These pictures, taken more than 20 years apart, demonstrate the truth of the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Ever since the publication of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895, the concept of traveling back and forth to different eras has gripped the human imagination.
The idea of time travel has been explored in hundreds of books, comics and movies. The two that spring immediately to mind are Back to the Future, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
But perhaps the man who has come closest to inventing a workable, practical “time machine” is George Eastman. Although he didn’t invent photography, with his “You press the button, we do the rest” idea he certainly made it popular, bringing it withing reach of the everyday man.
Unfortunately, Eastman’s time machine can only travel in one direction – backwards. A machine that can transport us to the future remains elusive.
All this musing about time travel was really triggered by a short trip to the Golden Gate area of South Africa’s eastern Free State highlands. On this trip we stayed at the Sunnyside Guest Farm, near the town of Clarens, just as we as had done a couple of decades previously.
When I looked at the pictures I took on this most recent trip, I was immediately struck by how similar they looked to the pictures I had taken on previous visits to the region. But all the previous pictures were taken on analogue film cameras.
As I was looking at the new pictures, I kept being reminded of the old ones, and I had the distinct feeling that going back to Golden Gate was a bit like going back in time. Then I decided to actually dig up some of the scans I’d made some time ago of shots from previous trips to Sunnyside and the Golden Gate Highlands nature reserve.
What bothers me about the similarity of so many of my Golden Gate pictures is the thought that maybe I haven’t progressed at all as a photographer despite the advancing years. But, on a more positive note, the similarities may be due to being moved by the same sense of wonder I feel on every trip to this awe-inspiring place.
I’ll conclude this post with a couple of shots from my recent trip without reference to past journeys.
It’s not difficult to understand why people are so captivated the Age of Steam…
I recall a time when, after another day at school, I’d wait on the platform for the steam engine that would pull me home to come thundering into the station in a cloud of soot and smoke and steam that clogged noses and burned eyes.
In those days, we didn’t think of it as the “romance of steam”. Instead, we hankered after something cleaner and quieter. Something that was more 20th century. Like the electric trains they had in more advanced parts of the country, like Johannesburg!
But little did I know as I cursed the huge, hissing, snorting, smoke-belching monsters arriving at the station every day, that I was witnessing the end of an era. Or that steam enthusiasts were, even then, travelling halfway across the globe to ride in these carriages being manhandled along the rails by [gasp!] “working steam locomotives!”
Today I too look back with a warm sense of nostalgia on these magnificent beasts. What is it about steam locomotives that so captures our imagination? I think it’s that more than any other type of engine, the steam locomotive is as close as machinery can get to becoming a living, breathing, creature. A creature with a heart and soul. An almost mystical, mythical fire-breathing dragon.
The photographs in this post were taken at a Reefsteamer’s Open Day, held in conjunction with the Sandstone Heritage Trust, on October 24th, 2015. A friend of mine owns a 1931 Model A Ford and this is what brought us, rather appropriately I thought, to the Reefsteamer’s Germiston Depot.
You can see a few more shots from this shoot over at my Flickr stream
The writer of this latest piece on the topic, appearing on the Light Stalking website, Dsvonko Petrovski, claims the situation has arisen because we, the photographic neophytes out there, don’t actually know what a photographer really is.
Not to worry though, Dsvonko is going to set us straight, show us the life that “we photographers have, and what we actually do.” (emph. added)
Mr. Ptrovski says:
“In my personal experience I’ve learned that people often ask for photographers to work for free because they compare the profession to snapping pictures with their smartphone. Since that is a fairly easy task, the work that professional photographers do is devalued.”
Well, is it such an easy task? Yes, and no. Producing an image is easy enough, even for a complete novice, but producing a great image, or even just a very good one, is an entirely different matter. My contention is always that a good, professional, photographer is quite capable of producing better shots with a smartphone than the average non-professional with an SLR.
If you don’t believe me, head on over to YouTube and do a search for “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera”. You’ll arrive at a series of videos produced by Kai W of Digital Rev fame, in which he challenges professional photographers of varying specialties to use cheap cameras to see what kind of results they can produce.
Invariably, the results are surprisingly good. Because photography is more about the “eye” than the equipment. In fact, the eye is by far the most advanced (and valuable) piece of photographic equipment we posses.
Another quote from the article:
You might see photography as a mere art of pressing a button on a fancy camera, but if you (as a person who has no knowledge in professional grade cameras) were to wield that thing, you’d realize that it is not an easy task.
Actually, as a potential client, I have absolutely no interest in how difficult it is to “wield that thing”. You’re the pro, I expect you to be able to wield it competently and expertly, and not expect me to hold an increased idea of your value because of your ability to do so. (If you’re having difficulty wielding your equipment, may I suggest you look for something that’s maybe a little easier to handle, like a lighter, mirrorless setup, for instance.)
He also argues that a chef is not judged by his “fancy pots and pans” but by the quality of his food. Exactly. But you don’t hear chefs moaning about how difficult it is to chop carrots with a potentially-lethal weapon, or wield heavy pots and pans, or stand in front of a dangerous open flame all day long. That goes with the territory. Can you imagine the hoots of derision if a chef were to suggest that because he works in a hot kitchen he is more “valuable”.
So it’s no use telling me about your expensive lenses and cameras, or your experience, or your ability. Just show me the shots. I’m not referring only to Dsvonko here, but any pro photographer who thinks he is “undervalued”.
Now, if you listen up, I’m about to reveal the real secret to getting your full worth as a photographer, and it has very little to do with how good or bad a photographer you are, because…
YOU ARE WORTH EXACTLY WHAT YOU CAN GET
Nothing more, nothing less. If you feel you’re not getting enough, ask for more. If your clients won’t pay you more, find other, more appreciative, clients. I bet no-one asks Denis Reggie to work for nothing.
Yet despite his well-deserved international reputation as arguably the best wedding photographer in the world – a reputation won, I might add, over decades in the game – Mr. Regie never stops marketing his business. And, funnily enough, I don’t see him writing articles about being “undervalued”. Could there be a correlation?
Simply put, marketing is the most important activity any business undertakes. Because marketing, good marketing, is about acquiring and keeping clients. Without clients you don’t have a business, you only have a dream.
Ultimately, the market determines your real value. If you can’t get what you think you’re worth, maybe you’re not worth what you think you are. In which case you might want to consider an alternative source of income.
Successful photographers – in fact, successful people in general – don’t have the time or the inclination to write sob stories about how undervalued they are, they’re too busy doing what it takes to be successful in the first place.
To see this principle in action, take a look at the website of Alex Koloskov, as well as his Photogy site. Alex is carving out a successful business for himself because not only is he a superb photographer with a passion for helping others, he also “gets” marketing.
I only know of him through his website and online activities, I don’t know him personally, but I’d put a dime or two on my belief that when clients approach him for a shoot, they don’t quibble too much about the price.
However, if a client pressurises you into doing a shoot for no money, and you feel as though you have no option but to acquiesce, here’s a suggestion on how to handle it: Agree to do the shoot, but show up with just your cell phone and no other equipment (do not forewarn them you are going to do this). If the client demands you use “proper” equipment, tell them that that equipment has to pay its way and can only be used for paying clients, but you are prepared to slot in a quick “freebie” using just your phone.
Whether they then agree to pay you for a “proper” shoot or not is immaterial; in their eyes your value has instantly risen exponentially, because you have made a stand and not backed down. They are unlikely to ask you for a freebie again.
In closing, if Dsvonko really wants to know what it’s like having one’s work devalued, he should try writing for living! Do you have any idea how much word processing software costs!? Not to mention my expensive education, and the courses I have to take to stay ahead of the game. Then there are the dictionaries, thesauruses, grammar style guides, my computer and on and on and on…
I would write a blog post about it but I doubt I’d be paid for it…and no-one cares, anyway.
This is the kind of place I love to photograph. I find so much visual interest and stimulation at industrial sites like this I could happily stay here the whole day. Patterns, textures, colours, angles…what more could you ask for? I took these photographs from a balcony overlooking the yard of a company that manufactures and hires out scaffolding for the building industry. There’s something about this yard, too, that brings to my mind paintings by the Venetian painter, Canaletto. It’s not that the yard looks like a Canaletto painting, but there’s just something about it that makes me think of some of his works.
Now I’m wondering if any of their product was used to erect some, or all, of the grandstands at Kyalami racing circuit for big racing events …
… or on the Sandton, Johannesburg, construction site pictured below?
Well it’s another Weekly Challenge posted by WordPress’s Daily Post blog.
This time the theme is “Your Happy Place”, as in “Where do you go to get your groove back?”
There plenty of places in South Africa that are truly awe-inspiring, but for me, the one place that is more majestic than most is Cape Point. I’m going to shut up, now, and let the pictures transport me back to those windswept heights I don’t get to nearly often enough.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Boundaries.”
(Click on images for larger views)
“Boundaries” is, of course, a wide open topic. Almost anything can be used to represent a boundary of one sort or another.
In Johannesburg, with it’s high crime rate, we are very used to seeing boundaries. Almost everyone has some sort of security fencing or a high wall around their property, armed security guards patrol many shopping precincts and malls, and you have to go through security checkpoints at most office parks and buildings, factories, and places of work.
Most people have either been the victim of a crime, or have a close relative or friend who has. I, myself, have had a car taken from me at gunpoint.
Despite all this, we Jo’burgers remain a generally optimistic bunch of people. We put in place the measures we can and get on with our lives.
We began early, about 5 a.m., to catch the sunrise views of Johannesburg city from Melville Koppies Municipal Nature Reserve (which is where both these pictures were taken). At about 7:30 we met with other Joburg Photwalkers (who didn’t want to make the dawn patrol start), at 27 Boxes in Melville proper. 27 Boxes is just a few yards from my home so this year’s walk was very convenient for me!
The photo below was taken during a photowalk with the good people of Fujifilm South Africa (who supplied us with X-Series cameras to try) and Kameraz, a Johannesburg photographic retail store.
Of course, the zoo provides a boundary between humans and wild animals so the animals can be viewed safely. Usually, though, the humans are on the other side of the fence, so I was somewhat bemused to find this fellow inside the cage.
Update: I keep finding more and more barrier pictures. I’m now thinking of renaming my computer “The Great Barrier Geek”. The shot below depicts crowd control barriers at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, when stadiums across South Africa were gearing up for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Just one more. In the picture below we see a crowd of tourists waiting for the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Royal Palace of Monaco. This picture is a demonstration of the power of suggestion. As you can see, we were kept in check by nothing more than a simple chain link fence that could be easily stepped over or knocked down. But the chain, merely because it was placed there by someone in authority (or so we think), assumes the strength to hold back dozens of bodies. Of course, it helps if the crowd doesn’t become too unruly.
I’ve been absent from my blog for awhile as I’ve had a few health issues to deal with, but I’m well on the mend and ready to hit the keyboard again. At least I think I am.
Obviously I haven’t spent the past few months in total isolation and have been following on-line activities to one degree or another. But I can’t say I’ve been out photographing madly and have anything to show for it. Just the opposite, in fact. I don’t think I’ve clicked a camera shutter in about four months or more (at least since May, if memory serves me correctly).
Anyway, on the way home after fetching one of my daughters from work yesterday, I drove past this fleet of red buses parked in Jan Smuts Avenue, outside the Jo’burg Zoo. Obviously a school visit. But I thought it was quite unusual to see quite as many red buses so far from London.
No less an authority than Allen Murabayashi, Chairman and Co-founder of Photoshelter, posted an article on his site’s blog posing this very question. I was somewhat surprised when I saw the title of the article, and at first I dismissed it as someone seeking a bit of controversy for the sake of it.
Then I began to ponder the question. Is Black + White a gimmick?
Originally, all photography was b+w, and, apart from some early pioneers, it remained that way for several decades. The question then was not “is b+w a gimmick?”, but rather “is photography a gimmick?” B+W was all you had. In the 1930s, as Murabayashi states, Kodak introduced Kodakchrome, and colour became “mainstream”.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s I can remember very few (perhaps only two) people who used Kodachrome, or colour slides as we plebs used to call them. The vast majority of us still used “normal” black and white film. Colour slides were for people who took their photography seriously. But there was no getting away from it, those Kodachrome pictures were impressive. I’m not talking about impressive from a colour rendition perspective – who the heck knew anything about colour rendering back then? – I’m talking about impressive due to the simple fact that they were in colour. Of course we saw colour photographs in magazines, but here was a picture, shot by Uncle George, who was just “one of us”, that was also in colour.
Only b+w film went into our family camera, a Kodak Brownie. We didn’t even think of it as black and white, to us it was just film. We didn’t even know if the camera could shoot colour! If someone had asked us “Why don’t you take colour pictures?” we would probably have replied “because we only have a black and white camera.” In that context one may well have asked “Is colour photography a gimmick?”
Colour really came into its own when cheap, fast, print emulsions appeared on the scene. Easy to process with non-proprietary processes, suddenly everyone could “take” colour pictures – even people who weren’t interested in photography per se.
And with the arrival of the automated one-hour photo lab, it appeared black and white photography was headed for the “remember when” basket.
As colour film and processing became the dominant force in photography, the use of b+w became more of a creative choice. Black and white photography still relied on traditional developing and printing skills which relatively few people were interested in mastering.
But, here’s the thing; even when black and white was all we had, there were still relatively few people who were interested in mastering processing and printing skills. By far the majority of us were happy to drop our film off at the chemist and pick up the negatives and enlargements a few days later. Only “serious” photographers did their own processing. What’s more, the same later applied to colour processing as well. Because no matter how easy colour became, there were still a few people who wanted to do it themselves. Let’s face it, no one-hour lab could do the job as well as a skill;ed darkroom technician. Still, no-one asked if black and white photography was a gimmick.
Another aspect to this conundrum is of course that “older” photographers learned their craft on black and white. Those who took their craft seriously only began to experiment with colour after they had mastered black and white. Some, like Alfred Eisenstaedt, never really moved on to colour in any significant way. I remember seeing the legendary Mr. Eisenstaedt when he gave a lecture at an exhibition of his work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. In the closing minutes of that lecture he put up a few colour shots he’d done on his travels in South Africa. During question time he was asked if his approach to colour was any different to his approach to black and white. “Oh yes,” he replied, “very different. When I want to shoot in colour I put colour film in my camera.”
It may have been a creative choice, but it wasn’t a gimmick any more than colour was. And there were still enough enthusiasts willing to pursue monochrome to make it a viable proposition for companies making the necessary tools for it; film, chemicals, paper, enlargers, trays, and all the other accoutrements of the analogue dark room, well into the 1990s.
The Digital Age
Everything, of course, has to start somewhere. The first digital camera to hit the consumer market was the Logitech Photoman, released in 1990. And guess what? It only shot black and white pictures. That’s right, if you wanted to shoot digital pictures in 1990, you could only do so in glorious greyscale. And with only 376×240 pixels, the pictures were not great. In some ways the dawn of digital photography was quite similar to the ascendance of analogue.
These days, everyone who carries a cell phone also carries a camera. The world has never been as photographed as it is today. And whether we carry a smart phone or stand-alone camera, we’ve never been this spoiled for choice. Switching from colour to black and white is as easy as pressing a button.
With each advancement in photography the photographer’s choices have increased. At one time large format was the only format. Then small and medium format became available. Once there was only black and white. Then along came colour transparency and suddenly we could choose colour or mono. Then colour print technology arrived on the scene so we could choose how we wanted to shoot our colour. Then SLRs gave us a massively expanded range of lenses to choose from. And so on, and so on. It’s simply a matter of choice. And our choice depends on what we want to say. In fact, I believe it’s what we are trying to say, or convey to the world, that should be the underlying reason for any choice we make about both equipment and treatment.
With this underlying attitude to photography, there are really only two questions to answer: 1.) Will the equipment I’m using help me realise my vision as a photographer? and 2.) Will the treatment I have in mind for this picture (or body of work) help me convey the message I want to convey? If a black and white treatment will better convey your message then that’s what you should use. It’s not about is which is better, or if one is a gimmick or not. They are equal. But different.
That’s why I don’t believe b+w in this day and age is a gimmick. If it is, then shooting in colour is just as much of a gimmick.
In all fairness, Murabayashi doesn’t conclude that black and white is a gimmick. I think he takes a very very balanced view of the subject. My response is more a response to the title, which poses an interesting question, rather than the entire post. His post quotes several photographers and makes for interesting reading if this topic interests you. You can find his original Photoshelter article here
Acommenter on my previous post (who am I kidding – the only commenter on my previous post) alluded to an incident that happened to me some years ago while on a brief holiday at Lotheni (pr. loo-teenie) camp in the Drakensberg mountains.
The commenter in question knows about this incident because he was there when it happened, although perhaps a bit too young to recall it in much detail. I was snapping shots of a stream and thought the middle of the rock-strewn waterway might present a more interesting aspect than that from the bank, so I set off to find out.
It wasn’t long, of course, before I lost my balance on the slippery rocks and stuck out my arm to prevent myself tumbling into the icy water. Unfortunately, at the end of that arm was my hand, firmly grasping my trusty Olympus OM1, which took an unceremonious dunking. Fortunately this was clean mountain water and some time in the sun with everything open that could be opened on the camera dried it out nicely and it was ready for action again the next day, seemingly none the worse for wear.
A few heart-stopping moments but no long-term damage, and I continued using that camera for years afterwards.
The dam in this picture was almost the scene of a holiday tragedy some years ago. I was reminded of this story thanks to a post by Elné, one of my Flickr contacts.
You see, I nearly fell off that wall. My wife and I were visiting the Golden Gate National Park with some friends of ours, and when we saw the dam we decided to follow the path down to the wall. Once there we sat around for awhile making small talk and enjoying the beauty of the scenery, and probably secretly dreading the steep climb back to the cars. At some point I speculated about the view from the other side of the wall, and what the picture-taking opportunities would be like.
I was faced with two options; I could take a long walk around the dam which I estimated would take about 11⁄2 – 2 hours through possibly-snake-infested long grass, or I could take a quick hop across the dam wall, est. time = 2 mins. In essence, a no-brainer.
Now, although the wall looks quite narrow, I assure you it’s quite wide enough to take an easy stroll across, unless you suffer from vertigo, which I don’t. But there’s something about the wall which is invisible to the naked eye, and made me realise that width isn’t the only consideration when taking a walk across a dam wall.
Water had been spilling over the wall for the better part of the summer, and probably for summers stretching back several decades. It didn’t appear to be a problem on that day as it wasn’t flowing strongly and it was probably not more than an inch deep. At the worst, I figured I’d get my shoes wet, but hey, what’s a pair of shoes in comparison to the joy of finding a spectacular picture? There was also a layer of reeds and plant matter on the wall but I felt as long as I was careful these also shouldn’t pose any problems.
With such thoughts in mind I set out confidently onto the wall, eager to drink in the views from the other side. My first few strides were problem-free. It was only when I hit the wet part that I discovered to my horror the wall was so slippery with algae and decaying plant matter it was a bit like walking on an ice rink. The wall suddenly looked much narrower, much higher, and much more malevolent. On one side of me was the full-to-overflowing dam, on the other, a 10 – 20 metre drop onto bare rocks and concrete. To make matters worse, the heavy heavy camera bag slung over my shoulder certainly didn’t make balancing any easier. I didn’t want to end up in the water with all my gear, nor did I particularly relish the thought of tumbling down the other side to serious injury or death.
I decided my best option was to press on, with extreme caution, to the other side. My friends and wife were shouting encouragement from the bank, but they were also laughing hysterically. I wondered if they would still be laughing as I lay broken and bleeding after tumbling from the wall. When I was about half way across I finally lost my nerve. If I made it all the way across I’d have to make it all the way back. I decided to execute a 180° turn (which I did very slowly) and head back. Thankfully, I made it without further incident, one careful step at a time.
You know, you always see these programs on TV about some poor sod who’s had a lucky escape from a near-death mishap on some adventure or other and you think “Silly bugger, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place…” On my attempted walk across the wall I felt a lot like that silly bugger. The moral of the story is; if you want to take pics of a dam and its environs from the “other side”, take the long way around, or you may be “crossing over” a bit sooner than you intended.
These pics were all taken in the pre-digital days, shot on colour transparency, except the shot of me on the dam wall which was shot on colour print film.
You can see Elné’s beautiful b+w photograph of the dam here.