Wednesday, April 29

April 2015 London visits, part 2: Waterloo flotsam and jetsam

Some flotsam and jetsam from around Waterloo station...

Click on photos for larger/slideshow, depending on your set-up

[caption: papers, south London, bundle, Waterloo]

[caption: gloves, south London, Waterloo]

[caption: cardboard, south London, Waterloo, under a bridge]

Monday, April 27

Street and Repeat Interview - April 2015

This month I was asked by the Street and Repeat Flickr group to set a photography task for their members. I was also interviewed by group member Karl Houghton, and the text for the interview is reproduced below…

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INTERVIEW

Karl Houghton: Paul, could you let us know what makes you tick as both a person and as a street photographer.

Paul Russell: I get a kick out of wandering around the urban environment. For many years it was mainly without a camera, but for the last 10 years it’s been mainly with a camera. I’ve always got on the train from where I live to other places – when I worked in Oxford, it was down to London in the evenings (without a camera); now I live in Weymouth, it’s generally day trips to Bournemouth, Bath and Brighton. I get bored and restless easily and having a “day out of life” helps me to lose myself and recharge my batteries. At the moment I manage to do this a couple of times a week.

I have this strange desire to be somewhere where I’m not currently living, and when I go for photography it’s important that I have no plans for the day beyond getting a train there and back. I like to spend the day alone to get in the mood, so if I see someone I know, I often keep my head down and avoid them (sorry to be so antisocial). The day has to be a totally immersive experience. I’m also interested in the differences between places and the people in those places. For example, I’ve been going to Bath and Brighton quite a bit recently, and the differences in classes and fashions is fascinating to me…

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Karl: Often in your shots we see humour shine though - how important is this to you in your work.

Paul: I’m not particularly looking for humour in shots but it comes through somehow. Often I’m looking for “poignant” but it seems to translate to humour somewhere along the way. I’m not keen on photo books where every single shot is something strange, quirky or humorous, so I try to mix it up a bit in my own photos. For example, I think of my seaside series of photos (www.in-public.com/PaulRussell/gallery/114) as a mixture of humorous, quiet and poignant photos. That’s what I’m attempting to achieve overall. I often photograph how I’d like the world to be rather than what it is like in reality…

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Karl: Have you predetermined boundaries on what you will and won't shoot? Would you share some of these with us?

Paul: The list of what I won’t shoot is long and getting longer all the time, which makes it harder to find things to photograph. Some things I usually avoid are (1) people walking past ads or any shot where the main part of photo is a big ad, (2) people sitting on benches, (3) people looking at maps, (4) anything that seems to be making fun of people, (5) backs of heads, (6) things implying that older or disabled people are sad or lonely or noble (so boring, often untrue), (7) homeless people, of course, and (8) any shot where I wouldn’t be happy to be in the photo myself.

Almost anything else is OK – I’m generally looking to show an interaction between people, or between people and their environment. People moving, rather than static, is good. Ambiguity is good. Other photographers seem to dislike scenes with people talking on mobile phones or photographing things but I don’t mind those subjects.

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Karl: We have all heard the old adage "don't work with children and animals" - however, you have so many memorable shots with animals - how important are animals in your work?

Paul: I have a lot of animal shots taken at country shows, and what I focus on there is the interaction between the animals and their handlers, and the methods the handlers use to control the animals. The country shows are fascinating in that they are little temporary worlds that spring up for a few days, and then disappear. I go to quite a few, and it’s interesting to get snapshots into other people’s lives, and the same characters pop up again and again... The fact that they are temporary and so I get a limited chance to photograph them is both a curse and a blessing. There’s some of those shots in this BBC story

www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-14986238

or, more fully, on my web site,

www.paulrussell.info/galleryshow/01.html

I also have a few pictures of dogs in normal urban settings. I have a disproportionate success rate with these. I very rarely take pictures of dogs, maybe a couple a month, but when I do, they often seem to come out OK. Beginner’s luck.

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Karl: Could you call on your experience and give us 5 tips to help in our quest for that elusive shot.

Paul: This is tricky, as every time I go out, I feel that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing when looking for a shot. There is very little method. But here are some pointers:

(1) Focus on the zone between scenes that are very obvious (adverts, juxtapositions) and the scenes where there is nothing going on at all. An indefinable area somewhere in-between contains the good, subtle stuff. David Solomons is good at finding that area.

(2) If you are having a day when everything seems mundane and boring, try imagining that you are an alien who has just arrived from outer space…

(3) As well as looking for random stuff on the street, have themes in mind all the time. They often suggest photos where you wouldn’t otherwise see them.

(4) When I’m stuck on the street, I sometimes use my random online idea generator, which is a mixture of tasks, inspirational quotes, and random instructions to get me out of habits/ruts. It’s here: www.paulrussell.info/random/random.html

(5) Finally, when having an unsuccessful photography day and you’re losing heart, remember what Brian Clough said, “It only takes a second to score a goal”.

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Fighting ladies, from 2007 – one of my favourite and most popular shots. Bristol, 2007

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Karl: Could you give us some pointers on where we could go wrong?

Paul: Beginners often start out by taking loads of shots involving adverts and signage, especially “humorously” contrasting it with a living subject. It’s quite easy to do, and I spent a year doing it, but it ends up looking very contrived in retrospect, so I wouldn’t spend too much time doing that.

The unfortunate truth is that good street photography is hard – if you think you’ve got loads of great shots in a day, you’ll probably need to adjust your perspective to something more realistic somewhere along the line. As Bertrand Russell said “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” But it’s often this mistaken belief that many beginners have that all their shots are great that keeps them continuing, so it’s useful in a way. Hopefully, we all reach a more objective assessment of our own photos in the end. Most good street photographers will tell you they only get a few really good shots a year.

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Karl: How critical are you of yourself when you edit and what process do you follow?

Paul: I don’t usually take many photos when I go out for a day trip – 30 would be about average when I go to somewhere like Brighton. On the rare occasions that I go up to London, I might take as many as 80. So it’s not as if I have a massive amount to trawl through. For each day, I usually have one or two photos I think might be OK from looking at the LCD, and the next day I judge them on a computer screen. It’s rare that I’m surprised by looking through them on a computer screen – I usually know already what has worked by looking at the LCD on the train back. In fact, I mostly know when I took them if they worked or not.

Most months I have about 5-10 photos that I think might come in useful for something, either as standalones or part of a possible series, and I’ll post them to my scrapbook (Flickr - www.flickr.com/photos/paulrussell/). Over the course of the year I’ll have maybe a dozen to 20 quite good ones that I’ll put on my web site at

www.paulrussell.info

and hopefully a couple I really like. And that’s been my approximate method for about 10 years. I also occasionally use a different approach, and I’ll set myself the task of doing a particular project within a year, as I did in Brighton in 2013.

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Karl: What is your view on colour versus black and white?

Paul: Tricky one. The world is colour, so I always shoot in colour. But most of my favourite photobooks are black and white and old, and I associate black and white with old photos, and colour with new photos. However, colour itself is not a very important part of my photos, and I’m not interested in photos that are built around colour coincidences, nice colours or good light. Blake Andrews (a mainly black and white shooter) used to have something on his web site along the lines of – light should illuminate the subject but not be the subject. In fact, I hate “good” light. I don’t like hard light and shadows, for example. My favourite weather conditions are flat overcast, white cloud.

For my photography, black and white seems too much of a bizarre arbitrary distortion of real life (the world is in colour unless at night) so is a distraction; but extreme colours can also be a distraction from the real-life events happening in the photos. And it’s events I’m interested in, so I like just in-between – moderate colour that illuminates the subject.

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Karl: What kit do you use?

Paul: From 2004 to 2013, I mainly used Nikon digital SLRs with a kit zoom or the equivalent of a 42mm lens. Since then, I’ve mainly used the Fujifilm X100.

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Karl: In-Public is such a renowned platform for Street Photography. How important is it to your ongoing success?

Paul: Well, I’ve shown photos in several exhibitions that I wouldn’t have been involved with if not for my membership of In-Public – for example, the popular 2011 London Street Photography exhibition at the Museum of London, which had around 125,000 visitors.

The evolution of In-Public is interesting, as it started out with a reputation for shots based on visual jokes in the style of Elliot Erwitt but has developed into something more eclectic, and there’s very little of those visual pun shots on the site now. The revamp of the web site that took place last year forced us all to submit new portfolios. Of course, the private message board is a nice way to see what other people are doing…

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Karl: How do you stay fresh in the work that you produce? How necessary is it to travel to different locations and experience difference scenes and cultures?

Paul: Different locations and scenes are very important. I thrive on new backgrounds – even a road I haven’t been down before. I get a kick out of going down a new urban street, even if it’s a dull street. I got off the train at Westbury station the other day for 10 minutes while changing trains and it was amazing to me – just because I hadn’t seen the outside of that station before.

I like to wander into very unpromising places, like car parks, just because I haven’t seen them before. I used to go to Bournemouth a lot but I’ve been too many times over the last 10 years and now I can’t see anything new there. Although I’m primarily looking for situations with people in that place, unless I’m excited to be in that place, I just can’t see any interesting situations to photograph at all. In fact, I now have Bomophobia. At the moment, I’m visiting Brighton and Bath a fair bit, which are commutable in a day trip from Weymouth at about 8-hour and 4-hour round trips, respectively.

I used to force myself to shoot places that I find boring. For example, I spent 10 afternoons shooting in Poundbury, which was total tedium for me, just to get a personal project done. Now I concentrate on going to places I actually enjoy – life’s too short… Since breaking my foot last year and being on crutches for 3 months, I’ve changed my way of working in that I wander around incredibly slowly and rest often so I can last all day without fear of damaging my foot again. (This is another reason why I don’t like to shoot with other people – they usually want to go five times faster than me.) Interestingly, going at a different pace has given me a slightly different perspective or world view. Although I go slow, I don’t stand around in one spot where things are busy, like some people do. I find that boring after about 5 seconds. ...

Karl: I mentioned above the humour you inject into some of your shots - could you give us a treat and share some of your shots with us.

Paul: Here we go:

Charity, Bournemouth, 2004
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Dog, from 2014, from Bridport, the day after I came off crutches
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Legs, from 2006, from Weymouth
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Digging, from 2006, another seaside scene from Weymouth
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Pig. A country show shot from 2011
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Karl: As street photographers, we deal with disappointment - please tell us about your most memorable shot that got away.

Paul: I can’t really think of one that would have been great that I missed. I did delete one out of the camera that would have been newsworthy and maybe profitable. About 12 years ago, a couple of lads “sped” by me on the prom, larking about on a mobility scooter, which obviously wasn’t theirs. I snapped them once – it was in focus and technically fine. However, I was a bit cross with myself that I had caught them dead centre in the frame, so compositionally it was a little static. I could have cropped it, but I was in a purist mood and deleted it straight out of the camera in annoyance.

A while later I discovered that the lads had been arrested for taking the scooter without permission, and as one already had points on his licence he ended up going to prison. I saw it featured as quite a big humorous (text only) story in the tabloids – and I had the accompanying picture and had deleted it. There’s some sort of lesson there…

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Karl: Thank you Paul for the opportunity of interviewing you. I, together with the other members of the Group, appreciate you giving your time to make the next two weeks memorable.

Paul: Thanks very much, Karl. I’m looking forward to it…

Sunday, April 26

April 2015 London visits, part 1

Taking advantage of a special offer on the trains, I managed to get up to that London a few times this month. Here's the first of a few photos.

Click on the images for larger versions/slideshow, depending on your set-up.

[caption: London, street photography, smoking, workers]

[caption: Westminster Bridge, London, street photography, flower, tourist, "charity"]

[caption: Kevin Spacey, London, New Vic, Hitler, poster]

Monday, April 20

Misty day on Weymouth beach, 9 April 2015

Five photos from a misty day in Weymouth, Thursday 9 April 2015.

Click for bigger versions/slideshow, depending on your set-up:

[caption: carousel, roundabout, helter skelter, Weymouth beach, mist, dog]

[caption: Weymouth beach, mist, seaside, metal detector, detectorist]

[caption: Weymouth beach, mist, seaside, swings, swing boat, shuggy boat, crow]

[caption: Weymouth beach, mist, seaside, helter skelter, ball]

[caption: Weymouth beach, mist, seaside, swings, swing boat, metal detector, crow, detectorist, roundabout, carousel]