September 27, 2006

Points of Information

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 6:50 am

Kia ora tatou:

Some service notices here. I have made some adjustments to the way the blog works. Any comments you post should automatically go onto the blog rather than routing via me. This means the world can see your input straight away.

Chapter 206a in the Where is Wally saga:

It looks as if I am moving( this weekend) back to my hometown of Ranfurly. I have accepted an artist-in-residenceship in the district, which means I will be there for the next year or so. It feels good to be going back to my roots. For those of you offshore, try finding it on Google Earth! There isn’t a bustling metropolis close by. It goes without saying that there is a bed/cuppa/welcome for any of you drifting past-or who want to come and stay.

I intend to offer more workshops and tuition once the dishes are done.

I also have 2 shows coming up, so earmark 1 December for a show at the Selwyn Gallery in Darfield. You will all get an invite!

Ka kite ano


September 26, 2006

Artist’s Statement

Filed under: Shout out, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 9:35 pm

Kia Ora:

The following is a piece I wrote while in Africa, with time and aloneness to help me come to these realisations. I hope it speaks for itself.

What informs me?

Artists often talk about what informs them. By this they mean the influences that come to bear on their work and what they seek to say in it. Sometimes those influences are technical and process-oriented; sometimes they are to do with content. But they are always there. They inform an artist’s practice.

As a boy I was born and grew up in the country. My first memories were of the wind carrying stories and pinning them to the needles of the pines outside my bedroom window. Some nights there were many left there for me to mull over, at other times they were relatively few. My imagination was obliged to fill in the gaps. So I came to love trees for the stories they had to tell.

We lived in a house set up on a hill. I would often rise early, and go out to the kitchen to share breakfast with my father before he left for work. He would lift me onto the bench, and I would watch the sun rise away out to sea. I came to love watching the birth of a day, the transition from darkness to the white light of day. I still do.

Then we moved to the city, and these panoramas were denied me for many years. My substitute was the night sky, stars, and watching the passage of the moon across the sky. I leaned to see darkness as another side of light, that both light and shadow must coexist, in order for each to have any meaning.

Later, as I moved deeper and deeper into the arcane world of photography, I was informed by other things, or more correctly, by other artists. I remember the first time I discovered the work of Ansel Adams. It took my breath away. He understood light and darkness. I wanted to make images like him using my own country as a source. It has taken 15 years for me to find my way back to that point. The great painter Paul Klee once said:” Art does not reproduce what we see, it teaches us to see.” How true. It was when I read of Adams’ contribution to the environment, how his photographs had helped to protect the wilderness, that a dim recognition began to dawn.

But there were other roads to travel. I moved through portraiture, documentary photography and commercial work, in each case informed by different artists. Costa Manos, Fay Godwin, Gary Winogrand, Arnold Newman, Robert Adams, Robin Morrison, Stephen Shore; all had something to teach me. I absorbed the lessons and moved on, in each case taking a small part of them with me.

Then a friend, who was lightening his load preparatory to turning nomadic, gave me one of his books, a series of landscapes by a Japanese photographer I had never heard of. Takashi Komatsu had travelled many miles through his country on a project to photograph his river across four seasons. The images were breathtakingly perfect and displayed a reverence that was quite moving. When I read his statement, in which he talked of his hope that it would in some way lead to them being protected, the wheel came full circle.

Photography can be many things. It originally came into being as a way of documenting the discoveries of the early European explorers and is by its very nature a documentary medium. Only later was it used for more expressive purposes. Komatsu was reaching back into a tradition as old as the medium itself. As was Adams. Their work thus tied into the very core of the medium, drew from its well. Now the light began to really glow for me.

Once more I found myself back on that kitchen bench, watching the light and shadow. Now I began to be able to decipher the notes pinned on the trees. All around me the world was changing. The beautiful, the pristine, the eternal was being ground down by the relentless mill of human intention. And I had found a photographic raison d’etre.

To photograph ugliness and despair is easy. Ugliness and despair want to be photographed; they jump up and down, their hands in the air, wanting to be acknowledged. For a reason. It is a strong photographer indeed who can take on this sort of work and not be infected by it. Beauty is so much harder to work with. It is easy to fall into the Slough of Cliché, to produce something that is decorative or derivative and half-perceived. To photograph the landscape in a way that is both reverential and influential is so much harder. A task fit for an aging knight on a rusting nag.

So there it is. If just one of my images makes a difference, if just one causes a viewer to stop and think about how precious and fragile the planet is, then do something about it, my journey will have been of value, of some use.

Tony Bridge
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

September 23, 2006

In the townships

Filed under: Shout out, Technical posts, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 5:21 pm

In the townships

Kia ora:

Another African story.

I spent the last week of my stay in Africa in the town of Stellenbosch, about 30 minutes drive outside Cape Town. It is a very beautiful old town, sitting up under the brow of the Helderberg Mountains. The area is famous for its university, the wine grown in the vicinity (yes, I did sample the odd drop…or 20), and the old, old architecture. It is a wealthy district, with quite, tree-lined streets, grand old homes like Vergelegen and Boschendal, and a real sense of history.

The day I made this image, I had spent the early part of the morning photographing the doorways and buildings of Dorpstraat, the oldest street in the town. I was fascinated by the Cape Dutch architecture, which references both Holland and the idiom of the district, the ornateness of the end walls with their early colonial references and the heavy thatched roofs using local materials. Dennis Moss, my host and a significant architect, had taken me on a tour of the town, explaining the buildings and their features. So I made a few (for digital read few hundred) photographs.

Then his partner Geoff took me out to the township of Kayamundi, where they were working on an urban renewal project. Translated this means they were trying to replace all the shacks and lean-to’s with some form of affordable but useful housing. It was a total change of …everything.

We drove round for a bit while he filled me in on the background to the project, then we stopped to talk to a few of the locals. I asked if we could walk for a bit and took my camera with me.

I was struck at first by the nature of the housing: shacks made from bits of tin, corrugated iron, packing crates, timber scrounged from here and there; a woman running a hairdressing business from a shipping container; spaza (shops) set into walls, where people tried to make a living selling a few vegetables and fruit; shimbeni or pubs in people’s front living rooms, selling beer to the locals. And the number of people with mobile phones. Dirt and rubbish littered the streets but the people were all beautifully-dressed and taking pride in their appearance.

As I looked over and above the dwellings, I couldn’t help noticing the mountains and wealthier properties in the distance. Once again the oxymoron that is Africa struck me.

But it was the energy of the place that got to me. There was life and hope and laughter and passion here. It was hard not to be affected by it. And I was. It was the …colour that influenced me. I wanted to reflect the feelings I was having about the place.

When I edited the photographs in Lightroom I used a preset I have created that increases contrast and saturation and gives an image a more punchy and graphic look. It seemed to fit perfectly with what I saw and what I wanted to say.

Or what the place was saying to me.

Ka kite ano

September 15, 2006


Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 9:14 pm

Kia ora:

It can be a terrifying thing to come to a new land, not knowing anybody or anything. It was that way for me when I came to South Africa. I had no idea what to expect or how I would cope with a place I knew would be quite strange. I brought with me stories of a country beset by crime and economic difficulty, of political turmoil and racial confusion.

But the stories were wrong.

South Africa is a truly beautiful place. Granted it can be terrifying, for its sheer vastness can be overwhelming; the distances have however shrunk for me. And I have fallen in love with a country I have waited half a century to find.

I have come home.

For one reason.

South Africa’s people.

Wherever I went, in the wilderness or the townships, I was received with unbelievable warmth, hospitality and generosity. I met people of all races who were passionate about their country and determined to make it better. I was made to feel at home, taught the rudiments of the language and told stories about this land. I was shown impossibly-beautiful places and given transport. I was fed and cared for to a level I would not have believed possible.
I am deeply, deeply grateful.

This post is a small attempt to acknowledge those of you who have helped me. So to all my new South African friends, may I acknowledge a debt of gratitude I can never repay. I would like to especially thank the following people:

Di Lavies; Zephne, Reg and Andrei Botha; Michele and Dennis Moss; Elizma and Hildidge; Mick and Cheryl Winn; Hennie and Maryne; Colla Swart, Jurgen Fischer, Brian Preen, Karin Huyssen, Corinne Taylor, Henry Ulster, Francesca de Jager and Nicky Hanekom, and Tony Ferrie.

Mooi blei.

Bless you all.

September 13, 2006


Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 6:31 pm

Kia ora tatou:

A long time ago, in a previous life, I loved photographing people and Life. Documentary photography was a passion for me. It still is. I also worked in black and white, making pictures in my darkroom, and was happy doing this, until one day I found I had become allergic to the chemistry. At the same time I had become fascinated by colour, so the two things, put together, took me into a different space. I thought I had moved on from that.

Until a week ago.

As part of the first Freeman Patterson workshop at Kamieskroon, a small town about 500km up the coast from Cape Town, we took the class to the small village of Nourivier (Afrikaans for narrow river). Nourivier is a small village of maybe 100 people. There is nothing there but kopjes and stunted foliage. The people live in cement-brick houses about the size of the average Kiwi’s woodshed, or in small tent-like structures made from woven reeds. There is a school, a council office and very little else. They survive by tending a few goats and growing vegetables. In summer water is a real issue. There is no work (South Africa has an unemployment rate of 34%).It all sounds pretty primitive, and you would think that there would be misery and despair. There is very little welfare here. But the reverse applies.
We went to photograph the children of Nourivier. When we arrived they had just finished their cross-country, which meant a 10km run around the mountain- in bare feet!

We arrived as the presentation was taking place. All the children who had completed it were receiving medals, and there was a packet of sweets for them, a really big deal. As they milled around, the boys scrapping happily in the dusty streets, as boys do, and the girls working on their social interaction skills, as girls do, I realised how much happiness was around me. The children, most of whom have only one set of clothes, were full of joy and warmth. Many of them came up to us and led us by the hand around the village, talking to us in their language, and sometimes riding on our shoulders. It was a special time that brought home to me the fragility and preciousness of Life. Africa reminds you of that every day.

I knew I wanted to photograph it, but how remained an issue until I got there. As we climbed out of the vehicles, I noticed that only 2 children were wearing shoes. I am informed that shoes are a luxury here. Somehow I wanted to get involved with what was going on, which meant getting close. There was so much warmth and energy here I wanted to reflect it in my images.
As you can tell, the place had got to me.

It still is.

Making photographs is about choices, and the first one as a photographer is to decide what you are feeling and what you want to say. All the decisions about exposure, equipment and approach follow from that. To do otherwise is be the slave of habit or peer pressure.
So I opted for getting involved and used my 16-35mm lens-at 16mm. In most of the photographs I was no more than 30cm from my subject. Working in this way was a kind of dance, in which I was a participant. Cartier-Bresson talks about this in his book The Decisive Moment. Thus the images are as much about the photographer as they are about the subject.

I elected to shoot them in colour, to use strong saturated colour, because that was how I saw the moment. Africa has no grey zones. The colour images reflected my perceptions that day.
Last week, as part of the second workshop, we went back. This time there was a different feeling, and I became aware of an underlying pathos to the place. I made only a few images, shooting jpegs. Later, when I was editing them, the colour seemed at odds with what I had felt. It just didn’t ring true, so I greyscaled them in Lightroom (the conversion process in this app is fantastic). Now the feeling I had experienced felt true. So I greyscaled the original set and found to my surprise that they were equally valid.

You see, colour adds a layer of meaning and psychological baggage that we often tend to overlook; it is a compositional element that we ignore at our (photographic) peril. Black and white reduces an image to its essentials and reinforces meaning. Which path you take depends on the content of the image and your feelings about the subject. Have a look at the different renditions of the image and decide for yourself.

Neither is better; only different.

Ka kite ano

September 12, 2006

Out of Africa (I always wanted to write that)

Filed under: Shout out, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 5:38 am

Kia ora tatou:

This is my first post for some time. It comes courtesy of enough bandwidth to get it out.
Africa has been a revelation for me, a place of huge contrasts. There is terrible poverty and huge wealth. A friend describes it as a “yes but “ country. Make any statement about South Africa you want and the converse will be equally valid.

But what has struck me has been the vastness and the sheer terrifying beauty of the place. Everything here is bigger, and on steroids. The wildlife is(wild), and has huge attitude. Caterpillars 6” long, weird birds (hadeda) that look like ducks( they are actually ibis) but fly and sound like inebriated vampires; crows that turn on the edge of the wind like afterthoughts; flies with fluorescent heads that bite viciously. You name it- it’s probably here. Africa is tough: there is no welfare system to speak of. Apparently Thabo M’Beki, the president, does not want a welfare/dependance culture here.He wants his people to be able to satnd on their own 2 feet.
A new SA friend puts it this way: Africa is not for sissies.

Balanced against that is the incredible hospitality of the South Africans, their warmth, generosity and positive attitude. No tall-poppy syndrome here. If you have an idea, you are encouraged to go for it. 10 years after the end of apartheid, the economy is booming and things are on the move. I have yet to meet anyone so far who pines for the old days (but I don’t know where Eugene TerreBlanche lives).

As you might have gathered, I have fallen in love with the place.
Seriously and totally.

Before I left, SA expats in New Zealand gave me lengthy lectures on personal security, on how to avoid being mugged (they call it hijacking), and where not to be at certain times of the day and night. Yes, all the stories about houses with double alarms, razor wire, and electric fences are true- depending on where you live. And sometimes the signs by the road are a bit of a shock (see the attached image), but the extraordinary beauty of the place and the warmth of the people more than compensate. And while the landscape is startlingly beautiful, it is the people who have affected me, had an effect on my picture-making and led me back to some old roads. More about that in coming posts.

Thinking about the amazing sense of community here, I am reminded of a Maori proverb I was taught some time ago:

Hutia te rito o te harakeke
Mai wai te komako e ko?
E patai atu ahau ki a koe,
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

When you slice open the heart of the flax plant
Where will the bellbird sing?
Let me ask you,
What is the most important thing in this world?
It is people, it is people, it is people.

Ka kite ano

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