London seems to be getting quite angular recently...
Utilitarian - /jʊˌtɪlɪˈtɛːrɪən/ - adjective
designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive.
I've always found Denys Lasdun's National Theatre tricky. Tricky to photograph. Tricky to appreciate. Tricky to notice, even; nestled away from the river, obscured on one side by Waterloo Bridge, and on the other by the IBM building (also designed by Lasdun).
It perfectly fits the definition of utilitarian, which for its purpose as a theatre, and more greatly, the national theatre, seems odd.
It wasn't until I realised I could actually go on the terraces, and after the forms had all been signed (I was unaware that you even needed one to shoot there), everything began to make sense.
There's an overwhelming sense of drama, with the striking monolithic buttresses from the ground, supporting the rest of the fortress-like structure above.
Drama: at home in a theatre. It's not quite the opera houses of urban China, like those of Harbin or Guangzhou. It's not quite the incredibly grand theatres of the old cities of Europe. The Royal National Theatre is somewhere in between; harking back to the history of theatre, while peeking ever so subtly into the future.
And it works, becoming an icon in its own right.
Christmas has been and gone, and has brought in a slew of new kit to add to my arsenal; among them, a Samyang 24mm f/3.5 tilt-and-shift lens, alongside a GorillaPod. I have only had one chance to use this lens thus far, and, while I am still trying to get my head around how it actually works, and the effects I can create with it, the few images I have shot have seen a notable increase in quality.
I realise this is probably one of my most overshot images on this website (the view of Middle Dock from Canary Wharf station), but this view gives me a perfect place to test kit; as well as to document the rapidly changing landscape of the area. Back to the lens though, and the one thing I noticed when comparing this image shot with the Samyang, and the same image when shot with my Sigma, is that the Samyang shoots a much sharper image, which is perfect for this kind of photography.
I was also gifted an Olympus Trip 35 SLR, my fifth analogue camera, and second Olympus. To test this little tank of a camera out, I purchased a roll of Kodak Ektar 100; a departure from my normal black and white, but after doing a little bit of research, and seeing that Ektar 100 has the finest film grain on the consumer market right now, I knew I had to try it out. I am just waiting to get the negatives scanned now, but from what I have seen on a tiny 35mm frame does look promising.
I figured I'd use this post to explain how I've ended up coming to shoot everything in black and white; with the exception of that one image on the fine art section which may be debatable when it comes to 'fine art'. Anyway.
I explained about why I was drawn to buildings as a subject in my previous post; however I'll go further into it before I explain my black and white preference.
So, I've always had some kind of interest in architecture or just buildings in general for as long back as I can remember. I can recall my first career aspiration was to become an engineer instead of an astronaut or the usual firefighter or superhero (although to be honest, who didn't want to be a superhero when they were four?). That aspiration slowly melded into wanting to become an architect proper by the time I was leaving primary school way back in 2010; and that remained my goal. It stayed at the back of my mind for a long while, and then Christmas came the following year and I started getting properly into photography - also known as the 'oh my god depth of field is a thing even though I'm using only full auto' stage.
It was at this point in time that the London Bridge Tower - lovingly known by almost everyone now as The Shard - had just broken ground.
I'd first heard about this when my childhood best friend mentioned it to me in the primary school playground one lunchtime, and I saw it for myself for the first time in 2010 when my mother took me on a trip up to the Big Smoke from rural Cornwall. Not the first time I had been to London, but the earliest time I can ever recall actually going there. I saw the early core of the Shard beginning rise from the peak of the London Eye; taking the tube around to The City and visiting my cousin at work in the Lloyds Building. Seeing all these places made me realise that there actually was life outside of the Cornish village and the city of Plymouth which was all I had known at that point. And I'll be honest, I thought I was the dog's bollocks when I first started at secondary school for having actually left Cornwall; only to find that most of the people I would grow to befriend (and detest) have done the same many more times than I had.
I soon discovered the SkyscraperCity forums online, and learned of what was in store for London, and slowly, my interest began to grow.
Fast forward two years to a rainy late February afternoon in Islington, after the first meeting of the Cleft Lip and Palate Association's Children and Young People's Council, I convinced my parents to take me to London Bridge so I could take a look at the Shard with my own eyes and to take (very poor) photos of it which I could post on the forums.
From that point on, it felt like I followed the final stages of construction religiously; hitting F5 on the webcam every five minutes to check for updates; following the forums every day. I earned quite a bad rep on the forums for my constant pestering for updates, but that didn't stop me from asking.
Fast forward one year later; after winning tickets to visit the viewing gallery on the 68th floor (which arrived the day we got back, having to book them ourselves); and a bright eyed and long haired thirteen year old realised: 'You know what? London actually does have some decent architecture'. My photography was still terrible, but in my head I was beginning to appreciate architecture a lot more; though I still wouldn't have been able to tell you much more about any other architects' names, projects, or anything relevant.
The council saw me visiting London at least twice a year, and I would always take my camera with me to shoot anything new that had popped up in the few months since I was last there (which for about two years seemed to be a lot). Again, I couldn't attest to the photos being any good, but still, I would take photos of them.
2014 rolls around, and I manage to convince my parents to let me wander around after a meeting on my own with my camera to shoot. And I can probably put it down to this time that I tried to start taking 'good' photographs. I journeyed on the DLR to Canary Wharf for the first time, and from there, Westminster; and by my standards now? They were still quite bad. I was also allowed to visit the city with a friend for the day on my own that summer; which gave me more time to explore the city rather than photograph it. I would still shoot, but those journeys tended to be more of a recce than an actual photoshoot.
Come 2015, and with GCSEs out of the way, I could move photography out of the 'hobby' category, and into the 'serious intention to continue this as a career' category; and with that came the almost overnight jump from colour to black and white. The first free reign project I was given was for a winter exhibition, where I decided to tie in a conference in London with a shoot for this project (it was called 'The Square' with the intention that we would get a square area to display work in. We didn't get that set up.). Tie this in with a shoot in London the day before the exhibition, the vast majority of those images were in black and white. Thinking back, I can't tie down my reasoning; perhaps I thought it would just be something to try out? After all, November and December that year were cold and foggy, and the images didn't owe themselves to colour for the most part.
It was also in November that I shot the only image I have ever sold: the colour photo of Baker Street Station on the right. Also from those shoots came the first image I have shot to be selected for an exhibition outside of education.
I had only been at college for three months come December 2015, the month of the first exhibition, and I was exploring more of a 'fine art detail' view of architecture, which for the most part seemed to work quite well. I hadn't had much time to research any photographers at all; architectural or not; although I was introduced to Sebastiao Salgado. No body of work in particular, just him as a photographer, and the cover image that was used on the Genesis body of work.
I took inspiration from the dramatics of Salgado's style, translated them into colour, and spent a few days in Dungeness creating images for the end of year one exhibition. It spawned a meme as well, which I guess is a good thing?
I was still wanting to go into architecture at this point, and the summer of 2016 saw me in London once more, this time for the University of Westminster Access to Architecture Summer School. This was my first experience doing anything properly architecture related and, well, £300 and three of intense sketching later, I realised I hated it. Still, it was better to spend three days and £300 than potentially seven years and thousands of pounds on it. I can safely say it put me off of sketching for a very long time afterwards.
From that point on, I realised I much preferred photographing buildings, rather than designing and drawing them. Kind of a shame really considering I knew how long it would take me to get to a place where I would be happy; but it made me realise that I clearly didn't understand what being an architect would entail.
I put a potential career in architecture aside, and decided to focus solely on photography with no real direction. Perhaps this was a mistake, but my story is still being written...
By the second year of college, I had begun to learn more and more of the works contemporary works of Salgado, and the early 20th century Ansel Adams and Group f64; as well as the rivalry between the East Coast Pictorialists (creating an image instead of recording it, using photography as an extension of traditional fine art) and the West Coast Straight photographers (depicting a scene in sharp detail an emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects).
It clicked with me that after all of this time, and after having experimented with different forms of photography in the studio, in portraiture, and on location; that this was what I wanted to shoot like. It's what worked best with architecture, and it was what seemed like the most appealing in my eyes.
To an extent, pictorialism has seen a resurgence in recent years, with many younger photographers choosing to process their images in a way which emulates the pictorial style (as well as shooting on older film, but that's for another time.)
By the time of the final major project in the second year of college (2017), once again I had free reign over my subject - rather predictably, I went to London again. But as this was more concept driven, I brought attention to the fact that my life had reached a turning point. I was in the process of moving house, preparing to move out of the new home to move to London for university; so I considered this more of a 'reflective-conceptual piece', as well as a way for me to satisfy my urge to create a hyperlapse, which I had wanted to do for years. I accompanied this with an image I had shot in London back in April when I was shooting the hyperlapse, printed on aluminium di-bond. It didn't sell, and to be honest I wasn't expecting it to. It's hanging in my parents' office at home as we speak.
I think though this marked the point where I had fallen out of love with colour.
It's worth mentioning that I wasn't shooting architecture exclusively. Living in Cornwall, and lacking the confidence to approach people to photograph their own homes saw me shooting landscapes much more often, despite it only being secondary to my main interest. Even moving to Somerset the summer before I started university saw me shooting landscapes a lot more. I did enjoy landscapes at first, as it was a means for me to explore the place I live in, and provided me an opportunity to show it off to my friends who live abroad or just had the wrong image of those places in their heads. I processed these in a mixture of black and white and colour, but Was increasingly finding that the images I was processing in colour looked dirty and just bad, for want of a more descriptive word.
It was a distraction. But then I found that the ones I were processing in black and white weren't much better, either. This wasn't a matter of colour versus black and white, but rather the subject itself. The final nail in the coffin for landscapes seemed to come in the summer, after having climbed Glastonbury Tor one evening, and coming back and an SD card for of crap (in my eyes). The only images that I shot in colour throughout 2017 came about during London Pride, which I stumbled upon completely by accident. The very nature of Pride is about colour, so to process those in black and white would have been awful. But then again, was it colour that makes me like them? Or the fact that I had hired a Sigma 50mm Art lens; the sharpest lens I have ever shot with on my own camera body. I'm putting those down to sheer luck as the reason they work.
And that leads me up to the present. It's December 2017 and I'm now at university; having decided that I want to specialise in architecture, and shoot in black and white for the majority of work. Honestly I can say I've learned more and shot more in the past three months than I had in the entire few years beforehand; having met industry professionals, and picked up a small yet (hopefully) growing group of contacts, both architectural photographers, regular photographers, and architects themselves.
One documentary photographer in particular, Mark Neville, whose Leica Masterclass I had the pleasure of attending recently, created a body of work titled Port Glasgow - a documentation of the town of Port Glasgow, for the people of Port Glasgow (and nobody else, in a 'fuck you' to the established art world.). In doing that, he got a lot of attention, which is difficult to do in a small yet very competitive industry.
More and more I have been getting asked the titular question both on the forums, and in person:
"Why do you shoot in black and white when these buildings are noted for their colour?"
"Is your camera that old?"
"What was the last time you watched a movie in black and white?"
"Oh, they're black and white?"
For the most part (besides the suggestion I post both a black and white and a colour version because it's 'presumably not too arduous'), other users seemed to support my choice to process that way. Either way, I've had to explain myself.
What I just wrote is the very long answer. But for those who want a tl;dr - you're gonna get one.
I shoot black and white because I have been influenced by the photographers of the early 20th century who shot exclusively in black and white; and I feel colour adds a level of distraction which detracts from my subject. On top of this, I don't see anyone else who does what I do in the way I do it.
Besides, this is London, in the UK.
Overcast is the new sunny.
I asked myself the other night, after a relatively dry spell with little to no inspiration:
Why do I do this? Why buildings?
Then, as if a proverbial boomerang had appeared out of nowhere, it hit me.
They don't answer back. They don't have time limits.
Inherently, I am an introvert. It's bad for a photographer to be like this, especially a photographer who is studying on a course where studio photography is quite prevalent. Working with people, especially having to photograph them, just doesn't sit right for me. I know it seems like I am shunning one of the biggest and most well paid parts of photography, and I will do it if I absolutely have to, but, I just don't enjoy it.
People tend to be, naturally, hard to work with. Not to say that structures aren't, but they provide different challenges. You can't manipulate the light to suit your subject; you get what you're given.
The best thing I find about photography is how it can lead you down so many different paths; to parts of places you know that you never knew existed. Shedding new light on the otherwise familiar. Personally I don't think you can possibly beat just leaving your house one day, camera in hand with a bit of cash, and just seeing where you end up. It doesn't make sense why you would want to spend time indoors shooting models when you have nearly eight billion people and over one hundred and fifty square miles of land to explore.
Why spend it indoors in a stuffy room with a bunch of hot lights?
I had walked down Victoria St. once in the past, fairly late in the evening so I wasn't able to shoot there. So, yesterday I decided to go back.
The first time I went though, it didn't click with me that Victoria Street leads, rather obviously, towards Victoria Station. And towards this:
This is Nova Victoria - a mixed use scheme built besides Victoria Station with offices designed by PLP Architecture, and a residential block designed by Benson & Forsyth. For the most part, it's quite nice (if you ask me, that is). If you ignore the issues with the facade and the missing strips along the glass in places. But then you walk to the front of Victoria Station, and then you realise...
My god, it's hideous.
Described by judges as ‘crass’, ‘over-scaled’ and ‘a hideous mess’, NV is something more akin to the desert cities of the Middle East compared to London's West End.
The whole of Victoria Street appears to be undergoing a massive change, with new and, seemingly rare for London, quality developments springing up along the thoroughfare; which creates a real dense feel to the place, almost like a tunnel.
It's just a shame it leads towards the shambles around Victoria Station, which, once the station improvements are complete, will fix a lot of the problems.
I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Cambridge to shoot in a church using Phase One cameras. Of course, this is an offer I gladly accepted.
We were given (nearly) free reign of the church all day, and using cameras and lighting from The Flash Centre and Grip Van London, were told to create images in a Film Noir style. Immediately this struck me as something I would enjoy more, even if it was a form of portraiture, simply because of the harsh black and white elements involved.
Split into groups, we spent the day working on a close representation of what we could expect to be a 'professional style shoot'. We ended up creating quite an elaborate setup inspired by the 'Film Noir protagonist peeks through a blind' trope, using mirrors to create a greater sense of space, and a wooden chair mounted on stands in place of a blind; along with several polyboards and other opaque objects used to block out as much light as possible.
The result? Our group's work ultimately won us a prize of a film noir novel adaptation each (myself receiving The Passing of Mr Quinn), which, who knows, I may read someday?
I carried out a basic black and white conversion in Capture One Pro, before importing the image into Photoshop CC 2018 to add more curves and levels adjustments, before adding a film emulation effect in Silver Efex Pro.
I can safely say that Phase One cameras are no doubt the best I have ever shot on, even if I only did make one or two photographs out of them. The resolution is second to none, and the blacks at ISO 50 pick up almost no noise at all, creating a truly immersive image. But the £35,000 price tag (not even the most expensive model!) is enough to put me off ever owning one for a very long time.
It's a shame that I chose to come to Kew Gardens on an off peak day, which tied in with the Christmas lights celebrations that evening. And that the Temperate House and Pagoda - the main parts of the gardens, were closed for renovations (and had been for the past five years, but saw no mention of that anywhere). But either way, this is a place I highly recommend.
I'm shooting content for a magazine right now, and my plan was originally to shoot in The City and around London Bridge to get some more original content, but instead ended up in the dark depths of Zone 3 after a friend said he'd go.
Victorian architecture is an odd one for me. It's like studio photography for the most part: I don't particularly like it's frivolity, but I can appreciate the times where it's done properly. Of course, with the Victorians, you did it properly or you didn't do it at all.
The first large scale use of wrought iron, which still stands nearly two hundred years later, the Palm House at Kew is a prime example of Victorian architecture done right. Perfectly symmetrical from whichever way you look at it, sitting betwixt the museum and the end of Syon Vista. It's also a perfect example of Victorian wealth, yet in a more subdued manner.
I just like this image, though it's a bit old.
I've had a bit of a reshuffle, removing some images, replacing them, and creating a new fine art section with more of my personal work on it.
So the plan was, originally, to wander from City Hall, beneath Tower Bridge, and around Shad Thames.
None of my images from Shad Thames worked at all. And it certainly didn't help that one hand of the street was draped in scaffolding, but oh well - I still came away with these.
This part of the Southbank is a perfect juxtaposition, the clean, modern, glass edges of Foster and Partners' More London Riverside; separated by the gothic bascules of Tower Bridge from the converted imperial warehouses of Shad Thames; narrow iron bridges linking them above street level. It's a haven for City workers and tourists alike, but I highly doubt anyone really stops and admires both the design, and how quiet a place so close to the centre of everything can be.
Without sounding pretentious, it's very much aesthetic.
Plastic clad towers and a Pret-a-Manger? Congratulations! You've been gentrified.
Met with Tommy Reynolds and a bunch of other photographers. Some good craic.
I think I'm going to need a lot of practice with Capture One because at this point, I am not getting on with it.
Coming to the conclusion that I'm going to be finding the studio lighting and Capture One combination very irritating.
"Are you going to take photos of the architecture?"
I'm beginning to think it's becoming obvious now.