November 21, 2006

Shout out

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 10:21 pm


After a couple of the last few comments, it has struck me that this blog is veering way off track and that what I am putting up is becoming way too esoteric to be of much use to you. So it is time to take stock.

I originally started it up so I could keep faith with those of you whom I care about (and there are lots of you), who had been friends and/or students of mine, and whom I was unable to help in the way I wanted to because of the insane pace of my (former) life. It was a way to be there for you and to conitinue to be of service without doing( a bad job of) AP3. After all, you had paid good money to put up with my diatribes and thoughts on photography, and I felt I owed you all( I still do). Your friendship did ( and still does) really matter to me.

Then my personal life went nuclear and it was difficult to keep faith and maintain perspective. But I have tried.
loking at few of the comments of late, it occurs to me that I may be in danger of disappearing up my intellectual …..maybe , like Iago, i think too much. Maybe I have become intellectually arrogant.

I want to hear about it.

So, to all of you out here, especially those of you who visit, and don’t comment, I issue a challenge.

Tell me.

What do you need and what do you not need?

What is helpful and what is not?

What posts do you like and what do you wish there were more of?

What do you hate?

100 people a day hit this blog. I want to hear from all of you, wherever you are-and I would love to know where you are!

Help me out- I want to continue to be of service (and don’t hold back!)

As an incentive, I will personally make and freight a signed, numbered image I have made
to the comment that contributes the most to the future direction of this community. To anywhere in the world!

Just add a comment to the bottom of this post.

muchas gracias.


Vielen Dank



Metamorphosis Chapter 33

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 4:41 pm

For over two billion years, through the apparent fancy of her endless differentiations and metamorphosis the Cell, as regards its basic physiological mechanisms, has remained one and the same. It is life itself, and our true and distant ancestor.
Albert Claude

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.
Franz Kafka

Kai ora tatou:

In what seems like another life, I spent a week with master landscape photographer, Faye Godwin. At the time I wasn’t really into landscape; it was one of many genre choices for me. But I loved her work and the opportunity to learn from her was not to be missed. In the end, it really affirmed that what I was doing was the right path for me-at the time. What she did talk about, however, was the importance of getting to know your subject. In the case of landscape photography, it meant going back again and again, seeing it in different lights and weathers, peeling the layers off the onion. Only then would we be able to get to the essence of the subject. The thought stuck and, as I began to put more and more time into studying the works of the masters, I realised that the Greats inevitably seemed to do this. For Ansel Adams it was Yosemite, for Eugene Atget it was Paris, while Edward Weston favoured Point Lobos. They all seemed to have a place that spoke to them.

Then earlier this year I discovered Haast, in particular the Okuru Estuary. With the time and opportunity to visit and revisit, I began to see new things. At first I photographed the obvious and some happy meteorological accidents, but later as these possibilities exhausted themselves, and things got tougher and tougher, I had to find new ways to photograph the estuary, or rather, to look deeper. I wanted to dig beneath the surface and consider what I was seeing, to fit into some sort of framework. So I kept photographing, studying, analysing and reflecting on what I saw on my monitor. Time and again, I would be convinced that I had “done” the estuary, only to come upon a new line of approach. The estuary became a kind of litmus paper the direction my photography was taking. It was only later that I began to realise that it was an indicator for where my life was at and by extension, where I was at.

It helps, from time to time, to take stock. Last week I got out my photographs of the estuary, arranged them in order of date, and mulled them over. Then I went to the Coast to interview someone for my new book.

Once again I went to the estuary, trying to stay as open-minded as I could, to respond to what presented itself. I took the Leica lens and a tripod. I wanted to keep it simple, to remove as many technical decisions as possible. One lens/focal length, one ISO, hyperfocal distance focusing. I wanted to listen to the Moment.

I went down to the edge of the water at sunset. The tide was in, but the wind was blowing and, frankly its restlessness wasn’t what I was seeking. I wanted to find a point of infinite stillness, a moment of exquisite unity, where time and space held their breath, that precise but difficult-to-define point of crossover between night and day. That meant letting go and listening to the rhythm of the light, the movement of the air and finding the Centre of the Moment.

The Point of Balance. Once again I was brought face-to-face with a mediaeval concept I learned about at university, the concept of mésure (moderation and balance). The idea at that time was that everything should be in balance; light and dark, good and evil, pride and humility, that excess in anything was the path to destruction. That learning has had a huge influence on how I design my photographs and informed my arrangement of the picture space. I needed to feel for the moment and bring the elements before me into a state of balance. The yin/yang symbol, a visual metaphor for the Tao, says the same thing. There can be no absolutes, only degrees of relativity.

As I studied the scene and began photographing, searching for that point of mésure, the wind dropped and the light faded. Sky and water began to come into some sort of tonal balance. Before me the colour had faded away and what was left was a monochromatic blue landscape. The water had faded to a deep blue-black and the sky was a dusky blue. The only land was a a thin-lipped strip across the river, with a few tentative houses clinging to it. What intrigued me was the thin cloud hanging almost invisible above the village. Then, as day faded into night, as so often happens, there was a last flicker in the sky, much like the final flare before a light bulb burns out. For a moment a shaft of light struck the white holiday home across the river. It glowed incandescent and alive. Then it sank into the growing gloom.

As some you know, I have studied martial arts. For a number of years I studied a form of Wu Shu, commonly (and incorrectly) known as Kung Fu. I put it down while my children were little.
Lately I have returned and have begun to seriously study Tai Chi Chuan in its martial form (not the feel-good, watered-down form you see in Pilates or city parks at 6am). A fundamental concept is balance and the idea of finding the Centre then moving around that point, to put it one way. It sounds very simple; it is fiendishly difficult to achieve, because it is not just physical. And there are many years of training required to get any degree of competence. Mastery is a goalpost that keeps moving further and further away. Even the simple act of breathing contains a lifetime of study. In many ways Tai Chi bears an extraordinary similarity to the act of photography. There are infinite levels of understanding, and you have to focus to the point where you become what you are doing.

I continued on into the gloom, lost in Time and Space. As the balance between sky and water narrowed, I made more pictures. Directly before me the incoming tide was now covering a log in the water. The exposures had moved out to 30”, flattening and soothing the restless water. I moved the log into the frame. In the deepening shadows it had become a mysterious shape, a metaphor, a Doorway for the Dead. It sat there in the tide like some sort of key to a deeper mystery, raising one knowing eyebrow and challenging me to seek to know more. Then the remaining light, which had held on to the very last, sputtered and went out. It was time to leave.

When I edited the images a couple of days later, I was intrigued. In some way I have yet to define, my understanding had altered, had metamorphosed. It was as if a number of disparate but parallel threads were knitting together. The photographs had the simplicity I was seeking, yet they asked more questions than they answered.

As I edited the images, looking for the best way (if any) to crop them, I found myself moving the horizon closer and closer to the upper frame edge, compressing the sky into an ever-narrowing area of the picture. I began limiting the information along the top of the photograph. It felt right. It felt accurate.

Just now the future is full of uncertainty and possibility, and I am peering over the horizon of today, like the navigators of old, hoping to spy landfall soon.

Arohanui e

November 18, 2006

Rhythm of the Road

Filed under: Technical posts, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 2:13 pm

There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
-Dire Straits

The most important skill of the photographer is to know how to see. Yes, one sees through one’s eyes, but the same world seen through different eyes is no longer the same world; it’s the world seen through that individual’s eye. With just one click, the lens captures the exterior world at the same time as it captures the photographer’s inner world.
-Germaine Krull (1897-1985)

Sifting through the thoughts that lead you on
Find the door that’s open, now you’re gone
We softly say to our-ourselves
If we could be anybody else..

It had been one of those days. One of those frantically busy days where you have a lot to do, a lot to cram into a short space of time. But it was done and the road home was calling. Three days in Christchurch, three days of catching up with friends, three days of taking care of business. But it was done, and the clamour was behind me. I was looking forward to getting back to the open-armed welcome of the Maniototo.

I stopped for tea with some friends just north of Oamaru. Kathryn asked me which road into the valley I would be taking and naturally assumed I would cross over the Danseys pass. No, I replied, I’m going up the Pig Root. I really enjoy the surprises on that road.

I left just after 7 p.m., and by the time I turned off the main road at Palmerston, the shadows were beginning to claw their way east across the landscape, filling in the hollows in the landscape, putting day on the back foot. Night was on the advance, and the brazen bowl of the day was in full retreat. Changeover is a fascinating time for a photographer, a brief period when night and day seem to be in balance. I think being a Libran really makes me appreciate this time.

The road winds in and out of small river valleys, rising around 2000 feet over the 60 odd kilometres it takes to break into the Maniototo. It begins in the lower section of the Shag River and follows it, keeping a respectful distance and then dropping in from time to time to see what has become of it. The last glimpse, somewhere near the summit, shows a wide expansive trout stream that has shrunk to a nervous jittery creek. Every corner offers a new perspective, a new take, a new angle, a new surprise to be considered. It’s a driver’s road, with sweeping cambered corners that coil, that compress, that slingshot you on to the next, that allow you to dance with and build up a rhythm for the road.

It’s a beautiful stretch of road at any time of the day, but in the early evening the pointing fingers of shadow give it a mystery, a magic that is quite unique. It’s not one of those roads where you drive for hours and, somewhere near the end, realise you can’t really remember any of it. It’s a road with a vocabulary you have to learn, it’s a road that builds upon itself and offers you something new you every time you drive it.

The road builds and builds and climbs towards the light towards the shadow end of day lying along the horizon, lying above the hills to the West. It rises to a crescendo then, offering another surprise, drifts softly and knowingly away. The Kakanuis off to the right reflect the tail-end of day, basking in the last fading remnants of daylight.

Now the hills, which have held me in for the last 40 minutes, which have made sure I kept my eyes on the road, fall back to either side as I slide down into the wide-open swoop of the plain. The diesel relaxes its shoulders and drops happily into overdrive as we murmur our way across the plain.

The long slow angle of the light is breaking up the landscape around me, disassembling it, showing me a component view of what is around me. I’m itching to make a photograph, because I have a new toy. Hayden, who cleans the sensors on my cameras, has given me a 50 mm Leica Summicron lens machined to fit on my Canon. As he hands it to me, he gives me a quiet smile and says, I’ll be interested to know what you think of this. It’s the end result of a series of discussions we’ve had about the resolving power of the L-series lenses I’ve used since I switched to Canon a few years ago.

One thing I’ve come to realise is that a digital sensor can resolve far more detail than film. At 100%, micro-detail is rendered far more precisely than film ever could. But there is a corollary to this. To get this detail requires rigorous picture-making technique. The old 1/focal length rule, where the slowest speed you should handhold is the next one above the focal length of the lens you’re using, just doesn’t hold true for digital. To get that super fine detail you need when you’re making big enlargements, you should use 1/2x focal length. You need to use a heavy tripod and, where possible, mirror lock-up. Good filters, if you use them, are a must. Because I want to make very large works, I’ve had to get fussier and fussier about my technique.

But there’s still not enough. Shooting in Raw and correcting my pictures, I’ve come to realise that the weak link in the system is the lenses. A 16-megapixel sensor is capable of resolving incredibly fine detail. Once you become aware of that, nothing less will do, but to get it you need the best optics possible. Ordinary optics just mush the microcontrast necessary to bring that detail out. The higher end Canon optics, to my mind, just don’t do the sensor justice.

So call me anal.

For some time I’ve heard rumours about photographers who use Leica optics, generally accepted to be the finest glass in the world, on their higher end Canon DLR’s. I know of one leading New Zealand landscape photographer who does this very thing. And I wanted to find out for myself.

When I began in photography, every camera you bought came with a 50 mm lens. Of course, the first thing you did when you bought your camera was trade in the 50 mm lens for a zoom or a telephoto or a wide-angle. It took me some 25 years to realise that the 50 mm lens is actually one of the most useful focal lengths. You just have to know how to drive it. In the right hands it can look like a tele, or a wide-angle or something in-between. I have heard that it was Henri Cartier-Bresson’s favourite focal length, and a pretty much all the great photographer Ernst Haas ever used. Using a single focal length is also incredibly good discipline and helps you understand the unique personality it can give to your photograph.

Somewhere on the hill between Kyeburn and Ranfurly the opportunity came. The sun was just touching the old man range out to the West in the shadows for as long as they would ever be. If I was going to make some photographs I had little more than a couple of minutes in which to do them. As I came round the corner, off to my right light and shadow played against each other like interlocked fingers. The sky had that serene quality peculiar to this area. I made maybe 20 photographs my final images included the road sign; the very last of the sunlight, skimming the road, had picked up the sign and made it glow against the green fields in the blue sky.

It seemed fitting and somehow iconic end to a magic drive.

Oh yes, the answer to the question I can hear a number of you asking. When I processed the file in Lightroom I was somewhat stunned by the results. Yes, the ability of the Leica lens to resolve microfine detail is to my mind, at this stage, streets ahead of any Canon optics I’ve used so far. Frankly it’s quite staggering-and I didn’t have time to use a tripod. What I found distinctly interesting however, was the way that it renders colour. The processed image doesn’t have anywhere near the saturation and contrast that my other lenses deliver, and I found myself reaching for the vibrancy and saturation controls and tweaking them up. What it does deliver is a smoothness of tonal transition that is quite analogue in its characteristics.

I’m impressed.

November 17, 2006

Exhibition Opening-an invitation

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 11:58 am

Kia ora tatou:

As a number of you know, I have been working towards an exhibition( well, two in fact). The first opens on December 1 at the Selwyn Gallery in Darfield.

Those of you can make it( I know it’s the party time of the year) are invited to come along and share the work, most of it from my travels this year, and have a glass of wine to celebrate. I am feeling pretty good about what is coming together.

If our only contact has been an E-friendship, I would love to meet you in person.Please make sure you introduce yourself.

If you are on my newsletter list, you will also be getting an e-invite.

Coming up soon, a technical post. I have to- Lost Pixel is on my back!

Ka kite ano

November 14, 2006

Letter to Ian

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 9:57 pm

The use of the term art medium is, to say the least, misleading, for it is the artist that creates a work of art not the medium. It is the artist in photography that gives form to content by a distillation of ideas, thought, experience, insight and understanding.
Edward Steichen

Photography would have been settled a fine art long ago if we had not, in more ways than one, gone so much into detail. We have always been too proud of the detail of our work and the ordinary detail of our processes.
-Henry Peach Robinson

Kia ora tatou:

If you read the comments in this blog, you will see that occasionally I push somebody’s buttons enough for them to post a comment. This one came in on my Roadmarks post, and it needs to be talked about. Ian (who should be thinking more about getting his passengers down safely, and less ruminating as he stares at the landscape sliding past underneath) wrote:

A question for you. I’ve got my name on the list for one of the Freeman workshops next year. I was discussing this matter recently with some other photographers and an opinion was related that a lot of what Freeman discusses in his books (and I assume his workshops) is primarily about design rather than art. I’ve got some of his books (I love them) and I can see where that viewpoint comes from. So my question is – what is the difference between design and art? Does good art require good design? Is good designing enough?………. I haven’t really got this completely sorted but my answer is that art also has passion or story (or both).

Looking at Roadmarks before I read your post and I thought, “nicely balanced image. Interesting contrast between the snow and the almost summer baked grass in the foreground. Love the mono treatment.” Technical/design thoughts??

Well, there are several issues here that all tie together. Yes, Freeman teaches visual design. He is quite unashamed about it. There are very few workshops where that is done. Most of them tend to be how-to workshops (everything you wanted to know about jpegs or your DLR and wish you’d never asked). Very few are why-to workshops. To the best of my knowledge Freeman has never used Art (art) and Design and photography in the same sentence, or indeed in the same workshop. I have taught with him 5 times and listened to him, both formally in lectures and informally (usually in the company of a fine pinot noir). He stresses the idea of design as a craft, or at least an aspect of the craft of photography.

It’s probably important here to talk about Craft and Art and to make the distinction. Craft is the skillset you develop as a photographer. At its most basic level, it is things like depth-of-field, exposure, lens choice (although that is not as basic as it seems) and lighting (which you never master). The gears, steering etc which you come to terms with when you are learning to drive; the clay, glazes and throwing techniques that the potter has to master.

Then there is the issue of composition. Frankly I hate the term. It reeks of the Rule-of-thirds, never centring your subject, and cups of tea after a C-grade competition. Composition is what you do when you want to get an honours in the Set Subject and you know the (judge?). Composition is what you do when you take a photograph.

Design is what you do when you are actively considering your subject. Design means you are actively weighing the importance of the elements in your picture space, and considering both their visual and spatial weight, not to mention their significance. Design is a higher form of Craft. Design is beyond Composition. It is the next plane beyond technique (a subset of Craft).

But it is Craft nonetheless. Because you can learn it. Craft is not to be dismissed, because you have to learn it. Ansel Adams said: the Way to Art is through Craft, not around it. Incidentally Ansel never considered himself an artist, rather a craftsman. He saw his work as being to depict the landscape the best way he could, to distil something of the magnificence he experienced into the images he made. He was as concerned with Process as he was with Content.

Art is another whole ball of wax (excuse the cliché), a product of feelings, ideas, prior knowledge and Weltaussicht. Art is about ideas. What those ideas may be is the domain of the artist. Art informs. Art makes us think, art seeks to engage us on a multiplicity of levels. It may be visceral, in the realm of feelings; it may be on a cerebral level. Or may be all of the above. But it seeks to inform.

Art is the concrete expression of the ethos of a society.

Let me unpack that. David Hockney, the celebrated English pop artist, had an 18-month affair with photography. In that time he made photographic work that had never been seen before (note: he didn’t take photos). His final image, Pear Blossom Highway, brings all those ideas together. F you study his work, and you have done a little Art History, you will see the connections. He was heavily influenced by cubism, by Picasso and Braques, by the nature of Representation and the depiction of Time and Space. Picasso questioned the concept of perspective and its depiction from a single point in Time and Space (remember those cubes you drew in Technical Drawing or Third Form Art). It’s worth noting that before the Italian architect Brunelleschi invented it in the Renaissance, all art was essentially two-dimensional. Hockney took Picasso’s ideas and added his own take to it, specifically a photographic one. Consider this: photography with a camera depicts time and space from a single point in that time and space; the human eye works quite differently. We gather a variety of different images from different points in space and from different times (or rather, over an extended period of time) and then our brain assembles them into a composite collage with a single meaning. It could therefore be said that Hockney’s images are truer to how the human eye/brain works than to the artificial representation of the camera. Human seeing is organic; the camera is a mechanical device able to function only from a single viewpoint. Hockney’s oeuvre is really an essay on that difference.

The point I am trying to make here is that Hockney’s work is ideas-based, not representational. What he photographs is less important than the ideas behind the image.

Another example. If you have any interest in New Zealand art, you will at some time have seen the work of the great painter Colin McCahon. At first glance his works look huge but incomprehensible. His palette is essentially monochromatic; his subject matter is painted quite loosely and seems infested with letters and religious symbology. Look harder and you begin to see the landscape, or rather the forms of the landscape, represented in quite a symbolic way. To get a grip on McCahon’s work, you need to spend a little time looking at the life of the man himself. McCahon was a deeply spiritual but troubled man whose Roman Catholicism was a key factor in forming both his vision of the world and how he chose to depict it. In addition to this he was deeply sympathetic to maoritanga and Maori spiritual values. His painting, done as it was in essentially dark monochromatic tones, showed a strong awareness of the wairua of our landscape. He was a very complex man but a master craftsman, whose understanding of the craft of painting was profound. The questions he asked in his painting are still being uncovered. Ditto Picasso.

You will notice that in talking about these two great artists, I have made little reference to their technique. And yet, their technique is consummate. However, when we look at their work, we are faced with a wonderful puzzle that we want to unravel. We are faced with the world of ideas. Sometimes those ideas may appear simple, but they are present nonetheless. Sometimes they may seem so complex, presented in such a convoluted way that we can find no way into the maze. This is the trap that Fine Art often falls into; it becomes so self-absorbed and lives in such a rarefied place that only those who speak the language can understand it. How many exhibitions have we been to where we didn’t have a clue what the artist was on about, and so, mystified and perhaps feeling a little intellectually inferior, we left, completely dissatisfied? I know I have, and I still continue to.

To recap on a previous post: science’s job is to discover; art’s job is to explain. A great artist may show us the mundane from a totally new perspective; or equally may unpack something we may never before have considered. He/she may give us a completely new perspective on something we have taken for granted.

To return to the craft vs. art debate.

A potter who makes a teapot so perfect in its design that it doesn’t spill a single drop is, to my mind, a craftsman. Possibly a master craftsman. A ceramic artist may make the same teapot but in its design and its methods ask questions or draw comparisons with geomorphology. He might make that same teapot in a way that draws my attention to plate tectonics. Every time I break out the Dilmah, I get a mini lesson on the structure of the planet, and the earth from which the teapot was made. That is Art. It feeds me on a variety of levels. (Besides waking me up in the morning).

Ian, I sense a somewhat subtly stated question here. Do I consider my work art or craft? Am I a photographer or artist? And do I care?

Frankly, no.

I have a very close friend who has world-class status as a martial artist. He is three weeks younger than me but his reputation worldwide is phenomenal. His dedication is such that he turned down an invitation to the 1000-year birthday party of the Shaolin Temple in China because he preferred to spend the time training. A good friend to have when you go out clubbing. We have just spent some time talking about the nature of learning our individual arts, he has a level of understanding of martial arts that I will never have. Similarly while he loves photography, he acknowledges that my mastery is well ahead of his. What we do talk about is the nature of understanding, what lies beyond craft, the subtle levels of understanding that come past a certain point. In essence, the fascination lies not in the end product, it is about the journey itself and the discoveries made along the way. It is about the finer and finer, and yet increasingly significant, layers of understanding that come from constant practice of your craft and reflection upon it.

What drives me these days is a desire to see round the next corner, to discover that which I had never before considered. As I said in the post Roadmarks, I am still considering the picture made in Kyeburn. In terms of its craftsmanship (that is, exposure, technique and design), I am satisfied. For the moment. But something new has emerged for me, some layer of understanding that I am still trying to get a handle on. I am going to make a print of that image and stick it on the wall in the hall of my flat. That means I will have to pass it many times a day, and each time I go past, I will have a quick look out of the corner of my eye, in the hope that it drops its guard and gives itself away.

Today it is the best picture I have ever made. I know it’s the doorway to a room I’ve only just discovered, and one which I’m dying to explore in greater depth.

It’s just the Why of it that’s eluding me.

Ian, after having waded through all this, you possibly think I haven’t answered your question. You didn’t think I was going to do this in twenty-five-words-or-less. Did you?

Actually I have.

I have far too much respect for you to denigrate you with a cheap and facile response.
Arohanui e.




November 10, 2006


Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 6:59 pm

It is my intention…to present to the public, from time to time, my impressions of foreign lands, illustrated by photographic views -Francis Frith (1822-1898)

The physical object to me, is merely a stepping stone to an inner world where the object, with the help of subconscious drives and focused perceptions, becomes transmuted into a symbol whose life is beyond the life of objects we know and whose meaning is a truly human meaning – Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985)

The storm sneaked into town around mid-morning on Wednesday behind the shirttails of the anticyclone that had been with us for a week now. It wasn’t one of those summer storms, the ones that take a deep breath, draw themselves up to their full height, flex their biceps and tower imposingly before venting themselves. No, rather it was one of those furtive southerly storms that creep up on you, the sort where the first warning of its arrival is a tentative gust of wind and a few spots of rain. You look up somewhat surprised from your cappuccino, realise with a sinking feeling you’re not dressed for it, and retreat for cover. Once it knows it has your attention, that you recognise it , it unloads itself upon you.

Within an hour the drops of rain head turned to sleet and then thickened out into softly drifting snow flakes. I retreated to my flat, wound up every heater I could find, and turned my back on it. Had it been one of those big-bosomed, buxom opera singer storms, I might have ventured out into it, to dance with that and the light. But it wasn’t imposing, it was a Gollum storm, snivelling around in the background, causing trouble in a sneaky, underhanded sort of way. It didn’t deserve to be noticed. Until the next morning.

All night it whined and wept, shook and wrestled with the town, doing its best to get under roofs and inside unwary spaces and looking to kick over anything not tied down. In the end, tired, I turned my light out and left it to its own devices, to do what it would. It didn’t stay long; it wasn’t a storm with guts, with any sort of perseverance. It soon tired of its spiteful game and went on its way.

I was out of bed and on the road early the next morning. I had to go down to town (in this case, a 1 1/2 hour trip to Dunedin) and then be back by midday, so I decided to leave my camera equipment behind. Big mistake. The air was settled and still, scrubbed squeaky-clean ,and the hills appeared as if they had been steadily closing in under cover of the storm. While my back had been turned, the rag-end of a spiteful winter had scattered itself across the hills along the horizon. The clearing cloud above the Kakanuis was still holding back the early morning sun but it was getting in nonetheless, along the gap above the Pig Root, and in the crawlspace above the Danseys Pass. For a moment or two, I wondered whether to go back for my cameras, then decided against it. I was running to a schedule and needed to get down to the coast. Perhaps later.

I got back around 2 p.m, and by now the snow was gone from the plains, retreating slowly back up the hill under the relentless thrust of the incoming warm front. I knew if I didn’t get out amongst it, I would miss out on an opportunity to make something of the event that was moving on. I packed my equipment and headed east towards Kakanuis, knowing it was time to make their acquaintance.
Down towards Kyeburn then back up the Ridge Road towards Naseby, out towards the Danseys Pass. Then, on a whim, I decided to follow the somewhat tentative gravel road up towards the Kyeburn diggings. The road ahead obviously hadn’t seen a grader in quite some time, and Hinemoa shivered and shook on its uneven surface. Ahead of me, off to the right, I saw the first of the clay cliffs that break so abruptly out of the landscape. Up behind them, the snowdraped Kakanuis shimmered and resonated in the early afternoon light. The contrast between the two were so visually surprising that I stopped to look, to take notes, to analyse. Like an insistent dog the scene was barking at me, demanding that I take notice, that I pay attention.

In the viewfinder the scene was even more surprising, and the results on my LCD only served to amplify and delineate what was in front of me. I must have made around 50 images working left to right, exploring, tuning, feeling my way to the Moment. And then it came.

My friend Freeman Patterson maintains that a great image has no less than two and no more than five significant compositional elements. I’m still thinking that one through. The iconoclast inside me, who rebels at any rule and looks for a way to beat it, feels that there may be a way round it. But I haven’t found it yet. This image contains four distinct compositional elements, (if you include the gorse on top of the cliffs as part of the cliffs) ranging from the soft relatively featureless clouds at the top of the photograph to the textured grass along the bottom of the amateur. The smoothness of the snow-covered hills contrasts with the clay cliffs beneath. It’s a composition that, 24 hours later, still satisfies me.

Over a glass of wine (or three), Freeman and I talked one night in Africa about how some images can be roadmarks, marker pegs like the small stone ones that used to line the Roman roads, that told you how far it was from and to the next town. These are points of significance, indicators on a journey. Londinium 24 miles (or whatever the Romans used to measure distance). From time to time, if we keep at it, we will all make roadmark images, photographs that tell us we’ve moved on, that we have come to a place we don’t really recognise, and yet which we know is significant. Freeman maintains the subconscious is always three to five years ahead of the conscious, that the photographs we are making now are the result of a process that began that long ago.

I cannot help feeling that the image I made out on the Kyeburn Road is a Roadmark, a pointer to a process that has been underway for some time; that in some way it is trying to tell me something.

What that is I have no idea.

But it has my attention.

November 6, 2006


Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 9:40 am

The urge to create, the urge to photograph, comes in part from the deep desire to live with more integrity; to live more in peace with the world, and possibly to help others do the same……
As I became aware that all things have unique spatial and temporal qualities which visually define and relate them, I began to perceive the things I was photographing not as objects but as events. Working to develop my skills of perceiving and symbolising these events qualities, I discovered the principle of opposites. When, for example, I photographed the smooth luminous body of a woman behind the dirty cobwebbed window, I found that the qualities of each event were enhanced and the universal forces which they manifested were more powerfully evoked. Out of these experiences, I embarked on some of my most productive years of working.
-Wynn Bullock (1902-1975)

I could feel the southerly storm coming. I could feel it lurking over the horizon, just beyond the Lammermoors. Like Kilroy, it was biding its time, waiting for the right moment. The norwest wind had been blowing for three days now, half-teasing half-bullying, pushing at the placid faces of the buildings and maliciously herding the clouds around the skies, but like a marathon runner nearing the end of the race, it was running out of energy, running on empty. Its pace was getting fitful, and it was taking longer and longer breathers. The grasses were grinning now, standing up in the strong and certain knowledge that they had beaten the wind yet again. Only the sky gave a clue to its stubborn attempts to make something of itself. But it knew it was beaten, and it was only a matter of time before it would be forced to hand over to the cold front that was coming.

I took a break from my work and, coffee and cigarette in hand, went out to have a look around, to see what was happening outside in the street. I could feel the tension in the air, that super-calm that seems to settle on the land when one front is about to hand the baton over to another. As I looked above the supermarket across the street, I saw the anticyclone’s frustration written across the sky. Above me the clouds roiled and toiled in turmoil, a face screwed up in bitter disappointment at being beaten. My jaw dropped open, and the excitement hit me. Something was happening. I needed to be out amongst it.

I moved further out into the street and looked up at the sky to the north, at the twisted and bitter face above me. Then something made me turn and look to the south. Above the Rock and Pillar Range, above Waipiata, along the invisible dividing line between warm and cold fronts, an eerie cloud formation was taking shape. I threw the cigarette away, plonked the coffee cup down on the front doorstep, and ran inside to get my camera gear. I could feel the tension inside me, the handshaking nerves that often come when I know I’m close to something.

Hinemoa, my truck and faithful companion on my journeys around Aotearoa, kicked into life on the first wind of the key and together we threw ourselves at the hills to the south. It was only a matter of some 10 km but neither of us wanted to do miss out on what was happening. The emotions written across the face of the sky were changing constantly, and I wanted to be there to document it. Tawhirimatea and Tumutaenga were going at it again. The God of the Winds and the God of War were reliving the past, recreating their eternal struggle.

Just past Waipiata the road forked, and instinct made me take the oneto the left. It slithered across the low foothills at the base of the rock on pillars then came up to a corner, where I could see everything happening. In front of me the land lay, submissive and on its back like a beaten dog, beneath a sky that snarled and twisted and writhed in furious torment. Over the next 15 minutes I probably made around a hundred images, working hastily, lost in awe at what was happening for me, but still trying to keep a piece of my mind calm enough to make the right technical decisions. It isn’t always easy to keep a grip on process when you’re so involved with your subject. From time to time I trip up and get so lost in what I’m trying to say that I drop the technical ball.

Within 20 minutes the fight was over and the combatants had moved away to the east. The land breathed a sigh of relief and stood up brushing itself down. I, I was still shaking from the intensity of the events I’d been part of and it took me a good hour to come down.

Photography can be like that.

People often ask me what I see in the landscape, what it means to me, what the theme of my work is. For a long time I have felt that this country has a uniquely mystical side to it, a quality that is somehow other. Maori have a word that somehow sums it up.
Loosely translated, the word means spirit but, like so many words in Maori, contains layers of meaning and significance. It’s the spirit of a place, but it’s more than that. Sense of place can come from the things that are there, the buildings, people, structures, landforms and the interrelationship between them. That is the approach Robin Morrison took. Wairua contains more than that; it contains the idea of a mystical presence that dwells in the land and informs all, that affects the way people live and the way that they feel.

I have noticed that New Zealand film seems to have this unique darkness, a sense of something else. Vincent Ward’s Vigil is a case in point. All his movies, in fact, seem to have this quality. It is as if he is listening to a radio station unavailable to the rest of us. Snakeskin is another movie that springs to mind. Again that sense of a sinister supernatural infection. Even comedies like Goodbye Pork Pie and Came a Hot Friday have this same edginess. Sam Neill discusses this idea in his documentary Cinema of Unease. You might want to rent it and decide for yourself.

In my travels around New Zealand, working on White Cloud Silver Screen, I often wondered why this was (being on the road gives you a lot of time to think). I wondered what it was filmmakers saw that photographers did not. While the filmmakers seemed to have captured the essence (or inner sense) of our landscape, photographers are still heavily replicating an essentially European view of the landscape, a romantic pictorialism similar to that carried out by the English landscape artists of the 19th-century, who brought with them the watercolour aesthetic they had learned, and pasted it on the landscape in front of them. Bit by bit, day by day, as I considered this idea, I found it feeding into my photography and into the way I perceived the landscape and the feelings I began to have while being out in it.
Experiences in some of the forgotten, out-of-the-way corners of this country only served to reinforce it. Bad Blood, the story of Stan Graham, an ordinary man who went mad and shot a number of people, is a case in point. Down in the hills behind Hokitika, it was easy to imagine paranioa setting in as a result of being watched by a landscape that wore a perpetual scowl.

Out beyond the city limits, beyond the pressures of human existence, in the dark corners of this country (and they are there) are some very old stories waiting for listeners. Sometimes the stories are turbulent, sometimes serene. But they are there, if we are ready to listen.

Te Wairua o te whenua. The spirit of the land.

Wynn Bullock has always been a favourite photographer of mine. A technical master in his own right, he seemed to be able to see things in his landscapes, in his still lives or in his nudes that had the same quality of Other. In his writings, he talks about this very thing, the fact that he was not photographing objects but rather events, that the moments he recorded alluded to a greater mystery that he wanted to explore, to know more about.

Looking at his work, I get the feeling that, like Vincent Ward, he had his own radio station, that he was listening to music most of us miss.

Whaka ngarongaro he tangata, toitu te whenua
People disappear, but the land remains.

Ka kite ano

November 3, 2006

Of Prevert and Sudek

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 4:07 pm

-Jacques Prévert

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a alluméUne cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est levéIl a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j’ai pleuré.

He put the coffee
In the cup
He put the milk
In the coffee cup
He put the sugar
In the café au lait
With a small spoon
He stirred it
He drank the café au lait
And he put the cup back down
Without speaking to me
He lit a cigarette
He made circles
With the smoke
He put the ashes
In the ashtray
Without talking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
His hat upon his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
Beneath the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And I, I put
My head in my hands
And I wept.

I have no particular leaning toward…the all too-clearly defined; I prefer the living, the vital, and life is very different from geometry; simplified security has no place in life.
-Josef Sudek(1896-1976)

Kia ora tatou:

You’ve probably never heard of Czechoslovakian photographer Josef Sudek.
Neither had I, until one of my students loaned me a book of his work, one of those huge expensive tomes that you handle with care for fear of doing yourself a mischief. I took it home and began to read. About a fortnight later my student inconsiderately and somewhat agitatedly asked if I was done with it. It was a shame she asked, and I felt obliged to give it back. But I didn’t want to. It was one of those books (no, don’t ask me, I have long since forgotten the title) that get inside your head. Fortunately, it had a lot of biography on Sudek, so I was able to get some sort of grip on where he was coming from. Born in 1896, he lost his right hand in a battle in the First World War. The injury seems to have affected him quite badly in a psychological sense, and it must certainly have made the act of photographing with a large view camera quite difficult. He is often referred to as “the Poet of Prague,” a reference to the lyrical and often surrealistic nature of his photography. He is also, in many ways, regarded as the master of the still life, and he certainly acknowledged a connection with the great Dutch masters in this area.

As I said, his work really sank in; the simple nature of what he photographed, much of which was immediately around him in his home and garden, and the way in which he structured his picture space. His relationship with light also has to be seen to be believed. There is no doubt that he was a recluse, who never attended the openings of his exhibitions until his last one shortly before his death. During World War II, he rarely if ever left his home in German-occupied Prague. His walled garden protected him from the outside world, and his subject material during that time was the things around him; his garden, classes, ashtrays-all the domestic things in his life. His work, which was quite encyclopaedic, leaves a huge legacy that we can learn from.

As some of you know, my degree is in foreign languages and I majored in French, not the wisest choice from a career perspective, but enriching for all of that and now beginning to feed into my work. At some point we studied the great French poet, Jacques Prévert, who also lived and worked in a similar period. Prévert’s work is at once simple, at once exquisitely detailed, rather like Sudek’s photography. I didn’t make the connection until yesterday, when for a variety of reasons, Prevert’s poem, which I have loved ever since I studied it at university, Déjeuner du Matin came into my head. Put simply, the poem concerns itself with a relationship break-up or possibly morning-after feelings (both ideas can be read into the title), and the last meeting the couple have or will have. I tracked a copy down on the Internet, dug out my rusty French skills and attempted a translation. As so often happens when attempting to translate from a foreign language, much of the subtlety and subtext gets lost, and this is even worse with a poem. Prévert’s style makes it even harder. While it is easy to translate the words and meaning, it does no justice whatsoever to the exquisite use of tone and sound, and the way Prévert plays with words.

So what does this have to do with photography? Well, somehow I knew I wanted to make an image that reflected my awareness of these two masters who probably never knew each other and the feelings their work has for me in this place and time.

I borrowed a cup and saucer and ashtray from the art deco shop down the street, waited for the light and made a series of photographs, using my 90mm shift lens. I wanted an image that had a degree of circularity to it, that in some way visually talked about the way in which life is circular, the idea that what goes around comes around but somehow referenced both Sudek and Prevert.

Download, edit, crop, greyscale (they didn’t have colour in those days). Then add some split toning; a little blue into the shadows to accent the feeling and brown into the highlights for further sombreness and crop it 1:1 to reflect the square format cameras they shot with back then( sic. Rolleiflex). I still wasn’t happy that it recorded what I was feeling and wanting to say, so I redid the crop (in Lightroom) and used the Antique Greyscale function to get that 30’s feeling and also the idea of a brown study. The finished image is, well, a start point.

I can see why Edward Steichen spent a year photographing the same cup and saucer.

Ka kite ano.

November 2, 2006

Letter to Chris

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 12:22 pm

Kia ora tatou:

As I have mentioned, my blog is about to go under the wing of my mostly-updated website. There are still a few bugs to iron out, which will happen hopefully in the next day or so. Then we will upload to my server, the site will go live, and I will email everyone on my newsletter list( and maybe a few that aren’t!). There is a lot of new work on the site, including some stuff I found in the dusty recesses of my hard drives that I had forgotten about! So, as they say, watch this space.

My friend Bikerchris posted a comment last night that deserves an answer. Chris is the type of person who thinks deeply (except when he has been on the Lagavulin, then he becomes quite eloquent) and when he speaks, delivers something finely-honed and precise, like a fine wine, not to be taken lightly. Rather than bury my reply in the comment archives, I would like to make some sort of public response. You deserve the best answer I can give. It also seems like a good place to push the pause button while we make all the site changes.

Bikerchris said:
As you know, I am not great on the comments all the time. I watch out for your postings nearly every day. I do perceive a change in your postings now; I hear the wistful person who is reliving the good old days from years gone by. I hope sincerely you do find all that you left behind all those years ago. I hope you also can bring into your search all the wisdom gained after a lifetime away, and can apply that to what you will find. The wisdom gained will add a new dimension to the memories you are obviously reliving.
Keep up the postings, I really do enjoy them! I am seeing a side of you that I knew existed, but you kept well and truly under wraps!

By way of a response…

Somebody once asked me where I got my gift for photography from. Well, the answer is my father. He loved photography, although it didn’t have quite the quality of obsession for him that it does for me! It was a hobby, that he talked about and sometimes did. From time to time, when I am out in the landscape, when the wind pauses to draw breath, when I am surrounded by the glow of the first light of day, I could swear he is standing beside me, making helpful suggestions and passing comment.

I have also always enjoyed writing as well, and that derives from my mother, who was a bit of a literary star in her day (well, world-famous in Southland). She is 90 next year, and entertains herself by watching DVD’s (she had a player long before me) and texting on her cell phone. (Maybe that is why I am a techno-junkie!) It is just that I have not had the time to really flex those particular muscles. Now I do. Indeed I need to.

Someone once said: Art is not something you do; it is something you have to do, and for me writing is another source of creativity, a way of expressing myself. I have a mentor in San Francisco, Alessandro Baccari, who believes I am really a writer; actually he has said in not so many words that he considers me more a writer than a photographer! Time will tell. It was he who set me out on my odyssey to produce a book on New Zealand. White Cloud Silver Screen kind of hijacked that trip. Only the Proof-Reader-from-Hell (you know who you are) has seen the text. Perhaps one day.

With Time and Alone-ness, the writing bacteria are multiplying, hence the reason for the change in the nature of the posts. I have written on and off for years, largely for myself, but got little traction, largely because of all the other things I have been trying to achieve (master photography, multiple jobs, attempt to be good parent, etc). I also haven’t been able to put writing and photography into any sort of common context. Now that appears to be happening for me.

I love writing. It is a bit like making a Fine Print. You start with a raw idea, a kind of Idea negative, then polish it, and tune it and process it until either you or it say: enough! And it is done, or you can’t/won’t go any further (then you spend the next 10/20/30 years wishing you had done it differently!).

They say all photographers are frustrated painters. Perhaps. Maybe prose writers are frustrated poets? I know that I could not write a novel. I think I would get bored and want to kill off my characters just to get away from the story and bring things to an end. It is beyond me how Tolstoy could stay with War and Peace that long! I like the intensity of the short prose work, of crafting something where each word is precise and can have a multiplicity of interpretations. 2000 words is about my upper limit at the moment.

But wait, there is more.

As you know, I have spent time as a curriculum developer (once a teacher, always a teacher), and got an opportunity to put my somewhat unconventional ideas into practice (I can’t believe they trusted me, the fools). The core of Creativity, as I see it, is that each of us is our own best resource, and that all creativity comes from the individual, from the Self. If we take the time (if we have the time) to reflect on what is important to us, what has meaning to us, and then we can make work that is both satisfying and personal. Who we are is the sum total of each and every step we have taken up to that point, and we can draw upon our individual life experience to inform our work.

As an example, whenever one of you who has his/her own blog posts, I always look up your profile (sic. Sammi2U). I want to know where you live, what films you like, what music you listen to. That gives me an idea what drives you. The core of your creativity. Then, should you take a workshop with me or ask for advice or just read my blog, I can be of more use to you.

More and more I find myself drawing upon my own life experiences as a way of informing what I do, both as a writer and photographer (or is that the other way around?). As I mentioned in a previous post, I like hearing stories about people and places. It all feeds into my work as a photographer- and as a writer. I try to read the story in a place, to analyse my feelings at the time and use that to inform my own work. Case in point:

I came home yesterday after a couple of days in Dunedin, and decided to take the short cut home across the Old Dunstan Road, which crosses along the back of the Rock and Pillar Range. It doesn’t look a great distance on the map, but it took me five hours (an hour to go round by road)! You wouldn’t want to take your 500SEC across this road, but it is OK in a car. It is a vast, rolling moor that goes on and on. I knew it was called that because it was the route for the early gold miners in the area.

It flummoxed me for a time. There was so little to grip on to visually. Then, standing out there, I began to imagine what it must have been like for them, laden with equipment, dreams and hope. I could smell the sweat of the horses, hear the creaking of saddle leather, could imagine what it must have been like to be caught out in a storm.

At the summit, 1041 m, (it said that on the sign), I saw a small track off to my right that headed up into the tussock. So I followed and within a couple of minutes found myself in Low 4, remembering all the 4×4 lessons I had taken earlier this year. The track climbed about 500m, and the view from the top allowed me to get a better take on the landscape. Again I seemed to see those weary travellers 140 years ago, straggling gamely across an unwilling landscape.
On the way back down the hill I saw a rock outcrop. I gave the HiLux a welcome break and headed over with my camera, those imaginary thoughts in my mind. From the other side of the rock, I could see back across the Loganburn and the road. How many travellers had this rock outcrop looked down upon? How much hope and despair had it silently witnessed, I asked myself? And the image above was made with that in mind/imagination.

A few minutes later, I made the image of the tyre tracks. They could well have been cartwheel indentations.

As I said, Chris, this is a time for me to expand personally, to really get work done, and to grow myself in all sorts of ways. And to share. My experiences with the willing victims who came to Okuru and with the workshops in Africa is that there is another way to teach photography, and that I need to think it all through, to lock down a new way of teaching that grows you as photographers and at the same time as individuals. The posts are a way for me to keep helping, to be of service. Your comments really help me to see the road ahead (I read and reflect on every one!) and to do better. Kia ora.

Chris, it isn’t easy, taking the wraps off. But I’m getting braver.

Many thanks.

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