Milky seas and murky clouds have become something of a cliche these days as a short trawl through Flickr will certainly demonstrate. Its a device I’m certainly guilty of using, perhaps more than I need to, so receiving a copy of Michael Levin’s Zebrato on my birthday was a welcome reminder of just how powerful this effect can be in the right hands.
The effect is achieved through the use of, typically, a ten stop filter, applied to reduce the amount of light entering the lens and thereby extend the exposure without blowing out the highlights. I use the Lee “Big Stopper” filter and although expensive, I haven’t seen anything better although the B&W equivalent runs it close. The B&W filter is a screw in that effectively requires a further step up adapter if you want to use it on more than one lens. The Lee filter requires the Lee filter adapter which has the advantage of offering further slots to insert for example a graduated filter to further control the exposure across the whole image. In addition to the filter, a good tripod is required in order to minimise movement in the camera and, for the same reason, a remote trigger. I use the Canon intervalometer which enables me to precisely time the exposure, but the ordinary remote trigger without timer is perfectly adequate for the purpose as long as you have a watch which displays seconds.
Levin’s work makes a virtue of the long exposure by using it to isolate the subject and generate a sense of timelessness. Minimal in extreme, the effect is to make a point of the apparently pointless, to take one part of a landscape and focus all of the viewer’s attention on the purest representation of form.
Zebrato is exclusively shot in monochrome in locations all over the world, including Brighton, where mysteriously he passed on the opportunity to add yet another photograph of the West Pier to posterity. Instead he shot west to east along the seafront, making a virtue of the natural curve where beach meets water. A solitary mysterious figure is seen lying in the foreground.
This book has made me re-evaluate what I’m doing with long exposures and has sparked some ideas about how I can photograph my new surroundings in Shropshire with a style I am comfortable with. What more can you ask of a book? Highly recommended.
Paul Strand was an American photographer and film maker whose work I was only vaguely familiar with, as one of a number of modernist photographers who helped establish the form in the United States during the mid 20th Century. That was before I discovered this book and the fascinating story behind it.
Strand was a Marxist connected to, though apparently never a member of, the Communist Party and through his work with a company called Frontier Films fell foul of the McCarthy regime and found himself branded as “un-american” and “subversive”. Never a man to shirk a fight, his response was to insist on having his work printed in Eastern Germany on the pretext that the print process could only be found in the Eastern Bloc.
He arrived in Scotland, with the FBI in close attendance, at the same time as the American military began surveying the island of South Uist in the Hebrides to see if it were suitable to host a long range missile site. That the project should yield one of the definitive documents of the Hebridean way of life and perhaps the definitive work of Scottish photography is extraordinary under the circumstances.
Written in collaboration with Basil Davidson, the book contains a set of monochrome photographs that span portraiture, landscape and documentary in the main, supplemented with textures of stone and sky, thatched roofs and reeds. As an impression of that bleak landscape, I’ve never seen better, indeed never seen anything even approaching this standard.
Although the book is a political project it is not overtly political. It tells a story, the story of the islanders, of their values and relationship with the land and the sea, with work and the weather. In so doing, Strand asserts that the islanders are and continue to be a viable community, not to be ruthlessly ignored and exploited for political gain.
I love this book, both for the writing and the photography. It is an extraordinary achievement for an outsider to capture so accurately the soul of a community, but capture it he did. He tells the story of these islands in the hope that they might be left alone. In fact, the book was immediately banned in the USA and the rocket ranges are still there, under the management of corporations supplying the defence industry.
In somewhat prescient fashion, the book ends with the following quote: “A comic mythology sometimes found elsewhere has liked to paint the Hebrideans as pawky spongers on the governmental purse, preferring charity to fending for themselves…” Sound familiar?
The question of David Bailey’s relevance in 2012 is one that to my mind ranks alongside the improbability of one hand clapping or of fish needing bicycles. Yes, he was the man responsible for creating the iconic imagery of the “swinging sixties”, No, that doesn’t prevent him from having an opinion about India in 2012 nor should it be allowed to undermine the validity of his views. That the opinion is expressed over the course of two books of photographs shot in 2009 with virtually no commentary is a statement in itself. I thought I’d better take a look before I set off for Delhi next week.
If travel photography is supposed to offer insight into a destination, articulating the photographer’s feelings about the place he finds himself in then this collection, running to hundreds of photographs is of great interest. Much of the content is documentary style footage and concentrates on the India that is being squeezed out by the forces of globalisation. There are no shopping malls here, no attempt to compare and contrast. This is strongly reminiscent of another time, another India, where things are done differently. So strong is the pull that I was taken back to my own past, rain slicked cobbles in Northern towns guttered with rainbows of diesel. Posters of Billy Walker and Brylcreem….I digress.
The India found here is an India that may well disappear entirely. an India of rococo cinemas and back street barbershops. This is not a sentimental collection, this is no Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it is in places grittily realistic, as far away from Julie Christie and Terence Stamp on Waterloo Bridge as its possible to be. I’ve loved this book and could spend hours looking at these pictures. and if it’s a world away from Vogue then more power to Mr Bailey. Apparently there will be more books in this series, I look forward to them.