Acknowledging your artistic influences

MARCH 2019

We all have influences and it’s only fair to recognise them, but hopefully move on to produce your own work and certainly not copy others.

However sometimes it’s thrilling to get as close to those ‘influencers’ as possible and one way a photographer can do this is by standing in the same spot and seeing…and hopefully feeling…something akin to that felt by your hero sometime before.

One of my great influences is Michael Kenna and in 1986, Kenna was in Halifax and took a photo reproducing a well known image of Bill Brandt’s,’ A snicket in Halifax’ taken by Brandt in 1937.

Here’s Brandt’s image, taken from his book ‘Shadow Of Light’ (Gordon Fraser):

Bill Brandt: ‘A snicket in Halifax-1937.

Like all of the images in the book, it is printed extremely contrasty. Brandt certainly printed in a variety of ways in his life and certainly went for the ‘soot and whitewash’ look later on.

I like powerful dark images and Michael Kenna certainly does too. His version is different though and was obviously taken at night with street lamp illumination. Well I say obviously, but knowing Kenna that could be moonlight. With reflection I think it’s good that Kenna’s image doesn’t exactly mimic Brandt’s.

Michael Kenna: ‘Bill Brandt’s Snicket, Halifax, Yorkshire, England. 1986’

As you can see from the credit, this is taken by Kenna back in 1986 and appears in his book ‘ A 20 year Retrospective’ (Ambient Foto 2).

Like Michael I guess, I turned up in Halifax and thought I’d go looking for the ‘Snicket’. I found it at Dean Clough, where there are still many mills, now finding different uses.

I was thrilled to see that the cobbled pathway was still surviving and later when reviewing these images, to even see the same cobbles stones identifiable in both the 1937 and 1986 pictures…and there they were in my 2015 version. The handrail seems the same even. That mill though has had a good cleaning.

David Taylor: ‘Homage to Brandt, Halifax 2015’

I was lucky to get a rainy day, just like Brandt and could image him standing there, looking at a much more grimey mill building, with probably a Rollieflex in his hand. I don’t think Kenna had yet got around to using his Hasselblads, so perhaps a Nikon 35mm. My picture was on a Leica Monochrom. Wonderful camera…alas I couldn’t keep it!

Michael Kenna has been good at crediting his influences over the years, such as homages to Atget and Cartier Bresson and others. He learned from these guys and went on to forge a remarkable style of his own. Alas I see work from so many photographers that is influenced by him, but without any credit being given. Michael we do owe you so much.

*******************************************************************************

Le Mont St. Michel – working a ‘photographic location’

MARCH 2019

In the early summer of 2015 I took my dear little Toyota campervan to France.

I headed to Mont St. Michel on the Normandy coast and found a quiet parking spot on the west side, that looked out across the marshes to the Abbey of Mont St.Michel.

A heavy rain cloud produced this image.

Dawn and nightfall are as useful for monochrome photographers as for colour photographers and as night was falling I got this with some mist lying along the shore line and just after the Abbey illuminations came on.

On another day out on the marshes I walked past a young couple, who sat down and started kissing.

Well we all are envious of French lovers so I had to capture them.

I photographed from various locations for about 3 days before settling at another spot on the eastern side.

As the afternoon past I sneaked a picture of what looked to me like a French farmer, who chatted on his mobile phone with the Abbey in the background.

I was photographing with a Leica Monochrom camera at the time and having been taking landscapes on a tripod, the camera had a strong red filter on it. In a hurry to capture a picture, I left the filter on and quickly took another stop off the exposure, as the camera meter misread the red filter.

Not sure which image I prefer…but the red filter turned the red trousers and shirt that this guy wearing…into a much more interesting (for black and white)… white!
Alas I wasn’t clever enough to realise that until I’d got the picture on the computer!

Knowing that evening was a good time and liking this spot I headed off along the track shown above. A pretty long walk but eventually, when it was now really dark I was able to get the image I guess that I had been waiting for. You usually know when a picture is worthwhile as you press the button.

It is obviously made by the ‘searchlight effect’ from the lights. I love it’s simplicity and think that even my hero Michael Kenna, who famously photographed Mont St Michel back in the ’90s, would have been pleased with getting it.

I felt able to drive away from this location…well until the next time I’m in France when I’ll try for another good image of it.

*******************************************************************************

My bit of coast- photographing Chesil and The Fleet

MARCH 2019


Living on the Dorset coast I’m near that strange bit of coastline that runs the 8 miles from Portland to Burton Bradstock that is Chesil. It’s a ‘beach’, made of stones that are washed up forming a bank with a partly freshwater lake, The Fleet inland of the bank.

One of my favourite spots is to go onto the South Dorset Ridgeway above Abbotsbury at Wear’s Hill. From here I can look down on The Fleet, bounded by Chesil Bank and with the rather strange ‘island’ of Portland beyond.

Sunrise with the low sunlight reflecting off The Fleet. St. Catherine’s Chapel is foreground and Portland at the end of The Chesil Bank.

Another morning, a bit later…perhaps 10am. The well masked sun is lighting both the sea and part of The Fleet. I always like the little country road, seen on the left when it gets caught by the sunlight.

And a misty morning. Portland just visible and now the light is on the foreground little hills, with the sheep…and that lovely little road gets quite well lit.

So I can happily walk up onto Wear’s Hill most mornings and see a slightly different vista.

********************************************************************************