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 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

April 7, 2006

Shout out

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 12:49 pm

Kia ora tatou:
Have a look at this photo. You are looking at tomorrow’s graphic and web designers, film makers and photographers. Oh and did I mention animators. I have had the singular honour to work with these guys, an amazingly talented group. They have taught me at least as much as I have them.
Watch this space. These guys are the future.
But I am handing them over to a new teacher. So a big shoutout to you guys, to Megan,Hattie,Sammie, Noknok, Puk (aka Chickengirl), Mattie, Hamish, Amanda, Lambie, Stacey, Katie, Fishhead, Deborah and Ashleigh.
It has been great.
You all rock.
ka kite ano

March 15, 2006

After cataract surgery-seeing again for the first time

Filed under: Shout out, Something different — Tony Bridge @ 12:57 pm

Kia ora tatou:

As a few of you may know, I had cataract surgery on my right eye yesterday. The procedure was utterly painless and quite fascinating. It is all done under local and I was one of about 6 being done. A bit of a production line actually. I admit to a degree of dread at what the resiult might be. What if the difference was only minimal?

I spent last night with a patch over the eye, and I went down today to have it removed. I admit to considerable excitement ( and a little trepidation) at what I would see when I had it removed. I was not disappointed. The revelation was quite extraordinary. I have been told how wonderful the difference is. They were right. It is utterly astonishing.

  • Everything has got about 2 stops brighter
  • Colours are richer, especially yellows and reds
  • My perception of contrast has improved 1000-fold. Suddenly everyone has incredibly-textured skins, and wrinkles are highly evident, as is the microcontrast in fabrics and tar seal. I walked around in a daze for a half-hour, studying the roadway, leaves in gutters, and thinking how old some people looked. (Don’t worry-I still love you all!)

How to show you all this…

I have made 2 images, a before- and after-shot. That might explain it.

The one above is before as my left eye, next in line for surgery, sees the world: the one below afterwards, as my right eye now sees.

My friend Mark showed me a webpage talking about Monet’s reaction and perceptions before and after having his eyes fixed.

You can read about it here.

Ka kite ano

March 12, 2006

PSNZ Honours 2006

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 6:21 pm

Kia ora tatou:

As some of you know, I have been in Auckland for the annual PSNZ (Photographic Society of New Zealand) Honours Board awards. This year there were a massive 113 submissions, a new record!

I was elected to the Board last year, and ‘06 has been my first time on the panel. A few of you approached me to get help with your sets. I refused, since I really didn’t know the procedure, being the New Kid on the Block, and I was afraid I would put you wrong. I am glad I stuck to that, since the process has been a steep learning curve for me. I thought however, that I would share a few observations from the process that might be of help to those of you thinking of going for your letters in ’07.

I am convinced that every attempt is made to do the right thing by people who submit for their letters (and yes, I do know who made it and I don’t know who didn’t. Please don’t ask-you will find out in due course….)

Let me explain the procedure.

There are 6 people on the panel. All are Fellows. All have a long involvement in photography. All are specialists in a particular area. They come from all over the country. The procedure goes something like this:

  1. We start with Licentiateships in a particular area, say slides. We then do Associateships. Fellowships come last. Then we move on to Prints. After that AV’s. This year there were 113 submissions.
  2. The session begins with a discussion on procedure and marking criteria. Then the work begins.
  3. A few sets are put up so we can get ”our eye in.” These are then put aside and left until last. The title of the set is read out, along with any titles of individual works. Then the panel considers the work in silence. Each of us has two counters, a white one, showing we believe the work meets the required standard, and a red one to indicate it “falls below the bar.”
  4. At the end of the consideration process, each of us casts our vote. The votes are counted and read out. 6 reds and the work is rejected. We then analyse the weak points and attempt to generate comments helpful to the candidate for a re-submission. We are never told the name of unsuccessful candidates.
  5. If the candidate scores 6 whites, the work is accepted and the successful name is read out.
  6. If 1 red or white is cast against the flow, the caster is invited to comment. He/she does not have to speak. The rest of the panel listen, and if the argument is convincing enough, there is a re-vote. The result is binding. Some of us occasionally cast a counter-vote, because we want to ensure that there is discussion. Sometimes the rest of the panel are convinced to change their minds. Sometimes they are not.
  7. 2 counter-votes and the dissenters are expected to defend their position. Occasionally their arguments are sufficient to convince the remainder of the panel to rethink and change the recommendation. Occasionally they are not, and the result stands.
  8. If there is a tie, discussion is mandatory. At the conclusion there is usually a re-vote. The result is again binding. If the tie remains, the applicant is judged unsuccessful. There must be a majority for the submission to be accepted.
  9. There is continual cross-referencing to other submissions. Consistency of marking is critical.

Some observations from 2006.

  • The standard of work submitted this year was generally mind-boggling and some of it wonderfully creative (especially the Fellows). If you want to see the best work in each category, take the time to get along and see the successful candidates at this year’s convention in Christchurch. If this is the standard of work being done in clubs, then amateur photography in Aotearoa is in fantastic heart.
  • The number of slide sets was quite low, relatively-speaking. I guess this is as a result of people moving to digital.
  • The base level of technical competence was really high. When exposure and depth-of-field errors occurred, they were quite obvious and intrusive. I wonder if digital and the ability to ”chimp” is responsible for this increased technical control.
  • A lot of people seem to be doing their own printing. In some cases that was really obvious. Their choice of paper, printer and control of the print process was shaky and, in some cases, let down really good work. It is really important to get this under control. Look for a future post.
  • In many cases the images were so oversharpened that they lost detail and had really noticeable halo-ing. Sharpening is a taste thing. It’s a bit like salt. Too much on your food and it is ruined (yes, I know it’s supposed to be bad for you!). Again watch this space.
  • There were almost no look-I-found-the-filters-menu-in-PhotoShop sets. There were few, if any, sets with clouds A superimposed over landscape B shots. Praise be. That was old hat in PhotoShop 3!
  • I didn’t see a single backlit-sheep photograph!
  • It is really important to be clear in your own mind what is you are trying to say. Photography is a form of communication. An individual image needs to have something to say, a bit like a sentence. A submission is a superset of this, a chapter if you like, that makes a similar statement, only on a larger scale.

Anyway, I know that a number of you are thinking of going for your letters. Let me know what you think. I will add more as I think of it, and attempt to respond to any comments.

Ka kite ano

February 27, 2006

Formal announcement

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 8:00 am

Kia ora tatou:
I guess it is time to come out…matrimonially speaking.
As many of you will probably know, my marriage has come to an end after some 30 years. Those of you who have been there, done that will know that it isn’t easy, and that everything seems quite topsy-turvy. Actually, Hell is a better word.
For that reason I have decided to suspend my teaching at Canterbury University for the near future, while I consider future options. However, I still want to maintain contact with you all, and offer something in return for your friendship and for what photography has given me. Hence the blog. It is wonderful to see the comments that are coming through.
May I publicly thank those of you who were once students and have now become dear and cherished friends.
I am deeply, deeply grateful for your aroha, concern and support.

piki te ora
piki te marama
piki te kaha

ka kite ano

January 27, 2006

The camera looks both ways

Filed under: Shout out, Something different, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 10:13 am

Kia ora tatou:
Enough of the gear stuff. I want to share an image with you.
A good friend, Lindsay McLeod (or is that MacLeod), used to tell his students that” the camera looks both ways”. What he meant was that when we make a photograph, it says as much about us as it does about the subject and our feelings towards it.
Often when we photograph, something has moved us to do so. Ostensibly (I’ve been at that thesaurus again), it may have been the weather, the light or even a half-hidden memory from childhood. Or it may be something deeper. And reflecting on our own inner selves may lead to new directions in our photography.
I would like to suggest that one of the best ways to improve our picture-making is to keep this in mind.
Take time to look at the image. Minor White, one of photography’s great teachers, would make his students study an image for at least 3 minutes before he asked them what they thought. The point is, it takes time to understand what you have done and more importantly, why you did it.
When you have looked, ask yourself what attracted you to make that photograph. Was it light, the subject, your feelings, a memory from childhood. Note your thoughts. Better still, write them down.
Then ask yourself what the image tells you about yourself. This is the hard bit.
Money where my mouth is time.
I made this picture late one afternoon last November. I was walking back to the car after finishing a wedding in New Plymouth. I decided to make a few images for myself. As I was walking along the boardwalk I saw a group of unicyclists practicing on the seawall. I asked if I could photograph them. They carried on and I probably made about 20 photographs. This one took place near the end.
It was one of those moments when time, space and intention (the core artistic concerns of my work) all come together. I knew I had captured something significant.
It was only later, and in the months afterwards, that I have come to realize that I had made a photograph of my life as it has been for some time.
The unicyclist balancing on the knife edge of the universe is me.
A moment later he fell off.
Ka kite ano.

December 27, 2005


Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 12:46 am

I suppose I have been teaching photography for some 20 years now, and I have seen some wonderful images made. Every so often however, I get a student whose work blows me away and makes me feel hopelessly inadequate.
A sort of bugger-why-didn’t-I-see-that feeling. It usually happens several times
a year. And that is great. It encourages me and oftentimes reminds me how many good (no, great) images are being made all the time, born to blush unseen and waste their sweetness on the desert air, to quote Gray.

And then there are the geniuses who really do have the talent and the determination. They are so good that I wonder what I could possibly have to offer them. Their work is damned consistently stunning that I have to make sure it gets shared, any way I can. So I intend to use this blog to show what they are doing.
By now you will be looking at the images in this post and maybe wondering about the auth
or-in this case, authoress.

Harriet has been a pupil of mine for the last 10 months or so. She turned up with one of those 3 megapixel point-and-shoots that some of my learners bring along, you know the ones that most of us use to snap our family events. With very little input on my part, she got on with it, asking only for the odd bit of advice here and there, and doing it her way. I am glad I kept my big clodhoppers out of it. Her vision is too unique to be directed. These images are humbling, living proof of the adage that it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Harriet posts her work to an online community called deviantART( no it’s not what you think). If you want to see what the new generation of photographers are doing go trawling through it. Some very exciting work here. You can find Harriet’s section here.

Oh, and did I mention? She is just 17

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