A very helpful review of my work by Claire Kern
at the Third Floor Gallery
prompted me to get my arse back into gear. Having lost confidence in being able to shoot anything meaningful and lost interest in photographing things that aren’t, there I was with a DSLR and a bag of gear wondering how to carry out The Plan. Yes, at least there is A Plan.
The Plan is ambitious – to document Derby at work. Maybe some street style. A focus on older crafts, skills, workplaces. I want to do urban exploration while the people are still there, while the workplace is still functioning. Like this photograph of a bell tuner in a bell foundry
which is admittedly in Whitechapel, London, but you get the picture.
Places in Derby that appeal:
– the pub
– a traditional bakery
– the markets
– a clothing factory in the Indian quarter.
I need some contacts to get me in the door and I’m away. Or would be I had any confidence that in return for half an hour of somebody’s time I will be able to give them a correctly exposed, sharp photograph of themself that they can show to family and friends to communicate what they do. That they might pin to the wall at least for a few weeks. What’s stopping me?
Let’s start with technique. I’ve now got a full-frame DSLR that will produce sharp black and white photographs at ISO1100 with a 35mm lens with an exposure of 1/90s at f/2.8. Or at least, which has done once:
Can I consistently get sharpness at 1/90
? How slow could I go? Could I get adequate depth of field at f/2? How far can I go past ISO1100? At higher ISOs I seem to lose sharpness – but is that a focussing problem in low light or is it noise? Only a good bit of experimenting will show. Fortunately I have a willing
Why black and white, by the way? It can stand higher ISO because grain looks ok, colour noise doesn’t. Colour balance is hard work – my first experiments were in a pub where the economical landlord has installed energy-efficient lighting which is to say every bulb has a different colour temperature and of course they’re all fighting with daylight. Drinking is mainly done at night, but the cellar work, cooking and cleaning is done in the day:
Yes I considered the Martin Parr ‘puff of flash’ technique – but that’s just one more variable to juggle. Yes, I have seen photographs taken down a Derbyshire fluorspar mine with healthy skin tones and barely-noticeable noise, but I can’t do that. Yet. Black and white suits the subject I think and can better hide background distractions.
So, I have the kit and I have one tame workplace. The next steps are:
– experiments to see how far I can push the exposure and achieve sufficient depth of field
– photographing in a small kitchen – how do you photograph a cook who spends her day with her back to you?
– have a look at what others have done – David Hurn, Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Walker Evans, Blazej Marczak – who else?