Sunday, 27 November 2016

"How do you get that effect?"

Long time ago, in the days when I used to, very occasionally, give talks to camera clubs when requested, (I don't any more, see previous blog posts), this was one of the more facile questions I used to be asked. It ranks alongside the popular and equally irrelevant, "what film do you use" or "is burning and dodging allowed?" This would be after I had probably poured my heart out for an hour, explaining how I devised my projects, what photographic influences I called upon, why I chose a particular strategy to make the work and what research I had done. All this illustrated profusely with my images. Then I would invite questions and hope for the intelligent but wait, poised for the inevitable. My heart would sink. 

Buttermere, Cumbria, 1991, from the series 'Northern Light'
However, "how do you get that effect?" was probably the one question that irked me most due to the shallow reading of my images. Probably this would be in response to a picture like the one here. "How do you get that cloud effect?". Me; "Um, it's not an effect, those are real clouds". Puzzled looks, shaking of heads, "no, no, really, is it a secret?". "No, they are real clouds, try looking up sometime". "But what if you go out and there aren't any clouds, how do you make them"? By then I had probably lost the will to live. 

Over the years I sort of began to understand the camera club mentality and how it had little or nothing to do with a knowledge of, or love for, photography or the representation through the medium of the world about us. No-one seemed to be interested in serious projects or significant photography, only making photographs that corresponded to some dubious system of rules. This is why the questions were always about  it being right or wrong to do this or that. As if you ticked a list of boxes when making a photograph it would, as if by magic, become a relevant image with some merit. Of course, it never does.
The Great Stone of Fourstones, N.Yorkshire, 1993 from the series 'Northern Light'

There also seemed to be an obsession with the time of day that photographs were taken, this question came up a lot. I was puzzled for ages until someone let slip that there was some unwritten, dubious, nonsensical 'rule' that it was frowned upon to take photographs around midday! I never quite figured this out and really don't want to, something to do with the light apparently! 
Seatoller, Cumbria, 1991 from the series 'Northern Light'

Then of course, there was the infamous 'rule of thirds' about which I have written before. As my photographs almost never corresponded to the camera club rule book, and I had real clouds and real people doing real things in my images and no 'special effects', my talks would go down like a lead balloon.  I would inevitably leave behind some very disappointed club members who had expected me to confirm all their false illusions about what photography is about and the various myths that are perpetuated within the club world. So to the question "how do you get that effect" my answer is - open your eyes, take in the wonderfulness of the world around you as it is. It's all there already if you can be bothered to look up from the 'rule' book... And don't even get me started on the ludicrous titles that camera club folks give their photographs..............