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This page outlines my philosophical approach to photography and the equipment I use. It is an attempt to address many of the questions frequently recieved from students and others who are curious about how I work.

PHILOSOPHY

“When you finish anything, people want you to then talk about it. And I think it’s almost like a crime. A film or a painting – each thing is its own sort of language and it’s not right to try to say the same thing in words. The words are not there. The language of film, cinema, is the language it was put into, and the English language – it’s not going to translate. It’s going to lose.”

David Lynch

There’s a related view commonly expressed which says that a photograph should ‘speak for itself’, by which proponents mean that it should move them in some significant way and that it should be (perhaps readily) interpretable by the viewer without any help by way of commentary from the photographer. Much (if not most) contemporary/modern art seems to me to require explanation before any sensible attempt at interpretation can begin. Presumably artists spend considerable time refining their thoughts about what their work is about. Insofar as art is not simply formalist (analogous to the way that instrumental music is) it seems unreasonable to me that audiences can be expected to attempt interpretation/judgement before engaging with an account of the artist’s intentions — ie. what the art is about. It is then open to audiences to constrain their interpretation to those intentions, or let their thoughts range more widely, even critically.  

Philosophy is partly an elucidation of what we mean when we use particular words (and what logical implications follow), and partly a discussion about or argument for the kinds of things we should value or think important. There’s an instinct (if not a fundamental requirement) in ‘analytical’ philosophy to be clear, to make all assumptions on which an argument rests transparent; and to reach a well-defined conclusion. There’s an instinct among artists such as David Lynch (perhaps shared with some ‘continental’ philosophers) to identify moments of logical or moral difficulty, to problematise (to ‘raise questions about…’), or to present an interpretive challenge. Perhaps the latter is inevitable — at least in all compelling art. I hope that my work successfully involves both a degree of elucidation, of attempting to identify a problem (usually of how we value things aesthetically), and of ‘reasoning’ a way to a conclusion.

My projects tend to begin with an ‘image’ — in the sense of a view of a building or landscape — which prompts me first to analyse why it interests me, and then to consider whether there is a theme that could connect it to other images. Once a project is underway, I will consciously look for ‘images’ that would further expand on that theme. Scouting and editing form important parts of refining my thoughts, as does reading books on architectural history, and culture more generally. (It’s perhaps worth flagging that sometimes logistical constraints and/or geography impede access to a preferred location or to gaining an ideal vantage point. A ‘complete’ project therefore may contain images that may not appear as compelling as others, but which are nonetheless necessary to indicate the scope of the project’s central idea.) More recently, memories of significant experiences in my life appeal to me as a basis for constructing images.

TECHNOLOGY
An almost constant factor in architectural work is the necessity to use perspective-control lenses or the ‘camera movements’ of a large format view camera. I’m not doctrinaire when it comes to camera formats. I’ve used 35mm, 645, 6x6, 6x7, and 5x4 film formats, as well as 35mm and mirrorless APS-C digital. Each format has its advantages and constraints, but as smaller-format digital cameras become higher-resolution and capable of being adapted for perspective-control, I’m increasingly drawn to the more portable systems. I should emphasise that I’m not overly concerned with the ‘latest’ equipment: It is worth remembering that the ‘best’ digital equipment that was available 5-10 years ago was considered perfectly acceptable in terms of image quality. I’m not aware of that imagery looking dated or being technically inadequate. It is therefore generally not necessary to have the latest model of camera/lens/etc — unless you can point to a specific improvement that was not previously available (for example, having a camera that can shoot video as well as stills).

I use the Met Office (UK weather forecast) and LightTrac apps for iPhone to help me plan for how a building or landscape will be lit by the sun at particular times of day/year.

When photographing digitally, I process my images in Capture One Pro, occasionally using Photoshop for further adjustments (such as stitching or blending exposures). When using film, I use my digital camera as a light meter (although I have the Pocket Light Meter app for iPhone, which seems to be accurate, too), which allows me to take only two sheets of 5x4 film per photograph (allowing for the unlikely possibility of defect or scratches in one of the sheets). The film is processed by Metro Imaging in Clerkenwell, then scanned (either by Metro Imaging using their drum scanner, or on my Epson V700 scanner). The resulting digital file is further processed using Photoshop. Prints are made digitally by Metro Imaging using the finest Ilford black and white papers, and colour (C-type) papers by FujiFilm and Kodak.

I’m self-taught (with the exception of two day-long courses, one on being a photographer’s assistant, and the other on studio lighting). I’ve been fortunate to learn my craft in the internet age. Photographers seem to be remarkably generous in sharing their technical knowledge online. Almost everything I know that has not been gained through experience and experimentation has been learned through reading books — especially those by Ansell Adams on ‘The Camera’ and ‘The Negative’ — the technical notes in amateur photography magazines, and from websites/forums such as The Luminous Landscape, Cambridge in Colour, and Large Format Photography.info.