Posted tagged ‘photography’

Photography: going for retro

September 17, 2008

I have mentioned this before in this blog: one of my relatively few hobbies is photography. I should say right away that I lay no claim to excellence. I suppose that for me it was the same as for most people, we take a camera and we click it at something, the purpose usually being that we want to remember the scene, or the people, or the object. If lighting is not good, we use a flash (thereby creating the harsh light and exaggerated shadows that will ruin any photo). We spend no time at all composing the photo, we just point and click.

But then one day I decided to do some close-up nature shots, and I began to realise that photography, particularly when accompanied by a reasonable camera (and more importantly, a good lens) can be more ambitious and more artistic. A few months later, and I had bought a good digital SLR camera and two or three good lenses, and I was able to explore the possibilities a lot more. Some of the output can be seen here. There are by the way two camps in the world of digital photography, Nikon users and Canon users: I joined the Canon crowd.

More recently, I started going backwards in time – I purchased an old East German Praktica camera, bought some rolls of film and started shooting. I now vary my photography between digital and traditional, though in film I only use black and white (preferably Ilford XP2 film).

I have not yet been doing this long enough to offer advice to anyone. But three quarters of good photography lies in the composition of the image. A good photograph needs something to interest the viewer – an expression, unusual shapes,  interesting lighting conditions. These days, many other flaws in an image can be corrected with software. But a boring photo is still boring even after it has been edited.

A good photo should engage the emotions, not just the capacity for visual recognition. When it does that, it is one of the most powerful artistic devices.  But most modern compact cameras are just too easy to operate, and as a result encourage people to point at something and go. My Praktica, which has precisely zero automated functions, and which has a nasty habit of tearing the film as it is rolled thorough, still produces quite wonderful images. 

There isn’t a ‘right’ way of participating in photography, but there are good reasons for encouraging young people to take it up, and to use it to articulate a vision, and not just record a scene. But there is everything to be said for experimentation and originality, and for the idea that art need not be for the elite; it can be everywhere.

Personal pursuits

June 18, 2008

I have no reason to think that this would interest anyone very much, but I don’t spend all my time being a university President, and I do have other passions. The three main non-professional interests in my life are literature, music and photography.

From an early age I developed a liking for Victorian fiction, in part because I believe that it was an era that gave us most of the best writing in English. Authors like Dickens not only perfected the genre of the novel, but also addressed the major social, ethical, cultural and political issues of the day in a way that influenced both fashions and passions right up to today. Apart from Dickens, I love Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope – the latter in my view a very underrated author. But I also like much contemporary fiction – I may do another blog entry on that shortly.

I am not really an artist in my own right, but if I were to make a claim for that at all, I would base it on my modest photography, which you can see here. If my work has any merit at all, it does at least create some business, as I have bought too much expensive photographic equipment.

However, it is music that more than anything else lets me be reflective and take a step back from daily pressures and concerns. I like all musical genres, more or less without exception – though clearly not all music is good.  I listen to a good deal of classical music, again mainly from the 19th century (but also from earlier and later periods). I listen to quite a lot of rock music – including (at random) AC/DC, Aerosmith, Queen, Whitesnake. I probably get most from alternative, indie music, and would recommend in particular the stunningly good A Fine Frenzy.