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Phlogger aka Andrew Walmsley

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Abstract Photography – something new from something old

I often think back to my beginnings in photography and wonder how and why I have changed so much.   Today I am here to talk about the technology perspective rather than any emotional or educational thoughts.  You see, over the last months, I can only remember using my little Olympus em10 mirrorless a handful of times. In fact, I first wrote about this camera is great for street photography (see here). To be fair there are several reasons for this – the lens only extends halfway (max of 25mm); the second is the hot shoe doesn’t work.  

What this means to me is that it means I cannot use it for portraiture – since I cannot use any form of flash.  The other point is that having such a small sensor means its equivalent of double the focal length of a 35mm camera (so not ideal for wide-angle).

So where does leave the camera, on the shelf you might think?  Well, there is one area that mirrorless are fabulous for and thats live view.  It’s so great for playing with shadows and abstract work.  That level of instant feedback really helps you dial in the darkness!

The shoot

Sometimes it’s just not possible to plan a photography walk. On this occasion my wife had been feeling rough so I didn’t contact any friends.  Then on the Saturday morning she felt a little better but my youngest daughter was rough.  She didn’t mind staying in with my daughters so I said I will go out and get some fresh air.

All my friends were busy and even Tom who I had met last time (read the article here) in Sheffield couldn’t make it earlier.  I thought about just trying one of the places he recommended and then continue to any places I had missed last time.

University building (shot on Olympus EM10)

In the bag was the trusty Bronica with the 75mm again and some Kodak Portra 400 (only colour I had).  But this time I also added the little mirrorless with my shoulder strap.  This meant a small bag for my Bronica with quick access but also my digital around my shoulder too.  The weight is okay between both cameras and spread out, so works really well.

Bronica with Kodak Portra (shot on mobile)

Of course, as you know I have to take my glasses in case I need to read anything and a mask.  The car park and food would be all contactless so I wouldn’t need cash.

The work

I cannot show you the film work as yet (that will come after payday) but there are enough digital shots for now.  So as you know I’ve enjoyed shooting my architecture recently, but due to the long shadows of the midday sun – I had another idea.  John Hughes’s photography had been playing on my mind.  Bear with me while I explain this point, you see I’m a massive fan of street photographers like John Hughes and Mark Fearnley.  They shoot these fantastic shadows and highlight images by shooting in the sun or finding very contrasty subjects.

So as I was walking around the city the sun was shining in places and created some lovely patches of light.  This happened a few times in my periphery and after that, I thought I need to do more of this.  It is not everyone’s taste, but I don’t care, this is my work and I like my version of abstract (street) work.  What John and Mark do is damn right amazing and often takes balls of steel.  I don’t think I’m that person anymore and not capable of pure street photography, but we will see!

Disabled space shot on Olympus EM10

It’s funny when you notice this stuff you often go looking for it, but cannot find it.  I like to relax into the day and see what happens.  Sure if you frequented the places regularly you would get to know the location and where the light falls.  For me, this is the trap of regularity and repetition you have to watch for. Walking the same routes can make you miss things, you can get lazy but also very bored.  We are only human after all, that’s why changing what you shoot and do is important. It’s not the case for everyone, you can see John and Mark were born for the street!  They create images each day to a high standard and that’s not easy.

Shadows (Olympus EM10)

What I have learned from John was to watch for these pockets of light at times during the day.  But also through my own work and experience, I have embraced this with film.  For instance, when I’ve arrived in Sheffield I can see the position of the sun and the large buildings.  So I head off to shoot the side that is facing the sun – easy really!  

Well, it sounds simple, but there is also some distance between these buildings too, so multiple visits are always a great idea.

Architecture

Since I had my mirrorless strapped to my shoulder (sounds pathetic considering how small & light it is) I took a few “snaps”.  Normally these are shot on my mobile and through the viewfinder of the Bronica, but hell let’s mix it up!  Having this camera, meant I could get that instant feedback and try a few things.  As much as I love the ability of a mobile phone as a source of so many tools, it’s got limitations.  

Abstract Photography - park hill development with graffiti in foreground
Park Hill graffiti example (Olympus EM10)

I fired off a few shots around the Park Hill complex as per Tom’s recommendation mentioned earlier.  It’s a location you can see on your arrival into this city as it stands at top of a prominent hill.  It was a local housing complex built in the ’50s to house many people in apartments.  Like so many local estates, it suffered decline and is now being rebuilt (huge project).  So walking around this you see the old run-down apartments covered in graffiti while they work on the next block.  It’s a strange experience to many, but not uncommon to those of us who have lived in similar areas.  Since they are listed buildings, they leave the shell and start over.  For me, this takes culture change and investment, otherwise, history may repeat itself and the area may suffer again.

Abstract Photography - park hill development
Park Hill complex (shot on Olympus EM10)


It’s a nice place to look at from an architectural perspective and will watch the progress over many years.  To find out more check out this link to the developers.

Playing

At some point in your photography, you need to try new skills.  You have to just play and test different tricks and see what happens.  Just because you are living in a digital world full of science, it doesn’t mean you should ignore creativity.  Some of the most interesting work comes from people who shoot differently and it’s great to have your niche.

Being playful has always been inside me, from my early days learning long exposure and watching my mate play with orbs.  I have taught myself free lensing and multiple exposures, but this is the important bit.  You need to shoot using these methods for a reason once you learn them.  All these tricks could be useful for you at some point, so it’s great to experiment.  Just because I’m shooting architecture now, who says I cannot combine a multi-exposure with a street or a model?  

Abstract Photography - cheesegrater spinning image
The Cheesegrater building (Olympus EM10)

Now bear with me, I appreciate the image above is not something worthy of a magazine or a print.  This image was about what I just said – learning to play and understand.  So it came to me when driving to Sheffield, let’s try rotation. Many years ago, the light painter used to do it at night with street lights and make fascinating images. 

What I wanted to do was create a pattern with a building but keep some of it in focus.  Due to the bright day, I had maxed out the aperture at f22 and then managed to get down to about 1/30th of a second.  I tried 4 times making different motions of spinning the camera.  Unfortunately, the speed is still too fast so not perfect.  But with an ND filter, it may have worked better, as I envisioned the movement helping get a circular look but managing a little time to keep it still too so the center was in focus.  It was probably a stupid idea and something you would need a tripod and adaptor to make you spin.  However, I had fun doing it and I learned something.

Projects

If you keep learning, improving, reading and listening you will change and adapt.  It’s only natural to find influences from your environment if you free your mind.  Covid helped me reflect on what was around me, so I shot a few signs.  For me they are memories of British people – we point out the obvious.  How many times do we say nice day etc?  Yes all the time and I’m one of them!

In this case I’m referring to signs, I managed to take a few with film during bike rides (coming soon).  So I note this down on my app as an idea and refer back to.  During the walk around Sheffield I look at painted signs on the floor all the time, looking for that immaculate fresh painted tarmac.  On this occasion I was literally heading back to my car and found this out the corner of my eye.  Going across I smirk to myself (like a village idiot) and compose to try and get the arrow and word.  

Abstract Photography - picture of arrow on the road
The sign (shot on Olympus EM10)

You might not get it, but I’m pretty sure most of you will.  Why point forward and say left?  Anyway, it’s a small project that will take a long time no doubt?  But it’s just a little bit of fun, which is important.

Conclusion

For some reason concluding has always been easy in my work, so much harder than writing an introduction.  Today I’m struggling, maybe I’m tired (my day job is just exhausting mentally.)  Well, I just hope you like reading this, I try to bring in a little snippet of my life behind the lens.  I don’t care for perfection, I care as a person and love the walk and fresh air.  It’s all those things I talk about on my podcast – photography is a drug, its a passion and consumes me, but in a good way.

If you ever fancy a walk with me, don’t be afraid, get in touch and make it happen.  As long as you follow the COVID guidelines (it’s September 2020) we can sort something.


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