual stipend of a butt of sack to stimulate the muse. However, my guess is that boringly, the camera club tankard will be presented empty. There are also apparently, 'impact trophies'. Now whether these are meant to impart impact themselves, in which case they may be a bit battered by now, or whether they are awarded for 'impact', I couldn't quite figure out. 

Splott, Cardiff, 1969
A gallery technician was hanging one of my framed prints in a gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland some years ago and it slipped off the rather precarious hanging system the gallery used. The frame slid down the wall and crashed to the floor. The frame fell apart, the glass shattered into a hundred shards but the mounted and matted print remained upright against the wall and undamaged. Now that made quite an impact when it hit the ground, would I get the trophy I wonder?

What was going on in British camera clubs was already a generation or two out of touch with contemporary photographic reality when I began work as a photographer aged 15. In the intervening sixty years they haven't changed one iota but photographic ideas and practice have moved on apace and become even more vibrant, exciting and relevant to today's world. 

The concepts and expressions that camera clubs still use are rooted in the 19th.century. They still waffle on about 'monochrome', 'pictorial' and 'composition'. They also award prizes for 'large' prints and 'small' prints. Really? You get a prize according to size? Sounds more like a vegetable show. Biggest parsnip etc. What is designated 'large' anyway and who decides this? My 'Wildwood' prints exhibited in the USA and European galleries were five feet by four. Is that 'large'? Not compared with my 'Village and Memorial Halls' series which were eight feet wide. Maybe that's 'large'? Well certainly not by comparison with Thomas Struth's (b.1954) work from his 'New Pictures from Paradise' series that I saw in the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York. They were at least fifteen feet wide. 

Splott, Cardiff, 1969

The sad reality is that the so-called, self-appointed' 'judges' that set these totally arbitrary and nonsensical categories have probably never been to a contemporary photographic exhibition and never set foot in a photography gallery. They only get away with their ignorant bluffing by the fact that it is they who dictate the terms of these competitions that are themselves totally irrelevant to improving standards. In fact, they are designed to suppress innovation and progress in order to make themselves appear clever. In the same way these 'judges' and those who run British camera clubs keep these farcical antics in place to discourage young educated photographers from joining and intimidating them with their knowledge, skills and contemporary ideas. A deliberate suppression of progress.

Splott, Cardiff, 1969

While one can laugh off the ridiculous and irrelevant categories and ludicrous prizes, it is totally unforgivable for amateur 'judges' and the camera club hierarchy to deliberately set out to deny other members the opportunity to advance their own work and be informed about contemporary ideas. If, due to  these folks total lack of understanding, they are intimidated by contemporary ideas and are not up to dealing with them, then maybe they should step aside and allow others with the relevant skills and knowledge to support and encourage the other club members to make the quantum leap from the 19th. into the 21st. century.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Lockdown Books

With a major exhibition postponed until after the lockdown and my teaching the postgraduate students at Aberystwyth University School of Art confined to virtual tutorials and getting about to photograph restricted, I had to do something. Periodically I like to shuffle through my mountains of contact sheets to review older stuff to see if there is anything I have passed over that may be of interest.

One aspect of my work that hasn't been seen a great deal is the urban documentary work that I make when I am travelling about on other projects. I began to assemble, edit and sequence these photographs made over quite a few years and put them together in book form. 'Innocence of Eye' resulted from this. 
A large format 11" x 13" hardback book with approximately 50 images made in several countries. They reflect my fascination with the everyday and sometimes prosaic moments that evolve around us every day. 
Machynlleth, Powys, 1976

 It, along with the other two books will be
published when the planned exhibition opens at Ffotogaleri y Gofeb. 
With this exhibition in mind, which will consist of a selection of black and white landscape work from several bodies of work spanning three decades I envisaged a book to accompany this. While there have been exhibition catalogues for almost all of my exhibitions, a substantial collection of this work has not been seen together.

'The Expressive Land' is a large format, 11" x 13" book with approximately 100 images from my work in Wales, England, Ireland and Sardinia. While the flavour of each of those regions is different, the book explores and juxtaposes many of the common themes that occur in my work. Many of the images in the book will feature in the exhibition when it opens. 

Another aspect of my work that hasn't been seen much but has been there, in the background for many years is the ongoing series of still life images of plant forms. All the specimens are gathered from my garden at different times of the year as seems appropriate and then either photographed in black and white or colour also as appropriate.
These images have been building up for many years and again, this period gave an opportunity to review, edit and assemble into a large format 12" x 12" hard back book with over fifty images, both black and white and colour. The images reflect both the beauty and the imperfections of nature on a smaller scale than we usually observe in the wider landscape. 

Monday, 11 May 2020

The Curse of the Photo Competition

My posts about the ludicrous antics of the typical British amateur camera club have been well received. Possibly one of their 'activities' that has caused the greatest stifling of any improvement in the quality of the work they produce, (I'm not talking about technique but about ideas and contemporary imagery) is the cult of the competition. I have always loathed photo competitions of any sort as they serve no useful purpose other than providing sponsors with cheap advertising, (demanding the copyright of entries for tawdry prizes) and hoodwinking the gullible competitors that winning somehow equates to you being a good photographer. An artificially, temporarily inflated ego does not equate to an improvement in your work. 
'Innocence of Eye' a new book by Pete Davis

You only have to look at the ridiculous divisions, sub divisions and sub, sub divisions of the typical camera club competition list to see that they are existing in a photographic world that, thankfully, passed on in the real world generations ago. 'Best large monochrome pictorial print - with impact'. Yes, unbelievably, they still talk about 'monochrome' and 'pictorial' and what on earth is 'impact?'. Come to think of it, what's a 'pictorial' photograph? The opposite of a non pictorial photograph I suppose. The very term is a throwback to victorian terminologies that have long since been extinct in the real world of photography but they linger on in the Jurassic wildernesses of the British amateur camera club. Presumably then you have the  'Best small monochrome pictorial print - with impact'. and the  'Best large monochrome pictorial print - without impact' etc. etc. At least that way I suppose everyone wins a prize - usually a much coveted (by camera club members) but extremely silly and meaningless  tiny silver cup. Well, not real silver of course.
Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2019
That anyone thinks that this ludicrous charade has anything to do with contemporary photography is laughable. At the same time, British camera clubs wonder why young, educated and visually sophisticated young people stay away from them in their droves. The only glimmer of hope is that in another generation maybe the camera clubs, if they continue to operate as they do today will die out completely. 

We also need to examine the folks who sit in judgement in these competitions, who are they and what are their credentials? Even if we think, and we don't, that there is any value in them. Sadly, some are just opinionated older camera club members who have self-appointed themselves to this role. Their notions of 'good' photography hark back to traditions that died out in the real photography world aeons ago but they still waffle on about things like 'pictorial' and 'composition'. Possibly worse are those who, having bought a few worthless, so-called 'distinctions' from the RPS actually believe in their authority.
Leon, Spain, 2018
Collectively, what British amateur camera club judges know about contemporary photography can be written on the point of a pin. 

The saddest part of all this is not necessarily the pointless antics themselves but the long-term effects. These have been the smothering of any spark or glimmer of hope that anyone in a UK camera club might produce any work of merit within the contemporary photographic world. This would have been stifled by the outdated, narrow and now irrelevant ideas that linger on in British camera clubs. The embarrassing and irrelevant competition culture only serves to perpetuate this sad state of affairs. 

Monday, 24 December 2018

How limited are 'limited editions?'

As someone who sells prints to serious and discerning collectors, the vexed question of 'is this a limited edition' crops up now and again. I say now and again, as most people understand that photography is not a medium that should be a natural home for artificially restricting how many prints of a particular photograph might be printed. As we will see, this is all a bit of a red herring in photographic terms anyway.
Iris No.9, 2018 Platinum print

Limiting how many prints can be made from a particular image came originally from fine art printing such as etchings, lithographs and silk screen prints. In these examples the editions were inherently limited anyway, due to how many prints might be pulled from a screen or etching plate before it began to wear and the image deteriorate. It is also a tradition to deface or destroy the screen or plate so no more can be made. To destroy a negative would, for 99% of photographers be an unthinkable act of creative, photographic and social documentary history vandalism. I don't know one photographer who would ever contemplate such a thing. Most photographers embrace the aspect of the medium which makes it possible, in theory anyway, to make multiple prints over many years from a negative making photography a very 'democratic' medium. How often this actually happens in practice however, is very much another matter. 

Iris No.8, 2018 Platinum print
When I print a new photograph for the first time I might make two or three prints at the time and unless they are destined for exhibition somewhere right away, are stored in my archival print boxes for possible future exhibition or sale. In all the years that I have been selling original, archival gelatin / silver and platinum prints, (over fifty), through galleries, directly to collectors and public art collections, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of one particular image that I have made more than four or five prints of for sale. This just happens to be a feature of much photographic print sales, it's extremely rare for any photographer to sell that many copies of a particular image. So-called 'limited editions' don't get much more limited than that!

Artichoke No. 3, 2017 Platinum print

It's true however, that some galleries make a point of or even force the photographers whose work they handle to stipulate that prints are part of an 'edition'. Here we discover that this is a bit of an artificial ruse to inflate the price, (not the value, they are two different things) of the prints. Firstly, serious professional galleries know their client base and the relative demand for individual photographer's work very well indeed. An 'edition' then - and this applies to all galleries selling paper-based artwork, will be set at a number that can reasonably be expected to sell, plus a few more 'just in case'. This can be five, ten, twenty five, 100, whatever. Yes, the 'edition' might truly be 'limited' but in reality the gallery will ensure that it's in line with expected sales, so in effect, not limited at all. In the unlikely event of a so-called 'limited edition' selling out, the gallery will more than likely re-issue the same image in another form or size and call this yet another 'edition'. Not illegal, not really 'sharp practice' and it would only apply to a tiny minority of photographic works but it does underline the nonsense of so-called 'limited editions'. Even then, the total numbers of photographic prints made is tiny as compared with other works on paper.
Globe Artichoke No. 2, 2017 Platinum print

When you see something described as a 'limited edition' you do need to take this with a pinch of salt. However, when you buy an original, hand-made, archival silver / gelatin or platinum print from a reputable gallery or photographer, you can be certain that it will be a very special artefact which may even have been especially printed to order for you and not a mass-produced item. Also, as a hand-made print produced in a darkroom, even if there happens to be more than one or two in circulation, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be subtle differences in each print making them all truly individual.
Pete's original prints can be seen and purchased at Ffotogallery Y Gofeb