No Process

I’ve been saying for a long time now that I’m more interested in the act of taking a photo than the resulting photo itself. This has always been a conceptual thing, looking at how engaging with the world through this machine, the camera, might change out perception and understanding of it. And it was also a realising that I was utterly bored of seeing photos framed and hung in galleries and coffee shops when there were so many more photos floating around the Internet to explore. When Jenny and I were (pre-Camera Obscura) idly talking about doing a photography festival I wanted to see if you could do one without any prints, without any exhibitions.

But like all conceptual obsessions there’s a root in the personal, and it’s finally grown so large that I can’t ignore it. In the last few months I have developed a visceral aversion to processing my photographs.

By processing I mean putting them through Lightroom on my Mac and posting them to Flickr for people to look at. This is the closest I probably get to making prints for a gallery and it seems my aversion to galleries has crept, like mould, towards my online activities.

Yes, there are issues around Flickr being a ghost-town (but I tried the community-centric 500px and it didn’t stick). Yes there is the sense that my photos mean nothing within the vast oceans of digital images swirling around online. But these things shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter if no-one sees them. Making the photos themselves should be enough.

Indeed, I still enjoy taking them as much as I ever did. I get a creating thrill from being in a place, exploring it with my eyes, and recording the reflected light onto a rectangular canvas. I get a kick from looking at the screen on the back of the camera and seeing that, yes, I got that one. I made an art.

But after that, not so much really.

And it’s not that I just can’t be bothered to process the photos. It’s that, once selecting the good ones and rejecting the mistakes and iterations, I get this stubborn feeling of “don’t want to”, like a child who doesn’t want to do whatever that child has arbitrarily decided they don’t want to do.

And so they stay in Lightroom, until I decide enough is enough and I give them a simple process before dumping them on Flickr.

The exception this holiday has been the three Hockney-esque joiners I made. Click on them for bigger.

Whale - head

Shopfront

Derelict Hotel

With these I relished the processing, probably because I didn’t know what they’d look like until I finished. And once they were joined I only did a small bit of processing – some levels adjustment – to finish them off. 

It’s also interesting to note that I have no such qualms about posting to Instagram. Here I always process in some way, since Instagram introduced proper processing tools alongside those (really quite terrible by any standard) filters. A bit of clarity, some warmth, a slight crop. And processing in Lightroom isn’t any more complicated – in many ways it’s easier, given its purpose as a workflow tool. 

As Gary Winogrand famously said, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” Once you’ve done that, what else is there to do? 

Make more photos, I guess. 

In conclusion I think the elephant in the room here might be a selfish need for something like affirmation from you lot, my audience (for want of a better word) which has become diluted over the years. I want to put my photos out there and get the views and the faves and the comments. Rationally I know that doesn’t matter, but this is not rational. This is running up to mummy with a painting and big eyes waiting for the reward of praise. It needs to be eradicated. The feedback loop needs to be, if not cut then severely curtailed. 

I shall try something new. Post everything to Flickr as it emerges from my camera(s), but select (or do I mean curate?) those few I think are good. My photos that are, by my definitions, art. 

I’ve been saying I’m an artist who uses photography, which excuses me from worrying about the standard of my photography. From now I shall also be a photographer who uses art. 

Tangled

Yesterday I was feeling a bit down. I’d had a busy weekend involving physical labouring (something I’m not quite so cut out for these days) on the Saturday and teaching on the Sunday and hadn’t fully recovered. Add to this Fiona was in London for the day and, while I don’t depend on her to get me going or anything, her absence does leave me feeling a bit aimless, like some energy has been sucked out of the room. Maybe it’s because we both work at home. Maybe I’m just hopeless. I don’t know. 

So I was having trouble getting going or thinking properly and I decided to cheer myself up with a movie. I’d recently enjoyed Frozen, a Disney movie of some repute (I’d go so far as to say it’s weaponised pure Disney), and noticed Tangled, another recent Disney movie, was on the Netflix. So I gave it a go. 

It’s pretty good. Doesn’t reach the same heights as Frozen but perfectly watchable with some good characterisation, particularly for Rapunzel herself.

And then I had this sudden out of body realisation that I was a childless 42 year old bald man lying on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon watching a Disney Princess movie on my own. 

And, let me tell you, it really didn’t help. 

Curious things you might have missed when I farted them onto Twitter recently

Blue Loveless is an album of covers of My Bloody Valentine’s classic shoegazer drone album Loveless done by Korean musicians and acts. I don’t know anything about it other than it appears to compliment the Yellow Loveless album of covers by Japanese artists. Why blue? Is that also a mildly racist term? Who knows. But it’s very good, less slavish to the originals and with the occasional jolt of K-pop to throw you. Buying the thing is next to impossible but you can stream the whole album off YouTube and mp3s are buried in the usual dark corners of the Internets.

Black Market Takes Over The iPhone 6 Lines seems like it’s going to be a light-hearted piece about how none of the people queuing for the new iPhone are fanboys but are planning to resell in places where it’s not released yet but turns out to be fucking depressing. See Chinese pensioners with little English sleeping rough in New York being harassed by the cops. See Apple Store staff trying to invoke the carnival atmosphere of past years and failing miserably. See raw capitalism demolish corporate mythologies. Bummer.

I’m always surprised when reading Irvine Welsh’s non-fiction that he doesn’t write like Begbie in Trainspotting, which is the sort of deeply patronising shit from an Englishman that explains why the Scots had an independence referendum, but he wrote a couple of fantastic essays before and after. Scottish Independence and British Unity begins with a long anecdote about living as a teen with his Aunt in London before examining the point of “Britishness”. It has a value, but about that of Scandinavia. Then he follows up with This glorious failure could yet be Scotland‘s finest hour saying Scots have “shown the western world that the corporate-led, neo-liberal model for the development of this planet, through G7 ‘sphere of influence‘ states on bloated military budgets, has a limited appeal.”

UK indie comics veteran and all round good egg Ilya is releasing the Mammoth Book of Cult Comics from what looks like the 1990s indie and small press scenes, many of which I have in my boxes upstairs. Just the cover alone indicates this will be a fantastic read, worth it alone for Through the Habitrails and Tick Tock Follies.

From Muhammad to ISIS: Iraq’s Full Story is the sort of stuff you’d hope everyone in the world would know since we’re all implicated and invested in the clusterfuck happening over there, so go read it. One of the more readable and, dare I say it, entertaining explainers on Iraq it includes a good primer on why Sunnis and Shia hate each other so much despite both being Muslims. Spoiler: it’s like Catholics and Protestants. Poor old Muhammed must be turning in his grave at what those idiots did to his religion. Who’d be a prophet, eh?

Back to more important issues, Will Self’s evisceration of the Hipster was thoroughly entertaining but many seem to have missed his point that he lays the blame for all this on him and his kind. Hipster hatred is self-hatred, which was ultimately the message of Nathan Barley.

Speaking of cognitive dissonance, mass global trade might be deeply problematic, but these new container super-ships are fucking awesome, no?

Wired ran a nice obit for the iPod Classic. It’s completely over the top, written from the point of view that this product changed the world, but all the more excellent for that.

Ten years ago The Kleptones released a Night At The Hip Hopera. I was there. It was a good day.

Finally, Protodome, a chiptune artist, quietly released Famifood, an album of jazzy noodlings. I liked it a lot. Free download.

End This Tea Madness Now

Jenny and I had a Camera Obscura related meeting in Birmingham’s fashionable Jewellery Quarter this morning and afterwards had some time to kill so we went to a cafe for a catch-up on all things obscura-related. The cafe we ended up in was Saint Kitchen, which I hadn’t been to for many a year because I don’t often wind up in the JQ. I’m more often to be found in Birmingham’s fashionable Digbeth district. Or, more likely, Stirchley.  

It’s a perfectly nice cafe. Busy but not too busy. Reasonable prices. The vibe was perfect for what we wanted and the wifi was free and flowing. What caused me to pause was when our tea was brought over. 

In case it’s not clear what’s going on here, let me break it down. 

The tea has been served in a glass tumbler. 

The tea itself is loose-leaf (organic breakfast or some shit – you can’t just get red label these days) placed in an open bag.

The open bag is suspended in the hot water by a long cocktail stick poking through the bag and resting on the rim of the glass tumbler. 

The milk is served in a mini flat-based test-tube that you might expect to find a blood sample in, sealed with an actual cork made of cork. 

All I wanted was a cup of tea. 

There’s nothing wrong with having a range of teas (as long as they are actually derived from the tea plant – flowers and berries and other nonsense people like my mother infuse in hot water are most definitely not “tea”). And I’m all in favour of brewing tea correctly – there’s nothing like getting a nice big china pot of tea in a cafe. 

But you rarely get such a thing these days, at least not in the city centre where, led by the insufferable coffee-snob purists, the proper greasy spoon cafe has been driven out. You get some process on a tray which some wanker would probably call an “experience”.

Actually, I tell a lie. Cherry Reds on John Bright Street will sell you a large mug of tea in a mug and do all the milk stuff for you so you just have a proper fucking mug of tea. Three cheers for them!

But this is a cancer, a plague in the waiting. Having exhausted the myriad ways of making coffee as fucking annoying as possible the caficionados (see what I did there?) are turing their eyes to tea, something they’d previously grudgingly served  as hot water in those stupid coffee bowls with a bag on the side. 

Real Tea, they’ll call it, as they serve it in a jam jar or a miniature metal bucket. 

Just say no. 

But yeah, other than that, nice place. 

Rejecting the Family Business

At the end of today’s Spaghetti Junction walk (next one in January, probably) I was chatting with one of the walkers, a man in his 60s with a couple of University-age sons. The conversation drifted to how he messes with fixing up cars but his sons aren’t interested. I speculated that they weren’t interested because he was interested, based on my experience.

My mum, sister and step-dad are all fully invested in the making of and listening to classical music. I have a musical ear but since leaving school I’ve not really done anything with it, and my musical tastes tend away from the Mozart. 

My dad is a geologist and while I have an aesthetic liking for rocks and a respect for geological timescales I wouldn’t pretend to know anything about geology, despite a (failed) attempt to study it that one time in my 20s. 

My mum was also a German teacher. My sister did her degree in German. German was often spoken at home. I can’t speak a word of German. Even when I was in Austria last year I couldn’t manage it. Not because I didn’t want to – I just couldn’t for some fucked-up psychological reason. 

None of this is deliberate. None of it was me being a stubborn, rebellious son. I just never went that way.

I don’t know how universal my experience is, but I think there’s something about coming of age, particularly for the males in our society, where you have to find your own thing that sets you apart from your parents. Maybe it’s because you’ll rarely be as good as them at the things they’re good at, but you can easily be better than them at something they don’t understand. 

I’ve always had a sense that while my family support whatever it is I’m doing, they don’t really understand it. Actually, it’s more than a sense. Mum has often asked me for notes so she can explain to her friends “what Pete’s up to”. And that’s okay. In fact it feels right. 

“Becoming a man” is a whole thing, sometimes involving climbing a mountain or killing a lion. The point is to say to your parents, and society at large, that you are no longer dependent on them. You are free and able to stake your claim on the world. 

So it doesn’t surprise me that my walker’s sons didn’t want to help him fix cars and would rather play with their computers, something he really didn’t understand. I said that, in my experience, if you didn’t understand why someone did something, the reasons were probably way more complicated than you could conceive. And that was okay. 

Tolkien vs Birmingham

Over on Paradise Circus I’ve written a blatant piece of clickbait about Tolkien’s relationship to Birmingham and how those who claim to love the city should sever all ties to the Hobbit Industries.

12 reasons why Birmingham should banish Tolkien

It’s an expanded rewrite of a rant I wrote in 2006, which some of you might remember. I’m particularly pleased with the Joseph Chamberlain bit.

Because it’s on Paradise Circus there are comments open and, god help us, a thread on Facebook. I take no responsibility for this madness.

Charities shouldn’t exist

A friend was nominated for that Ice Bucket thingy, didn’t want to do it and was wondering how to deal with that without looking like a bastard who hates charity. This kind of annoys me. 

Quite often, when taking the camera obscura out, someone will ask if we’ve built it for charity. This kind of annoys me. 

Charities shouldn’t exist. That we need charities is an indictment on a society which is unable to keep its house in order. Sure, society can’t always react promptly or deal with the minutiae, and acting charitably is a good virtue, but for the big things we really should have sorted that shit out by now. 

Think about it. Oxfam exists to deal with famine and other large-scale humanitarian disasters, hence the name. Famine is a very simple problem to solve – just ensure the fucking people can eat and sleep in shelter. What causes famine is usually politics and war, not a lack of food. We should be working on solving those causes. And to their credit Oxfam do campaign on those issues, but the presence of Oxfam shops on each and every high street should really cause us to pause and be ashamed. We have failed. Miserably. 

Great Ormond St Hospital is probably the most obscene charity. It’s a hospital. We solved that problem with the creation of the NHS, but we obviously didn’t do enough. The presence of each and every health-related charity should keep the ministers for health awake at night. They mean s/he has failed in their job. Miserably. 

Actually no, the most obscene charity is Help for Heroes which supports soldiers who have had the shit blown out of them, mentally and physically, after being sent to a usually unnecessary and futile war and then abandoned by the government that sent them there. The fact that Help for Heroes is avowedly non-political is, frankly, astonishing. The best way to help a soldier is not to put him or her in a war zone in the first place. But then I guess they wouldn’t be “heroes” – they’d just be people. Veterans charities highlight two massive failures – that we needed a war and that we didn’t look after the casualties. 

All this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give to charity. If society is failing in these ways then withholding aid doesn’t help. But giving shouldn’t be the end. It should be the start of an angry dialogue with whoever is responsible for the charity existing in the first place, or in changing the system that creates these inequalities. 

A charity should be, and often is, working towards its irrelevance. 

But charities hold a strange place in our society. They allow us to be wacky, to do weird things without having to attach a meaning to them. If you get in to a bathtub of baked beans for no reason at all, people will question your sanity. But if you do it for a sick child who society has failed to look after then you’re a brave and generous person. 

As a self-described artist I do a lot of things that don’t have a practical purpose and part of my job is justifying their existence. Sometimes that justification is “because I wanted to see what it would be like” and a lot of the time that should be good enough. 

So sure, drop a bucket of iced water over your head, but do it because you want to see what its like, and then give some money to the charity because you care about their cause, along with a stern letter to who or whatever is blocking research funding for ALS. 

Imagine a world without charities. It isn’t hard to do. You have to think of some new reasons to be wacky though.