Not every shot is a masterpiece

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I love to look at photographer’s contact sheets. They’re private and intimate, like leafing through a sketchbook or reading someone’s diary. So often, we see a finished image and forget all about the process behind it. Henri Cartier Bresson likened contact sheets to the analyst’s couch, It’s all there: what surprises us is what we catch, what we miss, what disappears.” It’s amazing to think about all of deleted, discarded or forgotten photographs that go unseen. 

Some of my favourite contact sheets belong to the photographer, Robert Frank. While working on the The Americans, he took thousands of photographs, however, just 83 made the final cut. His contact sheets helped him sort through huge amounts of film, while figuring out which shots worked best.

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Spencer Bentley sums up brilliantly in this PetaPixel article, “Great photographers don’t just take great photos. They build them, they work at them, they move about a scene testing, and probing, and experimenting to find that one shot that will be shared. While I’ll never be Bresson, I can do that. I can test. I can move. I can probe. I can experiment.” 

Contact sheets remind us that great photographs don’t just happen, they’re carefully crafted, considered, framed, and often, edited.

Not every shot is a masterpiece.

Unconcerned Photographs

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Unconcerned Photograph © Man Ray

Man Ray’s Unconcerned Photographs are a series of images he created in 1959 for MoMA’s The Sense of Abstraction exhibition. Made in his Paris studio by swinging a Polaroid camera around on its strap, they epitomise his spontaneous, experimental approach.

“I deliberately dodged all the rules, I mixed the most insane products together, I used film way past its use – by date, I committed heinous crimes against chemistry and photography, and you can’t see any of it.”

– Man Ray

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Unconcerned Photograph © Man Ray

 

 

 

 

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Unconcerned Photographs © Man Ray

While messing about in his darkroom in 1922, Ray accidentally created a photogram by placing a small glass funnel, graduate and thermometer on wet photographic paper. He elaborates in his autobiography“I turned on the light; before my eyes an image began to form, not quite a simple silhouette of the objects as in a straight photograph, but distorted and refracted by the glass more or less in contact with the paper and standing out against a black background, the part directly exposed to the light.”

His camera-less photographs or “Rayographs” seemed to remove all traces of the artist’s hand, incorporating negative space and shadow, randomness and chance, while firmly establishing him as a Surrealist.

Seen in galleries and exhibitions around the world, Ray’s radical photographic experiments pushed the boundaries and turned traditional art-making on its head.

Matchbox Pinhole Movies

Back in 2016, I found Lena Källberg‘s tutorial, Shooting a Pinhole Movie with a Matchbox Camera and was instantly intrigued.

At the bottom of the article, there’s a link to Slussen, my friend, a beautiful eleven and a half minute movie she shot in Stockholm using a homemade matchbox pinhole camera and 35mm film:

A further search on Youtube threw up another pinhole film called Like Dust in the Wind by dmaues which I also love:

To have a go at making your own, I recommend matchboxpinhole.com‘s simple tutorial.

For inspiration, browse the Matchbox Pinhole group pool on Flickr and see pinhole photographs I’ve taken here.

 

Amanda Elledge

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© Amanda Elledge

I’ve been following Amanda Elledge on Flickr for a few years now. Her gorgeous, ethereal photographs constantly surprise and impress me; not least because I can’t figure out how she makes them! Just recently, I got around to asking her about her work and inspiration. 

Hi Amanda, please tell me a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in the USA but I have been living in northern France for 15 years now. Both countries define me and yet, neither feels like home, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same for most people in my situation.

I work in a laboratory for diabetes research, and more specifically, I am part of a cell therapy team that isolates pancreatic islets from donor pancreases in order to treat – and sometimes cure – fragile type I diabetics.

Like most people, I love photography, reading and music, but I also love red lipstick, the smell of musty basements, good champagne and listening to podcasts about microorganisms and mental health.

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© Amanda Elledge

How did you develop an interest in photography?

Of course, like a lot of semi-tortured young women, I went through a whole Diane Arbus phase (to accompany my Joy Division phase), but years after that, I had a French-New Zealander girlfriend introduce me to Flickr (online photography platform) and I was instantly hooked.

At first, I was one of those mommy-type bloggers, more into the community than into the imagery, posting mundane pictures from my daily life. Then, one day, I just kind of felt like a fake, only craving interaction and faves, losing myself in a world that functioned off of the “I like you/you like me” notion and – quite frankly – didn’t interest me at all. So, I decided to take back my own passions and life, and from that moment on, I only posted pictures that felt true to me and only faved photos that I genuinely liked. Of course, the transition surprised a lot of my followers at the time, but I didn’t care: I finally felt real and free.

Since then, I’ve always used photography as an intimate visual diary, a way to remember various moments from my life, as well as my own emotions. Whether the viewer gets it, or even likes it, is besides the point. Nonetheless, I do like sharing my photos online because I feel like it can act as a kind of filter and an SOS to other alike human beings out there; and from the messages I’ve received over the years, what I’ve noticed is that my photos generally impact the kind of person I was hoping they would impact. It’s always such a pleasure to discover and exchange with and/or inspire other people who seem to share the same inside joke as you.

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© Amanda Elledge
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© Amanda Elledge

What cameras do you prefer to use?

To be completely honest, I would love to use my Fuji Instax Wide all of the time (think: instant gratification), but since film is too expensive, I prefer to use my iPhone camera. It’s easy, it’s light, and most importantly – it’s always on me.

I’m not one of “those photographers”, that seems overly concerned by the technical aspects of photography and the size of the image. I’ve never had any formal training and I’m not that interested in having any – even though I have lost a few publishing opportunities because of my less-than-stunning image size and quality. I guess it would be more disconcerting to me if I was counting on photography to survive but luckily it’s just my passion.  Furthermore, it’s never really bothered me, the idea that a digital image might change according to its printing medium or format. I like the idea that slight variations of the same image co-exist, depending on the computer screen used to view the image as well as the discrepancies in our own eyes looking at that same image. It makes me think of how an analog photo might change depending on its raw materials or who developed it, or how it may change with time and through its environment. And, even if this was not the photographer’s original vision, I think that all of these “imperfections” give the image life.

All that said, I do use other cameras, including a Canon EOS 7d, a Lomo LC-A and a scanner.  My latest acquisition is Lomography’s La Sardina, but I have yet to use it. On that note, I have absolutely no qualms abouts mixing both analog and digital to create my final images.

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© Amanda Elledge
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© Amanda Elledge

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I guess if you would have asked me this question a few years ago, I would have answered without hesitation: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Jacob Aue Sobol and Anders Petersen (all while drowning in an amazing Godspeed You! Black Emperor album), but I think the real answer is merely an accumulation of everything I’ve seen and lived…graphic novels, music, art, fashion, cinema, language in all its forms, micro/macroscopic patterns in nature and in life, love, lust, loss, confusion, human relations and of course, the millions of photographs from both amateurs and professionals I’ve looked at in my lifetime.

At the height of my photography obsession, I was easily looking through 1000 images per day. One of my biggest joys is to quickly scroll through photography platform websites and find and fave images that move/touch/inspire/impress me. No contemplation necessary: it all happens within a split-second, either I find it aesthetically pleasing or I don’t.

A photograph is like a tiny magical portal into another world, and I don’t care about the techniques or the equipment used to create it.  I only care about whether or not I want to be part of that world, and for that, I just follow my heart.

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© Amanda Elledge

Thanks Amanda!

For anyone interested in seeing more of Amanda’s work, go check out her website or follow her on Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook.

Simone Barbieri

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© Simone Barbieri

Italian photographer, Simone Barbieri is one of my favourite artists on Flickr. I love his off-kilter, surreal images and the fact he embraces flaws and mistakes. He also curates the brilliant asapmag.tumblr.com. We recently chatted about his work and inspiration.

Hi Simone, please tell me a little about yourself.

My name is Simone, 40 years old from Milano, Italy.

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© Simone Barbieri

How did you develop an interest in photography?

I started to take analog photos more than 20 years ago. I’m influenced by billboards, signs, minimalism and movies. I try to pay attention to portraying subjects within their own atmosphere and to not decontextualize them.

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© Simone Barbieri
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© Simone Barbieri

What cameras do you prefer to use?

Canon at1, Canon Prima Zoon 90u, Olympus Trip 35, Olympus AF10, Olympus Mju II, disposable cameras, Fuji x series and smartphone.

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© Simone Barbieri

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I admire William Eggleston, Luigi Ghirri, Martin Parr, Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Robert Frank and many others.

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© Simone Barbieri

Thanks Simone!

For anyone interested in seeing more of Simone’s work, go check out his Instagram, Tumblr and Flickr.

Patrick Tsai and Madi Ju

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© Patrick Tsai and Madi Ju

I have to take photos to get to know people.

– Madi Ju

Patrick Tsai and Madi Ju are photographers who met and fell in love online in 2006 after discovering each other’s work. Two months later, they decided to arrange a nine-day trip to Macau, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The My Little Dead Dick photo diary which they produced in collaboration, documents the first year of their relationship, during which time they travelled, lived and worked together.

The pair split in 2008, after spending two years together, but their intimate, free-spirited photographs are testament to their love affair, however fleeting.

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© Patrick Tsai and Madi Ju

 

 

Artist research

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One of the great things about writing this blog is that it encourages me to learn about different artists. Until recently, I had no idea that Nan Goldin’s older sister committed suicide at 18 and that her art is a way of coming to terms with this loss. I didn’t know Robert Frank made contact prints of 2 ¼” negatives and glued them onto cards while sequencing The Americans or that Charles Harbutt liked performing magic tricks.

It’s not just the famous ones either, I’m constantly stumbling across inspiring people who take photographs. All of us, for whatever reason, have chosen to look at the world through a viewfinder, and I find this fascinating.