Recently I had a photo exhibition at Melbourne’s Brunswick Street Gallery which finished this week. Two weeks fly by pretty quickly. This exhibition is a series of portraits of Wellington’s Kink (BDSM) community that I have been working on for over four years. For stylistic purposes, I chose to shoot this subject matter using constructed portraits and to emulate a cinematic lighting style. This project has been quite a labour of love: as well as spending many hours crafting each individual portrait – including multiple interviews with subjects, location scouting, testing lighting set ups, finding props and roping-in random helpers – I also raised the $2500 exhibition costs through a crowd-funding campaign, along with arranging for the printing, and packaging and shipping of the finished works to Melbourne.
When I arrived at the gallery two weeks ago, I was worried that the images would not fit well in the space. I had printed the images double the size I originally planned for (good thing too as they looked great as A2 prints) and I thought they would be a bit squished in the small space. Melbourne is a long jump over the Tasman from Wellington, so there was no way I could visit the exhibition space beforehand to see how the images would fit. However using my well-honed Blue Peter skills and rummaging through the recycling for a couple of cereal boxes, I managed to craft a scale model of the exhibition space, and quickly found the best layout for the images.
The evening I arrived in Melbourne, after having only three hours sleep the previous night, my curating and hanging skills were a little uncoordinated! Only the next morning, once the images were equally spaced and securely fixed to the wall (thanks to
a little a lot of help from one of the gallery elves) was I relieved to see that they actually looked pretty darn good (and not too squished).
Come the afternoon of the big exhibition opening, as I was preparing the finishing touches to the exhibition space, I was starting to get a little nervous about how the subject matter might be received.
And finally, after a quick clean and polish, things were looking rock steady…
It was a huge relief to see people spending time in the space and reading the captions and information sheets that I had provided. It shows people took a real interest in the work and the story that was being told. It was also very uplifting getting feedback from visitors, with one middle-aged lady thanking me for bringing this work to Melbourne and commenting “it was great to learn about a sub-culture that was so far outside of my realm of experience”. The value of this work was further reinforced by positive feedback the gallery curator had been receiving from visitors throughout the duration of the exhibition:
“I hope all is well! I just wanted to pass on that I have had an incredible amount of visitors express a great deal of gratitude for your exhibition. Our visitors have been learning, and feeling inspired. Your work invites a real personal experience and this has been really meaningful! It’s been exciting to receive all of the feedback.”
With the success of this Melbourne exhibition, I’m still hopeful that I can exhibit this work in Wellington as soon as I’m able to find a gallery space that is willing to show this work.
OK. As you might have noticed by now, this is going to be a rather long blog post, so if you’ve read this far, the actual portrait project as it (for the most part) appeared in the gallery, is shown below:
My background in documentary and editorial photography informs my work as a photographer, and fuels my interest in using visual imagery to tell stories. Curious by nature, I often find myself drawn to subjects that sit outside of cultural norms, or that are socially or environmentally topical. As a photographer, I am driven to make a difference in the world in whatever small way I can, and producing visual stories to provide a platform for discussion and engagement is one way in which I can do this. If people see my images and it has a positive impact on them, or provokes a response, or makes them think, then I believe I have succeeded as a photographer.
BDSM is often perceived as a deviant sexual practice, bordering on pornography. This work is an attempt to defy stereotypes, to show the diversity of individuals that make up the Kink community, and the benefits these practices can bring. Ultimately it is an affirmation of the diversity of sexuality and human relationships. The portraits shown below are a collaboration, and have taken many hours to construct. The exhibition of these images was designed to be the endpoint of this project (and this is the first time that they have been shown on the web).
As the Kink/BDSM community is rife with its own language and terminology, I have include a BDSM Glossary and an Introduction which is intended to be read with the image captions, to understand the accompanying story.
BDSM roles: Sub
Into: Sensation play – touch and sensations, scratching, fingernails, biting, temperature play (ice)
Describes herself as: Introvert, perfectionist, writer, feminist.
“Sexuality in contemporary society can be very confronting and repressed. In the kink community, you are naked. This is everything you represent, accept me as I am, warts and all”.
“Normal social boundaries do not exist in the Kink [BDSM] scene. Breaking these social norms in a community that is supportive and accepting is hugely freeing. The idea of giving up control to another is liberating and simultaneously empowering. You need to be a strong-willed individual to hand over control to someone else”.
Collar: the collar is a very important symbol in the Kink community and there are protocols on it’s meaning and display: it can represent the binding of two partners together; the Sub and the Dom; the Slave and the Master; or simply an artifact representing commitment and deep friendship between two partners within the kink community. It is also used indicate that a ‘play scene’ is about to start and that the ‘sub’ is partnered for the evenings play.
BDSM Roles: Sub, dom, switch
Into: Masochism, impact play, bondage, shibari, kidnapping play.
Describes herself as: Positive, open-minded, happy, quirky.
“I love living a double life in an environment that is non-judgemental, safe, and positive, with trustworthy, open and honest people. It’s nice [being part of the Kink scene] to be surrounded by like-minded people”.
“Pain (see good pain) is a gateway to go through to cleanse the mind, you come out almost being reborn. The negative stresses of everyday life are released. You see things from a different perspective. All mental clutter is gone”.
“It’s about forgetting yourself. Forgetting that you have an ego, that you have thoughts or feelings, it’s almost a religious experience”.
Special thanks to SFX artist Sonia Edney for creating the FX work for this image.
BDSM Roles: Sub, sadomasochist;
Into: Monogamy, edgeplay, needle play, sadism, masochism
Describes herself as: Secret geek, dabbler in many kinks but master of none.
A total of 152 sterile, fine-gauge hypodermic needles are inserted through Melancholiq’s skin. Pierced through rather than into the skin, the needles trigger the release of endorphins in response to the pain they create.
Needle play is becoming one of the most popular forms of BDSM play. A form of Edgeplay, needle play can be used as a form of self-expression, imitating tribal rituals for the purpose of spiritual self-discovery, or for sexual pleasure. As part of BDSM practice, needle play can produce an intense natural endorphin high which can last for hours and can induce orgasm in many of the people who experience it.
“The main attraction to [needle play] is the endorphin rush that I get from it. It is painful, but more or less so depending where the needles go in. Areas with more fat hurt less whereas areas where the needle accidentally hits muscle hurt a lot as muscles are particularly sensitive, and can cause intense pain. I try to keep them just under then skin”.
“What I also like is the challenge. I like to see if I can outdo myself from last time”.
Lexa and Damien
BDSM roles: Sub, dom, polyamory
Into: Impact play, bondage, wax play
Describes herself as: Over-thinker, caring, involved, sexy
Describes himself as: Hard working, adventurous, sexual, affectionate
“At a time in my life when work was very demanding and stressful, I found that the play scenes in the kink community were a good way to release the tension from my work life and to help relieve the anxiety which I have recently begun to experience”.
“We began exploring group play and this led to finding FetLife and the local kink community. We began experimenting with flogging, chains, ropes and other types of restraints, plus sensation play such as using wax”.
“The sense of welcome that we felt from the community was great and it was a very safe place to explore and discover what we liked”.
“I am also polyamorous and have another male partner. The polyamorous side of my relationship I have had to learn how to manage with timing, communicating, emotional needs and also considering the impact this has on our son, aged four, with another man being involved in his life”.
“BDSM and being submissive really supports the management of my anxiety. By giving up control to one of my lovers completely and being restrained, I trust them to follow the preset boundaries and I don’t have to worry about being on top of everything. I can give myself up to the play”.
BDSM Roles: Top
Into: Shibari, Flogging, Needle Play
Describes himself as: Kinkster who lives the life when I can
Duncan hangs from four large hooks temporarily pierced into his upper back, known in the trade as a suicide suspension. The hooks are attached to ropes strung through a rig. The fresh piercings bleed a little, but the rush of endorphins the brain produces in response numbs any pain, and under the guidance of fellow practitioners, Duncan is slowly and carefully lifted into the air. After the apprehension and the pain, comes an intense euphoria, a blissful state of being.
Skin suspension, a subset of the growing practice of body modification, has its roots in native traditions and tribal ceremonies – from the ancient Hindu festival Thaipusam, to the Mandan tribe on the banks of the Missouri River – and has been practiced for at least 5000 years.
Was this your first attempt at skin suspension and have you tried anything similar to this before?
“Yes, it was my first skin suspension. I had been suspended in rope before this, which I think is totally a different beast itself”.
What is it that interests or attracts you to perform skin suspension?
“Over the years, I have seen several suspensions around the kink scene in Wellington, my interest has grown over the years from “God that must hurt” to “Why?” to “Why do they look so peaceful and happy while they are suspended?”.
In the image, you look pretty blissed, can you describe your experience of skin suspension, the state of mind you experienced and what the practice/experience means to you?
“The endorphin rush was huge and I was up on a high for at least a couple of days. I think some people would relate this as a spiritual experience . I found it to be an inward experience as your mind is saying your skin is not supposed to be doing this, but you know it will, so it is a bit of mind fuck. Other than that all I remember was relaxing in to the slight discomfort at the time”.
Many of these body modification practices have their roots in ancient tribal cultures and customs, why do you think there’s a revival and growing interest in these experiences in modern day culture?
“I think the revival of these practice is a good thing, whether you are in it for the spiritual side or you do it as a rite of passage, as long as it is done safely with sterile equipment and all the other rigour that makes this a safe experience”.
“Why do I think there is a revival? I think people are lost in the impersonal fast paced world and are searching to find themselves, not a bad way to centre you self, in my opinion”.
BDSM Roles: Sub, dom, switch, transgender
Into: Impact play, flogging, bondage, sensation play
Describes herself as: Exhibitionist, husband, father
Diane has felt the need to be a woman all of her life. As a woman, she becomes a different person. She feels more comfortable and more herself. Living a transgender existence has its emotional challenges as Diane is forced to live a dual life: loving husband and devoted father, while dabbling in her transgender identity when she is away from family and friends.
Diane tried to live a ‘normal’ life, but the expression of her feminine side was too hard to resist. The first few public outings as ‘Diane’ were terrifying but she felt compelled not to hide her true self. Websites like FetLife helped Diane to find a community of people who also felt trapped by their own gender. She soon realised that she was not alone and found the opportunity to meet people in the BDSM scene who were more open-minded and accepting, which enabled Diane to live out her dream of being the hostess of a dinner party, and to indulge in her family fantasies of cooking, cleaning, and shopping for other people.
“I’ve always felt this way, but I always knew that I had to hide it. I’ve known this since I was eight years old and it’s fundamental to my being. I can’t repress this forever”.
“As a woman, there are more clothes to choose from to express yourself. The colours make me feel so happy and alive”. “If you are constantly wearing the wrong clothes, it’s difficult to be yourself”.
“It’s not just dinner. Afterwards somebody gets tied-up or spanked, and everyone else watches. There’s lots of fun and laughter. There are no inhibitions and people are not afraid of their imperfect bodies”.
“What I’m looking for is acceptance, so I expect everybody else to be accepting”.
BDSM Roles: Switch
Into: Dressing up (high-heeled boots, corsets, leather, bondage gear), heavy impact play, sensation play.
Describes herself as: Vivacious, bookworm, bold, fun, alternative, exhibitionist, flamboyant, extrovert.
Whips, corsets and high-heeled PVC boots are some of the things Chrissi loves about being part of the kink scene. “Dressing up is all part of the fun”. Her first experience of BDSM and alternative lifestyles was from attending the ‘Southern Exposure’ conference in Christchurch in 2006.
“Something just clicked. I met all sorts of interesting twisted and kinky folk, and have never felt more open and comfortable with myself”.
After sleeping in bed with a dog lead attached to her ankle and having to ask permission to go to the toilet, Chrissi soon discovered that being submissive is not part of her personality.
“It was an interesting journey. We worked out that I have submissive qualities but I’m not a submissive person.” “The relationship didn’t work out too well. It was definitely a control thing (dominance/submission) for him. I learned a lot about myself though and met a lot of good friends along the way”.
Chrissi is a “switch” so is equally comfortable being tied up and beaten, or doing the tying and the beating. Roles between playing tops and bottoms change depending on play partners and their dynamic.
“It all comes down to the dynamic”.
“It can be very liberating having a group of friends where you don’t need to hold back on conversations and pushing boundaries and exploring limits”.
“Your body is in a super-sensitive state for up to an hour after a play scene, like heavy impact flogging, so the endorphin rush, or subspace as it is known in the trade, puts you in an interesting place”.
“The bruises are like a trophy or memento of the play”.
BDSM roles: Sub, bottom, switch.
Into: Shibari, bondage, sensation play, wax play, polyamory
Describes herself as: Mother, playful, cheeky, energetic.
Often abbreviated as ’poly’ in the kink scene, polyamory is the practice, desire or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship simultaneously, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. With polyamorous relationships, the complexity of human relationships and dealing with the web of emotions can add significant challenges to poly relationships. Rules and boundaries are established for the multiple relationships to co-exist and function fluidly and each person in the relationship commits to values such as openness, acceptance, and honesty. Through the practicing of these values, powerful bonding may occur between the individuals in the poly relationships.
As Bex points out from her own experience, “polyamory requires a strict set of rules if the relationships are to flourish and each partner must establish their reasons and requirements for going into the relationship”. “It can be a balancing act, as strong emotions arise when dealing with human fears and desires. Strong feelings of attachment, jealousy and possessiveness can be confronting when they arise between different partners in poly relationships. However, by establishing rules at the beginning and committing to open and honest communications, can help keep these conflicting emotions in check”.
For Bex, joining the polyamorous community has taught her a lot about human relationships, and about how to overcome a whole swathe of complex emotions through spending long periods with multiple partners.
“I feel very capable of handling most problems life can throw at me because of the emotional maturity poly relationships can bring”. “Living together as a trio does require a big leap of faith. You have to put a lot of trust in each other. However, it can bring many benefits that a traditional, monogamous relationship doesn’t offer”.
Wax and Rope
In the Wellington kink scene, Bex mainly participates in wax play and Shibari. With wax play, the wax is applied by a play partner using burning candles to drip hot, liquid wax on different areas of the body, which produces a tolerable amount of pain. The sensations of the wax tingling the skin vary as the wax is applied more liberally, producing a hypersensitive state known as subspace, as the sensations gradually build upon one another.
Practitioners of modern Shibari rope play create intricate geometric patterns and shapes designed to flow with the body’s natural curves. The rope placements can also create physiological experiences known as “subspace” and “topspace”, an effect similar to runners high.
“Being tied up during rope play can release a flood of feelings of calmness and serenity”. “The restriction caused from being tied-up and made immobile creates an act of surrender, not of helplessness but of surrendering your control. You have to place great trust in the person performing the suspension”.
“Kink is such an open society that it allows people to have such self-experimental journeys of discovery in an accepting environment. It’s very liberating”.
“Being a part of the kink community is the most accepted I have ever felt because I can simply be myself. Everyone is so open-minded”.
BDSM roles: Sub, slave, bottom, sadomasochism, polyamory
Into: Pain and sensation play, sensory deprivation, heavy flogging, beating, whipping, rubber, bondage and breath control.
Describes himself as: veterinary surgeon, conservationist, sane, sexual extremist, queer, pervert.
“The feeling of being trapped, of being totally at the mercy of somebody else” is what partially attracts Andy to the BDSM scene.
“The clothes – such as tight leather, PVC, or a sleep sack (a piece of material used to totally enclose the whole body, and designed for sensory deprivation) – increases anticipation and excitement, the sensation of every touch is magnified”. “My imagination goes wild with excitement, when I’m deprived of my senses”.
An extreme sports enthusiast, Andy gets the mental highs he craves through adventure sports such as rock climbing, paragliding and motorcycling.
“These activities, while exciting, require your full attention. They are fully absorbing and mentally stimulating, and for the same reasons, this is what attracts me to the BDSM scene”.
The same rules apply. Pain turns into pleasure.
“I’m into safe fear. In BDSM, you have to be able to implicitly trust the ‘top’ or master entirely. Play with a master provides a very safe pain (see good pain). This way I can get the sexual excitement I enjoy without any risk”.
“It’s a big trust thing. Completely giving over your control to someone else. Building this kind of trust with a master and being pushed to the limit of pain and pleasure”.
Tom and Jayne
BDSM Roles: Sub, dom, top, bottom
Into: Bondage, sensation play, wax play, flogging, polyamory.
Describes herself as (Jayne): Vanilla but experimenting.
Describes himself as: Partner, father, greeny, programmer, handyman friend.
In the language of BDSM, Tom is a Top, which is primarily about being in control and is someone who “gives” rather than “receives”. Tom likes hurting people who like to be hurt. Tom is polyamorous and has a relationship with his play partner, which is purely consensual, and sensation play – flogging, scratching, whipping, wax play, and chains – is all part of the fun.
For Tom’s life partner Jayne, her journey into the world of Kink has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. Being ‘vanilla’ in BDSM parlance (a term denoting a person who has standard or conventional sexual behaviour), Jayne’s journey into the kink scene has been a baptism by fire.
To open a strong, loving, 16-year relationship to another sexual partner, to share the person who knows your most intimate thoughts and frailties, someone with whom you have entrusted your life, to another, takes great strength and courage. It was an emotional and psychological learning curve for Jayne, as she battled with feelings of jealousy, fear, insecurity, inadequacy, loss and low self-esteem.
To enter into a open, polyamorous relationship requires serious trust and commitment, the negotiation of boundaries within the relationships, and the development of a distinct set of values, such as truth, honesty, trust, respect, and open communication, with which to live by.
During this journey of self-discovery, Tom has been Jayne’s rock during this transition in their relationship: constant, calm and supportive. Their commitment to each other has grown, and together, with open minds and open hearts, they walk the rocky road into the unknown.
Tom and Clare
“I see my role as being Tom’s kink outlet and partner at BDSM events. Tom and Jayne have privately managed their own relationship and in fact have been careful not to involve me in their challenges. We agreed rules at the outset. Over time, we have all negotiated changes to the rules as the situation has evolved. I have also developed a friendship with Jayne where we meet periodically to catch up and discuss any questions or issues that have arisen.”
All three participants in this situation discuss issues and negotiate freely to ensure that everyone’s needs are considered and met, as far as possible. Clare and Jayne also communicate together and meet from time to time for a friendly catch-up. While opening their relationship has at times been challenging for Tom and Jayne, the outcome for all three has been rewarding, and overall the bond between Tom & Jayne has deepened and strengthened. Their commitment to each other has grown, and together, with open minds and open hearts, they greet their future, whatever it may bring.
Over the past 4 years I have been working on a series of stylised portraits of Wellington’s BDSM sub-culture. A total of 12 portraits were produced and I have just launched a campaign on the New Zealand crowd funding platform PledgeMe to raise funds to support the costs of exhibiting these portraits at Melbourne’s Brunswick Street Gallery in October.
For further information on the project and the PledgeMe campaign, take a look at the following link: https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/4660-kink-a-portrait-exhibition
I was recently given my first assignment by Sky Sports magazine NZ (sadly it was for their last issue) to produce a portrait of Mark Gilbert, the US Ambassador to New Zealand. When I first got the assignment I was a little apprehensive, knowing that it would be quite a pressured assignment. But simultaneously I was also quietly excited about the possibilities for a great portrait. The US Ambassador is an ex-White Sox baseball player and the crux of the story, at least as far as my part was concerned, was to tell the amalgamated tale of a sportsman-turned-ambassador.
I had two weeks to arrange a suitable time for the shoot and plan details for the portrait. It is very easy for your imagination to run wild with ideas for portraits (or photo ideas in general for that matter), and this assignment was no exception. The embassy’s press officer and I discussed possibilities of how to visually tell this story. Based on these conversations and further discussions I had with the journalist writing the article and the magazine’s editor and art director, I imagined myriad such scenarios including:
Mark standing, resting against a large, plush desk in his office at the embassy, while gently leaning forwards resting both hands on top of a baseball bat. A shelf lined with books in the background, and dappled, golden afternoon sunlight streaming through a window.
At his home standing sideways-on to the camera, in front of a large mosaic of President Obama, a baseball bat resting on one shoulder, a catcher’s mitt resting in the other hand; cross-lit but with light shadows to create a subtle sense of drama.
Email conversations with the writer and the magazines editor and art director yielded more useful ideas for the theme of the shoot: Rolled-up sleeves CHECK. Casually leaning against desk CHECK. Pretending to take a swing at an invisible ball NO WAY (if you Google baseball portraits, this is probably one of the most common poses). Draping the American flag over one shoulder, or have it hanging in the back ground. CLICHÉ ALERT (or so I thought!).
To prepare for the assignment, I created a shot list of 4-5 variations of the shots I would like to use; from full-length shots to tight close-ups. I even tested the simple two-light set-up. When the day of the shoot arrived, I was nervous but prepared. All equipment was packed and ready. I’d taken the day off work so no time pressure there.
It took me ten minutes to have my equipment X-rayed at the security gate, handed over my iPhone (no phones or cameras allowed – at least they didn’t take this rule too seriously!). I then met the press officer and we entered the foyer of the main embassy building.
There we were confronted with an impenetrable wall of glass, with a US marine barely visible through all of that semi-transparent protection. Here I handed over my NZ drivers license (as a form of photo ID) in return for a clip-on ID badge. The marine, in all of his well-drilled-robot-like fashion, proceeded to instruct the press officer of the rules I MUST follow, all the while referring to me in the third person. I guess I was invisible through all of that toughened glass (must have been unable to see me due to internal reflection or something).
With a roll of her eyes, the press officer escorted me into their media briefing room where I was informed that this would be the sole location for the shoot. It was a featureless room of approximately four metres by four metres, stuffed with chairs, a lectern, tables, audio-visual equipment and other non-descript items for all your media briefing needs. Initially I was a bit panicked when I was told that this was it. More so when I was told that the Ambassador had an important guest arriving imminently and I would only have 20 minutes to do the portrait.
Luckily for me the media room had several backdrops (black/blue curtains were my background of choice), four LED panel lights and a spotlight mounted on rails attached to the ceiling, and most importantly, an AV tech that knew how to use them. They also had an American flag I could use as part of the background! All of this enabled me to mimic a studio-look to the portrait, and to hide the fact that we were in a featureless media briefing room.
With a handshake firm enough to cause a temporary disability in my trigger finger, the Ambassador greeted me, and we ‘shot the shit,’ as they say, and proceeded with the shoot. Mark had fun toying with me, pointing out the irony of an Englishman using imperial measurements to give directions……..can you just step back with your left foot a couple of inches……..
Explaining to the AV tech the look I was after and the lighting style I wanted to use (contrasty, cross/back-lighting on the subject, with a spotlight on the background) I managed to come away from this shoot with some reasonable portraits under the circumstances. Not quite what I had in mind originally, but the moral of this story is to always expect (and if you can plan for it) the unexpected!
I seem to shoot a lot of film these days (keeps me interested in photography when I’m not able to photograph the subject matter I’m actually interested in), hence all the film landscape shots!
Recently I discovered the Law of Reciprocity the hard way. Reciprocity failure – defined as the non-linear decrease in light sensitivity (speed) of a film at the extremes of very short and very long exposures times. In real terms this means for long exposures a correction factor must be added to the exposure time in order to correctly expose a scene.
I’ve been shooting a series of pictures of Wellington at night using Fuji Velvia 50. For Velvia 50, any exposures longer than 1 second need to have the exposure times corrected to reflect the Law of Reciprocity. So for a marina lit by a full-moon at f8 with a 30 second exposure, would need a correction of 1 stop. Exposures beyond 32 seconds are not recommended. Being a slide film, Velvia only has an exposure latitude of 1/2 stop meaning that if my exposure is off by more than half a stop, you end up with an image that looks very much like this:
I was so horrified after paying $50 or so for developing two 120-rolls of Fuji Velvia, I switched to Fuji Provia instead. Reciprocity failure occurs with Provia at exposures longer than 128 seconds. My second attempt at producing a moonlit shot of Chaffers Marina looks like this:
I will go back to playing with Velvia now I know what I’m doing!
Finally managed to get around to developing some slide film of images shot during semi-recent day tramps in the Tararua Forest Park. This is a ‘sister’ post from an earlier entry back in March on the Goblin Forest. These images are stitched panoramas (one day I’d like to play with a true medium format panoramic camera) from 3-4 frames of Fuji Velvia 50, using a Mamiya 645 medium format camera.
Well not quite a tribute but a first attempt to emulate his style! Shot again using sheets of Ilford HP5 film, and for all but two of these portraits, using a 300W fake Kino Flo from Amazon (Limo Studio) continuous fluorescent light source, a reflector, and some black and white filters. Having just recently worked on a film set producing some film stills and witnessing how film makers use continuous lights, my next plan is to add a second light using a 300 or 600W Arri tungsten light. There seems to be no end in sight for accumulating photography equipment!
I’ve gradually been experimenting further with portraiture using a Sinar F2 large format camera. This is a very slow form of photography and can take an hour or more to make two images (well until I’m more confident using the camera). The speed of using large format is part of the appeal! There’s a lot to think about and a lot that can go wrong. But when it goes right, it looks really good.
I had the help of my test subjects Simin (in the throes of PhD madness), Tim (a colleague from work), and Simon and Cilla (my landlord and his partner).
The Bad and the Ugly
I usually aim to take two portraits of each person using a single film holder (to make the film go further in terms of the variety of images I can create with one box of film). One of the steps when using large format is to prime the mechanical shutter on the lens before taking the shot. I was distracted chatting with Simon and Cilla and could not remember if I’d primed the shutter at the time of making their portrait. It turned out I had……and I therefore did this step twice, creating a double exposure………
For the second shot, I had problems with the darkslide sticking after making the exposure and it could not be closed fully. Two weeks later I discovered that the sheet of film and fallen inside the camera! I learned the hard way that the darkslide has to be removed from the film holder in a slow and steady manner otherwise the darkslide can pull the film out of the rails which keep it in place inside the film holder.
I was commissioned by Unlimited magazine to create a portrait of CEO Linc Gasking of New Zealand tech start-up 8i, who develop virtual reality systems and 3D technology. The assignment came in on a Friday and the shoot was scheduled for first thing on Monday, giving me the weekend to organise props for the shoot. As we were not permitted to photograph any of the actual technology, to visualise the story we decided to shoot the portrait in Wellington’s Opera House to create the impression of somebody watching a 3D movie at the cinema.
I managed to collect 10 pairs of 3D glasses from a film junky friend, and managed to blag some empty popcorn cartons and drinks containers from the kind folks at Reading Cinema for the other props. I glued a cardboard baffle into the popcorn carton to give the impression that the cartons were full of popcorn.
I was aware that I would only have a total of twenty minutes to shoot the images for the story as Linc had to rush off to a meeting at 9am. As the Opera House is a darkly lit environment, I had already visualised how I would light the image, so when I arrived it was just a question of quickly setting up the key light, and have a second light back-lighting the subject and the Opera House seating.
Sadly this was my last shoot for Unlimited magazine as they have now been absorbed by Fairfax Media’s Stuff website, who use staff photographers rather than commissioning freelancers. Shame really as I love doing this work as it can be very fun and challenging.
Several months ago I was commissioned to photograph Glenn Milnes of New Zealand software company Ike GPS. The company creates software that allows the accurate measurement of geographic features within a photograph taken from any smart phone. As the company had recently launched onto the New Zealand stock exchange, the angle for the story was floatation.
The magazine’s art director had arrange for the shoot to go ahead at Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie, and luckily for me, Glenn was pretty flexible time-wise meaning I could schedule this shoot in the evening after work. Below are some of the images from the shoot:
It’s been a while since I posted any of my recent freelance work, so it’s about time I caught up. Spotlight Reporting is a company specialising in software analytics for business, based in Petone, Wellington. I was commissioned by Unlimited to photograph CEO Richard Francis. These assignments can be tough when it comes to creating successful portraits as often there is very limited time with the sitter (as generally they are busy, working people) and generally there is little opportunity to plan ahead with the photographs you intend to make, and you never know what the location looks like before you walk into it. Thinking on your feet and using any available elements to enhance the portrait are the order of the day.
Luckily for me on this day, the afternoon sun was shinning brightly and when I arrived I noticed that the sun was shining through a slat-wood fence and would be perfect for creating a star-burst which would help illustrate the story of a company called Spotlight Reporting.
Here are some more test shots from the Sinar F2 large-format camera which I shot and developed a couple of months ago. It’s an interesting learning curve using a large format camera. There are a great number of steps involved to obtain a useable image when using large format, and mistakes can occur at any step along the way. The website Large Format Photography, has a long list of all of these potential errors here: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/mistakes.html
The image of Mount Kaukau below is one example. This image turned out OK considering that I had to expose the same piece of film twice, and removed and re-loaded the film holder into the camera between my two exposure attempts. It was my first attempt at using bulb exposure with a large format (or generally any old mechanical) camera. The cable release (it’s an actual physical cable that mechanically activates the lens shutter) I depressed with my thumb, let go, counted the exposure time down, then pressed it again. Only after removing the film holder from the back of the camera did it occur to me that I actually need to physically hold the shutter open with the cable release for the period of exposure! I manged to get it right on the second attempt.
The other problem that can occur, and that I’ve now experienced, is that the camera rear standard can be moved or knocked when loading the film holder into the rear standard. If the camera’s movements are not locked sufficiently, it can result in the subject being out of focus.
The Tararua Forest Park is a large, mountainous national park just north of the capital city of Wellington, and is scattered with tramping tracks and huts for those with an outdoors bent. It features a variety of dense bush; from lush temperate rainforest in the low-lying areas to stunted, moss-covered beech trees as you approach alpine environments around a height of 1000 metres. At this height, the beech trees become quite stunted, the gnarled branches deformed by layers of moss and from the vicious cycle of storms which batter the mountaintops of Tararua’s on a regular basis.
I’ve been wanting to photograph these beech forests for a while now. A few weekends ago my partner and I headed to Waikanae (a small coastal town 60 km north of Wellington) where you can head east along the Reikorangi Road toward the Tararua range and the start of the Kapakapanui tramping track. A screenshot of the track is below:
The Kapakapanui track is a 6-8 hour walk, ascending one steep ridge and descending another. Climbing to a total height of 1100 metres, the track negotiates steep, technical terrain on gradients anywhere between 30 to 50 degrees. Lest to say, carrying a carbon fibre tripod, a Canon 5d mk iii with a 28mm lens, and a Mamiya 645 with 80mm lens was a challenge! The camera gear weighed in at 11Kg, while my water, food and spare clothes weighed around 4Kg. I see myself as a reasonably fit person so the climb wasn’t that bad. The descent however was a different story. There’s a good reason why many of the trees flanking the sides of the track on the way down, have bare patches on their trunks where no moss grows!
The images below were shot with a 28mm lens using the Canon 5d mkiii. The second image is a composite of three images to create a panorama. Eventually I’ll develop the slide film I shot with the Mamiya.
Kapakapanui hut is about 2.5 hours hike from the start of the track, so staying the night to recover and then spending the day photographing might be a better option. There are several rivers to cross at the beginning of the tramp too, so you’ll have wet feet for the whole journey. The Goblin Forest (sub-alpine stunted beech forest) lasts for several kilometres at the top of the tramp, and is an absolutely remarkable place to walk through. It’s certainly worth a visit.
Today, depending on your timezone, is the launch of the The Other Hundred – Entrepreneurs photo-book and exhibition. This is the second edition of the The Other Hundred series which was initiated to provide a counterpoint to the mainstream media consensus about some of today’s most important issues. The first edition of the book was meant as a counterpoint to the Forbes 100, Bloomberg billionaires list and the countless other rich lists that are constantly making headlines. The second edition of the book focuses on alternative, everyday entrepreneurs.
I initially found out about the photo competition for the second edition of The Other Hundred book a week before the competition deadline closed in June last year, and I only had a couple of hours over a weekend to shoot images for the competition. Luckily I new someone who would be a perfect match for the competition criteria: Alexander Wright of Wellington Woodworks.
Alexander is the director of a small wood working collective based in Wellington, New Zealand known as Wellington Woodworks. The group’s seven members share a mutual interest in handcrafted woodwork, as well as a conscious concern for social and environmental issues. The collectives members lend one another a hand with jobs and have access to each others workshops, equipment, vehicles. The collective encourages familiarity and connectivity with the built environment, and strives to empower both individuals and groups by building and promoting community.
Alexander has a strong social and environmental ethics, which is exhibited in the character of the collective in their choice of materials and predominantly, the use of reclaimed and recycled timber which is preferred over freshly felled and sawn trees. Each piece of reclaimed timber is shaped as much by Alex as it is by its own unique history, and casting one’s eye over his collection of reclaimed timber invokes great curiosity at the stories hidden beneath the rough and weathered surface.
An important aspect of his endeavour is nurturing the development of co-operatives and/or collectives because he believes that working collaboratively is the most rewarding way to work: “collectives promote togetherness, people working with people rather than people working for people”.
My images were chosen, along with 99 other photographers from around the world, to be included in the second edition. A selection of the images which will be included in this year’s book, The Other Hundred – Entrepreneurs, is shown below:
G’day folks. It’s been a heck of a long time since I last posted on this blog. A desperate PhD student appropriated my computer over the past couple of months, but now that painful exercise is (practically) over, I have my computer back. First post of the New Year – perfect timing!
Several months ago I bought a portrait book by Gregory Heisler called 50 Portraits. I was immediately struck by the immense detail and amazing selective focus of his portraits, created (mostly) by using large format cameras. I’ve always wanted to test drive a large format camera.
Recently, I’ve begun to notice that the inverse square law appears to apply to more than just light: I find that where I have half as much time to concentrate on photography, I’m four times more likely to buy more camera gear! Perhaps it’s a convincing way to keep that photography dream alive and burning brightly when time is a scarce resource!
Anyway, long story short, I bought one of these babies (well, I collected the parts over several months): A Sinar F2 4×5 View camera.
Now, you’ll have to ignore the camera-shake riddled picture. It turns out iPhones are only good when used outdoors! Who would have thought.
View cameras are unique in that the lens plane and film plane can be moved independently of each other. These movements are useful of course in architectural photography for correcting perspective where you have converging horizontal or vertical lines of buildings. However the movements can also be used creatively for selective focus by manipulating the way the plane of focus intersects with the subject plane. Playing with selective focus for portraiture is my main interest in using this camera.
I’ve been testing the camera using Ilford Delta 100 4×5 sheet film which I develop myself using a MOD54 sheet film holder and a 3 reel Patterson developing tank:
The Mod54 is quite an ingenious design for developing 4×5 sheet film at home. It takes a little bit of practice learning how to fit the film into the device in darkness but it’s pretty simple after several practices, once you get a feel for it!
When using the view camera, you first focus the camera onto the subject using the ground glass and a focusing loupe. Ignoring the use of movements for the moment, you then stop the lens down to a suitable working aperture for the required exposure and depth of field, and remembering to close the lens preview lever, you slide the sheet film holder behind the ground glass.
It was at this point when taking my first test shot that I made a rookie mistake. The ground glass on the back of the camera can be rotated to shoot both portrait and landscape formats without having to move the position of the camera. I had only practiced loading the film holder into the camera once or twice and it seemed fairly straight forward. However I had overlooked the fact that unless the cameras movements are locked, it’s very easy to knock the camera’s position while trying to insert the film holder. It’s easier to load the holder into the camera while the ground glass is rotated in the portrait orientation rather than landscape. However I forgot to rotate it back again before taking the picture. Along with a substantial light leak, this was the result of my first shot using the view camera:
My next test shot of Lyall Bay was much better:
As I am interested in using the view camera primarily for portraits (plus maybe experimenting with landscapes) I did a test shot on the desperate PhD student mentioned above:
The above selective focus was achieved by employing the Scheimpflug principle, to orientate the plane of focus so that it is no longer parallel to the lens and film planes. This allows the use of larger apertures while keeping the main points of interest in focus. To achieve this effect, I employed swing movements to rotate the lens standard (the part of the camera the lens is mounted to) to the right, and the rear standard to rotate the film plane to the left.
To complete the ‘vintage’ look, I developed the film in my bathroom. Throw in some dust and a couple of cats, and bingo, we have an old-looking photo. The borders were created by using a cardboard negative holder to digitise the negatives using the ‘Macro(lens) Method’ as I do not (as yet) own a scanner. No photoshop required!
It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. Only two weeks to go now until the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year 2014 awards. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and we’ll see how things go!
I’ve been rather busy with administration stuff over the past few weeks as Kaititiro Collective are currently working on organising a large documentary photography exhibition. This requires applying for project funding, hence the substantial admin work…….Anyway watch this space……..
I’ve always been fascinated by the characteristic gestures which people exhibit while smoking: staring contemplatively into the distance, hiding in a doorway with the weight-of-the-world on their shoulders, or looking like a 50’s Hollywood icon as a cigarette dangles precariously from their lips.
This may yet turn into a project for the above mentioned exhibition (assuming I find time to shoot more portraits). Below are some examples of recent test shots using the Mamiya 645 and Kodak Portra 400 film. I have to say I do like the results so far and it appears my light-leak mending kit has fixed the cameras leaks.
Having only used this camera for landscapes and abstract shots in the past, it’s a steep learning curving photographing dynamic subjects. The depth of field can be marginal (say 10 centimetres or so at a subject distance of 1-2 metres) even when using mid-range apertures like f8/f11. It’s relatively easy to miss-focus if you or your subject moves in between focusing and pressing the shutter.
I’ve recently discovered a fascination with photographing abstract patterns, particularly using the Mamiya 645 film camera. It’s photography’s version of the Slow Food Movement for me! These were shot on Fuji Provia 400 colour reversal film.
At Christmas I was given an exciting reportage/photojournalism assignment in New Zealand by a Swedish trade magazine, Polisförbundet, the Swedish Police Union magazine. Working with Swedish journalist Ossian Grahn, I was commissioned to photograph a story on the use of non-lethal weapons (tasers) by New Zealand Police. Ossian was in Wellington for one week interviewing members of the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Police Association, as well as organising permission for us to go on a ride-a-long.
We arrived at Wellington police station at 4pm on Saturday afternoon. We met the two officers who we would be shadowing for the next 12 hours, and followed them into the station carpark to get into the police car. At that moment, a high-ranking cop materialised and brashly told us we were not allowed to take pictures while out on the ride-a-long. Arrangements for the ride-a-long had been negotiated between both the Swedish and New Zealand Police Associations and New Zealand Police in the months prior to our visit and getting pictures to illustrate the story was the main purpose of the assignment (for me anyway!).
So for the first three hours, I followed the police around on their duties while surreptitiously trying to snap images from the hip using the camera’s silent shutter function. All the while Ossian was frantically calling his contacts at the Police Association to find out what the misunderstanding was and to try to get permission to photograph as was previously arranged. Three hours later the confusion was over with, and I could take the memory card out of my sock and openly take pictures to my heart’s content. Luckily for us, the more interesting events occurred after the photo ban was lifted.
It was an eye-opening experience traveling around with the police and getting to experience how they operate and view the city. It gave me view of Wellington’s seedy underbelly that I hadn’t seen before!
Having the opportunity to create this reportage and meeting and working with Ossian was also a great experience. Hopefully we will be able to work together on another assignment if the opportunity presents itself.
Below are the tearsheets for the printed article:
A couple of months ago I was commissioned by Unlimited Magazine to produce a portrait of Phil and Ted’s CEO, Campbell Gower. This was for the style of portrait known as The Office, and is predominantly more about environment than the person. Phil and Ted’s is an innovative designer of pushchairs and strollers. As you can see from the images below, this creative flair is fully incorporated into the fun and lively workspace. The assignment took about 1.5 hours, including the 40 minutes of manic driving to and from my work to the offices of Phil and Ted’s in the Wellington suburb of Newtown, during my lunch hour(s).
Following on from my previous post here is a sample of street photography images taken around Wellington using the Voigtlander Bessa R3A and 40mm Nokton lens. The film used was Kodak Ektar 100. These were mainly shot during my lunchtime jaunts around Wellington while escaping the confines of the office!
Recently, for my personal photographic work, I’ve been getting into using film cameras (with the exception of projects where speed and accuracy are required) such as the 35mm rangefinder Voigtlander Bessa R3A and the medium format Mamiya 645. I really enjoy using these manual cameras when I have the time, as I find that it slows the whole process of photography down and it becomes more meditative as there is so much to think about as compared with the speed and immediate feedback of using digital cameras. Coupled with the costs involved with shooting film, I find I need to conceptualize and plan images ahead of time, and really think about the camera settings required to get the shot, and indeed, whether I even want to make a photo. It is a great way to learn how to visualise how to construct an image, rather than relying on the view screen of a digital camera. Don’t get me wrong, I love using digital for the ease, convenience, speed and accuracy, but I also find it can make me lazy photographer through having the immediate feedback on the view screen.
Plus I love using the Voigtlander (a Leica M would be great for convenience) as it is a very small, lightweight camera which I can carry with me all the time. The pics below were shot on a roll of Ilford HP5. Colour pics to come in the next post!
Freelancing as a photographer can be a competitive business, even more so in a small city like Wellington where the photography market is small, and where several local education institutions churn out photography graduates by the bus-load every year. In Wellington, everyone knows somebody who is a photographer. The recent changes in digital photography and multimedia platforms, combined with the massive quantity of digital imagery available, have cheapened the craft of photography in the view of image consumers. It is this latter point I would like to discuss.
In September I was commissioned by a local magazine called Capital, to produce a portrait of stage actor, Matt Landreth, at the St James theatre. The story was to be a profile piece about an “interesting local doing interesting things”. An excerpt from the original commissioning email is below (click on the image to enlarge):
I was given 15 minutes for the shoot, which included using locations on and around the stage, and using props and/or costumes which are part of the actors character. Only having 15 minutes to get the images, you generally have to work pretty fast to get a variety of different shots so the magazine has enough work to choose from when designing the layout for the magazine. This means shooting landscape and portrait formats, in full-body, half-body, head and shoulders, and environmental portraits in different locations around the theatre. Plus using both flash lit and ambient lighting to suit the magazines style. As you can imagine, 15 minutes is a challenging time-frame in which to get all these different shots.
Upon meeting Matt at the theatre, he suggests wearing the only costume piece he had available which was a set of bright red Devil’s horns. The issue at hand here becomes a creative one. Personally I like the horns. Below are some examples of the images I shot for the assignment:
The initial assignment brief (see above email excerpt) explicitly suggests the use of the stage, auditorium and costumes being available for the portrait. Upon reviewing the images, the feedback I received from the art director was: “I’ve got your shots of Matt too, thanks v much. Just wondering if there’s any shots of Matt without those horns? The photos are perfect, it’s just the horns really shattering the shot”.
There was no further communication between myself or the magazine regarding this issue.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however the mention of an unspecific costume is alluded to in the email. Whether the horns “shatter” the image is an aesthetic opinion and has no relation to the technical quality of the images I produced. If I had submitted technically flawed images (i.e. out of focus, blurred due to camera shake, poor colour balance, poor exposure), I could perhaps understand the response.
Having not liked the images I produced for this assignment due to a cosmetic element, the magazine decided not to publish the images for the article. Below is a screen shot of how the article was eventually published in the October issue:
As you can see, the location and style of the image used differs widely from the original brief. Just to make it clear, this isn’t my photo.
When taking on a freelance assignment for a magazine, payment for the work is made either one or two weeks after the assignment deadline, or one month after publication of the images, depending on the size of the magazine or publisher. It took several emails to the art director and editor (from whom I never received a response) and several phone calls over a three-month period to get my payment of NZ$50 (yes it is a substandard rate by magazine standards but sometimes it is the principle that matters) for this assignment. When I finally received a phone call from the editor regarding my payment, it was mentioned that there was a “problem” with the images taken at the theatre. I was eventually paid in early December for this assignment. In my opinion, this behaviour suggests that the magazine decided to withhold my payment because they chose not to use the images for the publication.
This is very poor behaviour for a magazine which relies on freelance contributors for its content and features many creative individuals in its pages. This kind of treatment shows how the photographic craft has been devalued by a saturated market, and it is exploitative of emerging creative professionals. Every other magazine would simply not employ a freelancer again if the aesthetic style didn’t quite match their taste. Every magazine assignment is an organic and evolving working relationship, and sometimes a photographer’s personal style won’t always suit the clients requirements – and this is fine and completely acceptable.
I have been hesitant regarding publishing this post. I finally decided to publish it because I believe it is important for other photographers (and other creative freelancers) to understand their rights when producing work, to know the value of your work and experience, and the lesson to be learned is to be persistent when dealing with conflicts such as this. It’s our right to be paid for the work we have produced on assignment – promptly and without having to repeatedly ask for it.
I’m glad that all other magazines I have worked for so far have shown a much more professional attitude in terms of how they deal with freelance contributors. And I’m also happy to say they are all returning clients 🙂
I’d be interested to hear about other photographers experiences and how they deal with these unfortunate issues when they arise.
A couple of months ago I was given an assignment by Unlimited magazine to photograph David Dell. The Sheet Music Archive is located at the former site of the National Centre for Biosecurity and Disease Control (which has now move to the site next door) on Ward Street in Upper Hutt. The whole site has the appearance of an abandoned town, with numerous dirty, empty institutional-style buildings, desolate spaces with no human presence (except for myself and David Dell) and vegetation that is gradually asserting its dominance and creeping across and through unused tarmac.
The Sheet Music Archive itself is housed in a small, dark portacabin and is filled with boxes of, and random stacks of sheet music. Being run by volunteers, it might not be the most modern of archives but has its own chaotic charm, which to me suits the idea (at least visually) of an archive. Below are portraits of David Dell, who is the lead volunteer for the Sheet Music Archive.
For the past 6 months I have been working on a long-term documentary project about people who do unique and interesting professions. This project allows me to produce the reportage/documentary work I am passionate about, while simultaneously being easy enough to fit around my day job. The most difficult thing about doing documentary work is one, finding the time and/or resources need to work on documentary projects (i.e. some subject matter might require a persistent approach to build relationships with people before even lifting up your camera), and two, pitching the project idea and gaining access to the organisation and or community you wish to photograph. Hence the reason for me choosing the above subject.
The images below are the first set of images I have completed for this project and were exhibited at Kaititiro Collective’s first exhibition at Thistle Hall (see previous post).
The consistent winds on the Makara coast provide an ideal location for Meridian Energy’s wind farm development on the edge of the Cook Straight. With 40 metre-long blades, each turbine is capable of generating 2.3 megawatts of power, and the West Wind site is capable of producing enough power to supply 70,000 homes. Daryn Te Kere, one of several turbine technicians at the West Wind site, performs scheduled maintenance on one of 62 wind turbines. It is a calm and crisp winter’s day on the Makara coast, and as Daryn remarks, from 67 metres up, the work of a wind turbine technician affords “some of the best views in the world”. More of the images from this project can be viewed here.
Hey folks. I am slacking somewhat in my blog posts but I do have a good excuse…….
I’ve been collaborating with a number of photographers in Wellington over the past few months to form a documentary photographers collective: Kaititiro Collective. Kaititiro means witness in Maori. We’ve been meeting once a month to show and discuss personal work, develop connections and ideas and eventually create collaborative documentary projects and organise funding and networking opportunities to further our reportage/documentary ambitions.
This week we’ve just completed our first group exhibition at Thistle Hall. An opportunity arose for a last-minute exhibition at Thistle Hall for a one week exhibition, and we had a week and a half to organise images, make and mount prints, agree on a name for the collective, and produce flyers and posters to advertise the exhibition. We managed to pull it off, combining a fair few late nights while balancing our day jobs. Below is a blurb about the collective:
Pulling together a group exhibition in 1.5 weeks was an amazing experience and really shows the power of collaboration and how photographers can pool together resources, skills and experience to help generate the type of photography work they are passionate about and wish to pursue. Now the exhibition is over, next comes the development of a website and future projects. Watch this space for further updates. Below are some images of the exhibition launch.