Adventures in a disused underground station

I seem to have been a bit tardy recently with posts. But I couldn't resist posting this one....

A while back I noticed Olympus were running a workshop in the disused Aldwych underground station (look up the history - it's very interesting). I've always been fascinated by the ghost stations on the underground network, so this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed! Additionally, I would get to work with models. Which is not something I've done as a photographer; and any new experience can only be a good thing.

There were about 40 of us for the session. We were split into two groups over two locations - the station platform and the ground level area, with the groups swapping locations half way through the afternoon.

The setup on the platform was a kind of post-apocalypse world. Not really my kind of photography. But it was something out of my comfort zone which is good! Our photographer for this session was Gavin Hoey, who had set up two flashes along the platform - both controlled by a wireless trigger on the hotshoe of the camera. This was extremely alien to me!

We had three setups in total with Kerry on the platform and in the train itself.

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Although not my usual kind of photography, I did quite like what I got out of this. I played around with it quite a lot to get a particular look - very contrasty with a lot of the colour sucked out. And it was interesting to see just how the flash affected the shot.

After an hour or so down on the platform, we made our way back up the 140 steps for the next location.

This was a 40s inspired setup with photographer Marcus Clackson and model Beth. No flash was used for this, just more straightforward lights. There were once again three setups - in the old lift, on the steps in the concourse, and by the old telephone booths.

This felt more natural to me rather than firing flashes off remotely. But it was still hard work and very focussed! Because of the amount of photographers, we were limited with the amount of time in both locations; sometimes only having 30 seconds to get the shots we wanted. At first that was a bit daunting, but I had a similar experience years ago when life drawing at art school, so havig an intense focus is actually pretty damn good!

Whilst processing these, I thought it best to go in a completely different direction to the platform shots. So the lift shots I went for an Edward Hopper feel; strong colours but lots of dark shadows. The rest of them I went for black and white, but with a touch of split tone to give it a slight sepia edge. The monochrome shots I also really ramped up the contrast to go a bit more film noir.

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All in all, it was an excellent day. I mainly used my 19mm Sigma, with some shots on my old 50mm Zuiko and a few on the 14-42 kit lens. The whole set of photos (including detail shots around the tube) can be seen here flic.kr/s/aHsmap3nef

Some Black and White film tests

So, I'm off on my holibobs to a lovely area of France tomorrow. And recently I've been feeling a bit stagnant in my usual off-the-cuff style of photography. I've also been wanting to use my film cameras a bit more - my Yashica 635 TLR and Olympus OM10 SLR.

To slow things down a bit and make myself consider my composition more, I've decided to use slow speed films, which in some cases means using a tripod. I'm not fussed about getting people in shot - what I have in mind is more landscape based, but also probably urban landscapes.

I've used some slower speed film recently in the OM10 (see my earlier post about the Rollei Retro 80S). This time I've tried out Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford Pan F+ 50asa. Both 120 film shot in the Yashica.

I tried to vary the shots as much as possible. Some were handheld at 1/500, others as long as 22 seconds at night; unsurprisingly on a tripod. But what I did try to do with all of the shots was to slow down, take the scene in more and properly compose within the frame. It was a nice change and something which I'm looking forward to doing more. And I'm hoping it will also slow down my street photography more so that I can become more precise with that too.

As for the films, I'm not sure that I have a preference between the two just yet. Just from using one roll each, I think the Pan F+ is probably better for working with after. It seems to have more detail in overexposed areas which I could pull back.

I'm now getting my films processed at a great place in Hereford called Exposure Film Lab. Definitely worth checking them out.

 Ilford Pan F+ 50asa. Yashica 635. f8, 1/60.

Ilford Pan F+ 50asa. Yashica 635. f8, 1/60.

 Ilford Pan F+ 50asa. Yashica 635. f5.6, 1/250.

Ilford Pan F+ 50asa. Yashica 635. f5.6, 1/250.

 Ilford Delta 100asa. Yashica 635. f8, 1/250.

Ilford Delta 100asa. Yashica 635. f8, 1/250.

 Ilford Delta 100asa. Yashica 635. f16, 22 seconds.

Ilford Delta 100asa. Yashica 635. f16, 22 seconds.

Deserted villages and ruined castles

Surprisingly (considering the crap weather recently), the Bank Holiday weekend has been gorgeous and sunny! Which is handy as I had lots of things planned to do outdoors.

First up was a trip to Imber Village in Wiltshire; a place I've been wanting to visit for ages but haven't for one reason or another. Imber is slap bang in the middle of Salisbury Plain and was evacuated in 1943 so American troops had somewhere to train in the build up to D-Day. The villagers were never allowed back and Imber has been a military training zone ever since, with some of the original buildings still standing and some newer buildings made soley for training purposes.

The Ministry of Defence allow access 2-3 times a year. Despite its isolation, the village was very busy when I visited. It's an eerie place but the presence of so many people dented this somewhat. Maybe I should go back in the winter rather than a nice sunny day (not sure how I managed to get no people in shot at all!).

I grabbed my EM10ii for the trip with three lenses, although I mostly used my kit zoom of 14-42mm. Apart from the Church of St. Giles, all the buildings were out of bounds (due to the odd bit of unexploded ordnance here and there) so I was often having to zoom in a bit or shove my camera through bushes.

Flickr https://flic.kr/s/aHsm7jUSq4

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After the adventures in Imber on the Saturday, it was off to Farleigh Hungerford castle on the Monday. And once again, I had my 14-42 zoom on the front of my EM10ii, which is great for getting those nice wide angle shots of towers with plenty of sky.

I've driven past the remains of the castle a couple of times but never knew what a rich history it has. And I'm a sucker for a good castle.

Flickr https://flic.kr/s/aHsm1Z8keY

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Manual lens fun

I've used manual lenses on and off for a while. It's quite nice knowing that you have no choice but to focus in the 'proper' way rather than just relying on autofocus. Besides which,  when shooting on film I don't have much choice with an Olympus OM10!

Yesterday, I decided to go all manual with my digital whilst spending the day playing boules in the sunshine. I knew some shots I'd want to get would be from a bit of distance, so mounting a Zuiko 50mm f1.8 to my EM10ii would probably work quite well - basically making it a fast 100mm lens on the MFT body.

I found I was working with it surprisingly quickly by the end of the day - even wide open my focussing was pretty good. And rather than just trying to instantly catch a moment like I usually might with an auto focus lens, I was tending to watch out for something developing whilst I focussed, so it slowed me down a little but gave me a bit more time to compose the shot.

I've been toying with the idea of getting a 25mm lens for my MFT for a while (for a classic nifty fifty). But now thinking about maybe going for a nice old Zuiko 24mm or 28mm manual which can work on both my OM10 and EM10ii.

Oh, and as always: we were crap at boules.

Rediscovering shots

I know a lot of photographers like to sit on their shots for a while to let them stew a bit. And I can see why - often I'll go back to shots that I eagerly showed people straight away because I thought they were the best things I'd ever done. Only to find that maybe they're not quite as good as I thought.

It's something I should try and do more.

Particularly as I was going through some old pictures which I shot on my Yashica 635 today and suddenly stumbled upon the shot below. Which I was pleasantly surprised by. I didn't give it a second look at the time but for some reason it pounced straight out at me today.

I think it's the sparseness of it and the simple shape that the trees and reflections make cutting through the shot. And the lack of colour apart from the green on one bank and the browns of the other bank.

I'm going to be using the Yashica for some landscape work over the next couple of months in Cornwall and France. This kind of sparseness is what I have in mind, so I'm glad I rediscovered this.

Bath Carnival

This year's Bath Carnival was on Saturday the 17th July. The procession wound through the streets of Bath for over two hours, and this year was joined by Bath Pride.

My wife works for the charity Action on Hearing Loss and they were taking part as they did last year with their day care clients. So I volunteered to capture the day.

It can be quite full on, scampering around the streets trying to capture everything going on. But great fun too. I thought I'd shake it up a bit this year with my photography by using my usual short zoom and also a long zoom - something which I generally only get out when I'm lurking around at a motorsport event.

Using a long zoom made me work differently which I quite liked. Rather than having to shove my camera up into faces (which I still did from time to time), I found I could pick out faces and use the crowds to frame people and add depth.

The full set can be seen over on my Flickr page https://flic.kr/s/aHskZyx7RU

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Rollei Retro 80S

I don't shoot on film quite as much as I used to. But I still like to have a camera or two loaded up with film ready to go if I fancy it. I'm also pretty bad at getting the film developed so what comes back can sometimes be a pleasant surprise.

For colour film, I've pretty much settled on Kodak Portra 400 nowadays.
But for B&W, I've ben experimenting recently. I used to shoot Ilford Delta 3200 but in the past year I've been trying out Kentmere, Fomapan, and now some Rollei Retro 80S.

It's a much slower speed film than I'd usually use. And I'd stupidly loaded my Oly OM10 up with it in the middle of winter, which lessened the conditions I could shoot in. But with some sunnier days I thought I'd crack on and take some test shots with it.

And I have to say: I really quite like it.
I rated it at 50ASA on the camera and the scanned images came back quite light. But quickly pulling the blacks back down in Lightroom gave it a nice contrast range. Although the final image (below) was straight out of the camera - no tweaking there at all.

I need to go shopping for some more film. Thinking some more of this and testing out the 400ASA version is needed.

Live stuff

I haven't done any live gig photography for a while. So when my mate Buddy asked me to help him out documenting a showcase gig for the Bath Studio School BTEC end of year show, I was happy to oblige!

Not knowing anything about any of the bands beforehand, I was definitely jumping into the dark. I've only used my Olympus for gig photos once before whilst I was still learning its quirks. But this one was going to be a bit more full on - the gig was in Bath's Moles club which tends to be a bit dark (not that I'd have it any other way). And I didn't have time to experiment during several songs for a band as some were only on stage for five minutes. So I was chopping and changing lenses like a loon. But I'm always up for a bit of pressure!

I used four lenses throughout the night:
Olympus 14-42mm f3.5-5.6
Sigma 19mm f2.8
Panasonic 40-200mm f4-5.6
Olympus 50mm f1.8

Because of the dim light, I was manual focussing most of the time. And it was really keeping me on my toes! My Oly 50mm (an old manual lens from an OM10) was a godsend in those conditions. But I loved seeing how far I could push all my kit. I had to whack the ISO up a bit which made things a bit grainy; but I quite like that. It gives it a bit of a 90s indie feel.

It was a fun night; I learnt a lot in the space of a couple of hours about how my camera works with different lenses whilst trying to capture a lot of movement in low light.

And it was also great to see kids of a variety of ages getting up on a stage and playing decent live music. I just hope I've made images to do justice to the effort they were putting in!

Thanks to Bath's Music Workshop for asking me along.

Confrontations

So, an odd thing happened yesterday as I was out shooting. And this hasn't happened to me before, although I have heard about others experiencing it.

For the first time, someone I took a photo of was confrontational towards me.

Now, I know that not everyone wants their photo taken when they're out and about.  I've never had anyone say that they'd rather I didn't take their photo; and to be honest, if someone did have a major issue then I'd happily delete it. (Well, I say 'happily' - if it was the shot of the year then I'd be reluctant!)

The guy yelled at me in no uncertain terms that he wasn't happy, and demanded to know why I took his photo. And even warned that "I know your face", although I'd hazard a guess that he probably wouldn't notice me next time I pass him.

I didn't interact and just kept walking. Safe in the knowledge that I was quite a way up some steps for him to catch me up.

However, one thing did occur to me afterwards. And that is one of how I choose my ethics.

I have seen this guy around before and he's usually murmuring to himself in a slightly drunken way. Now, I personally draw a line at taking photos of certain things: homeless people sleeping rough in doorways is one. It's a cheap shot, it's not making any statement, and I think it's actually quite offensive for me to be shoving a camera that costs several hundred quid into a starving person's face without their say so. I'm also not comfortable with taking shots of someone who is noticeably mentally ill - once again, it's not big or clever.

But what of this guy? Is he just a bit of a slurry drunk? Or maybe he has a mental illness that I don't know about? And further to that, what of any other quirky, eccentric characters I might take a photo of on the streets? I don't personally know these people, so how do I know?

I think my approach needs to be the same as it has always been. To take the shot and then worry about it later. If I'm looking at it after the moment has taken place and I decide that actually, maybe the shot is a bit patronising to someone... then I need to let it go. There is a slight humour in much of my photography, but there should be a line drawn at poking fun.

Sergio Larrain

Sergio Larrain is a photographer who I've only discovered relatively recently.

He was born in Chile in 1931 and came to Europe in the 1950s at which point he was spotted by Henri Cartier-Bresson who invited him to become a Magnum photographer. He was only really active professionally for about 10 years before giving it all up.

 © Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

© Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

It has been said about his work that there is a great poetry within, which I'd agree with. But there is also something very unique which I'm drawn to, even though I'm still not quite sure what it is.

 © Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

© Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

 

I find there is a sense of stillness in a lot of his work.

Whereas a lot of 'street' photography ( a term I always use loosely) tends to capture a faster, busier pace within an urban setting, Larrain's work seems to capture the calmer corners of life. It feels like he's actually stopped to take in his surroundings.

It's almost like watching a film in slow motion.

www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/sergio-larrain/

 © Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

© Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos