I witnessed the test run of a recently unpackaged drone yesterday, I forget the model - pricey enough though.
As I watched the drone soar up into the sky, uncomfortably high into the sky, and then saw the images it was producing, I found myself feeling a mix of awe and dread. Awe at the potential of these things, for photography and almost every other field of art and science; and dread at the unstoppable surge of technology we find ourselves facing/riding/drowning in.
For example, this particular drone had been bought to use primarily at weddings. That's right, people are wanting drone footage at weddings now. It still seems pretty incredible the lengths, and costs, that people will go to for photos at their weddings, but now they're getting aerial shots like it was some kind of filmset. I guess that's what it is for many.
Speaking of filmsets, drones and apocalyptic scenes. I recently watched this video (see below) of the destruction of Homs, Syria. Again, another strange mix of feelings. I was impressed and shocked by the scale of the destruction and by this new form of viewing what are effectively battlegrounds, but I also found myself taking a sort of voyeuristic pleasure from the beautiful Hollywood-style sweeping shot of this carnage, similar to how I felt watching the twin towers fall or the tsunami hit. It's that strange "it feels like a movie" feeling.
The jury's still out on drones but whether I accept them or not, they're here to stay.
Ah the selfie. No more shall we surrender control of our photogenicity to others. We can shoot to our heart's content, or until we get an acceptably fabulous picture of our naturally beautiful selves.
But what are we missing? As we switch to front camera, what's going on elsewhere? Are we really the most interesting thing in our space today?
I am not a great selfie taker. I always end up squinting or looking angry (although, admittedly that could just be my face). So I decided to play around with the idea and show both the selfie (yes, my ugly mug) and what was going on on the other side of the camera at the time.
Work in progress.
2015 has taken me from Lesotho to Nepal and from clowns to Eurozone crises, so, as much for myself as for anyone else, I've identified several of the year's highlights.
Paleng Children's Centre is barely a year old. The only thing that betrays that fact is their unstable facility situation - the tiny office/library is on loan from the school and their bad weather option, the school hall, is often unavailable to them.
The mission is to improve literacy (importantly, mother tongue literacy) and general child well-being through stories and play.
Already they are a test site for a pilot scheme by the African Storybook Project, have already published and printed several storybooks, and are on the verge of launching a health storybook campaign.
As always with such small projects, the struggle for funds is constant. You can find more information at www.paleng.weebly.com
Cheshire Homes, Swaziland
Cheshire Homes is the only centre in Swaziland providing rehabilitative care for adults and children; services that include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, assistive devices, education & information on disability and HIV/AIDS & TB.
Tasked with creating a video that would be used both for raising public awareness of the services and for raising funds, I spent a month visiting the centre, getting to know the patients and staff.
The principal theme of the video is the principal philosophy of CHESWA, small successes. There is no promise of miracle cures, simply that through hard work, dedication and support, mental and physical well-being will improve and patients can learn to live with their condition.
More info on their Facebook page.
Left with an empty space in my calendar after a job in South Sudan fell through (security), I was on the lookout for another exciting project. Then the Greek ruling party Syriza decided to call a referendum on whether to accept bailout conditions imposed on them by the ECB, EU and IMF. The framework of the European Union seemed under threat. I felt that this was one of those "living History" moments and not an opportunity one gets too often, especially when you're available. With no specific project planned, I left for Athens.
Upon arriving, I was struck by the huge contrast between what we were hearing in the media and what was happening on the ground. The country was, and still is, enveloped in grave social and economic issues. However, we were being sold a story of Armageddon-like proportions. It was, effectively, the end of the world as we knew it.
So why did it seem like a lot of people were simply getting on with their lives?
The idea for the 2Photographers project came out of this desire to show two societies, Athens and Berlin, that were currently the focus of huge amounts of attention for very specific reasons. So, instead of showing protest and hardship, myself and Berlin-based photographer Ben Chislett had a go at widening our field of vision a little.
You can see the results on the 2Photographers website.
Clowns without Borders UK, India
People need to eat. But they also need to laugh.
Which one takes priority is not usually the subject of any serious debate. Until you watch the clowns.
I worked with Clowns without Borders South Africa back in 2010 but this time it was the UK chapter that took me to India for their first solo tour since their foundation last year.
The response of children and adults alike, often in very different ways, is magical. But magical in the sense that you think to yourself "If the magic from the fairytales doesn't exist, this is probably the next closest thing."
Over two weeks, the clowns performed to thousands of children, with audiences ranging from 1200 to 12. They put on shows for schoolchildren, orphans, refugees, children rescued from human trafficking (often not mutually exclusive categories) and the joyous response was universal.
Don't take it for a joke, however. These clowns are professionals and making people smile is serious business.
Taking advantage of my proximity, I nipped over to Nepal from India once the CWBUK tour finished. It was the same interest that had taken me to Athens earlier in the year. Nepal was six months on from a huge earthquake that had, as far as I was concerned, razed the country to the ground.
It turns out that for the most part it had. Although I was still fascinated by the overwhelming bias towards scenes of destruction and misery in international media. What I found was a place full of community initiatives, many involving young people, that had seemingly done far more to bring the country out of disaster than the Nepali government and international aid agencies had. I confess, this is a very superficial judgement of a complex issue but there was undoubtedly a strong sense of community and solidarity among the Nepalese I met.
Unfortunately, Nepal was now in the grip of a fuel crisis due to a border blockade due to a constitutional disagreement with India. The most obvious result being that fuel was five times the price. That being if you could get hold of it at all.
For me, this meant being more or less restricted to Kathmandu. However, events in Paris made me consider a second 2Photographers project, Aftermath: Paris & Kathmandu
Du Sa Makha, Nepal
And last, but not least, a return to the Azulejo Art series. This time, in Patan, Nepal. A spur of the moment street art collaboration with local artists Aayush Bajracharya and Pranav Joshi.
Du Sa Makha (There is but you do not see)
There's no better place to catch the wind than the trees. Here we see a blustery dance along the River Miño in Galicia, Spain.
what I hadn't expected was the light display the swaying branches would produce.
This video is part of my ongoing #thefourelements project
It is really all around us. Who'd have thought that Japanese artist, Hokusai, might have found inspiration in a glass vase in Asturias, Spain, for his famous Great Wave off Kanagawa?
No matter how much of a routine you have; batteries charged, memory cards empty, mic on, (lens cap off), there's always going to come a time when something fails, with varying degrees of disaster factor. I think the difference is in how you handle it. How do you handle it? There's always the fear that other photographers simply do not make these mistakes, the classic "schoolboy error". This is when the panic sets in and the internal dialogue goes something like this,
Are people going to see you for the fraud you really are?
Are you a fraud?
Oh God, you probably are.
Yet it's an inevitable part of the job. Certainly, the most rigorous checks I carry out now are a direct consequence of a silly oversight in the past. Like the time I tripped on my tripod whilst filming the only chance I had for catching a plane taking off in Niger. Or, again in Niger, when I forgot to drop the ISO back down once outside the darkness of the plane. That is, once I stepped out into the blinding Nigerien sun. I didn't even realise until I got back home and could see the grainy noise in all one thousand images I'd taken.
Yes, it was most definitely a schoolboy error. I should have realised something was wrong immediately (I was having to pump up the shutter speed something ridiculous). But I didn't and there was no turning back. I had photographs to produce and made the best of a bad job. In every other aspect, the images were satisfactory so I bit the bullet and got the job done.
And that's all it is, biting the bullet. Even the worst-case scenario of no working camera available can usually be overcome. Use your phone, borrow someone else's. It's not going to be the result you planned for (or didn't plan for!) but it's better than nothing. Once you've accepted your situation you can begin to act and given the fact that you're a working photographer, or anything else for that matter, you're capable of finding a solution.
Every so often I delve back into my photo archives to reminisce and, occasionally, dig out photos with fresh eyes. Here's one I took in Aquié, Niger in 2009 while working with the Spanish NGO Alas Solidarias.
A B&W photo every day for five days. Photos to be taken on the day. Good pressure.
the first in a series of posts about the beauty of mobile phone photography
You wouldn't need to go back even a year to have found me swearing I would never be writing this post. I certainly wouldn't have expected to be not only writing it but writing it on a mobile.
Of course, it was all out of ignorance, and a little bit of hard-headedness. My only exposure to Instagram was witnessing the inevitable death of creativity as it succumbed to retro-style filters and selfies and photos of feet on beaches. The idea of owning a smart phone almost literally made me vomit. Why were people paying large amounts of money to effectively isolate themselves from the world around them? (note: in many ways, this point still stands)
Having said all this, there had always been a sticking point for me; I had quickly got tired of carrying my chunky DSLR camera around everywhere and was therefore frustrated that I never had it on me. I'm not talking about going on safari. I'm talking about popping down the shops for bread and spotting something interesting about the peeling paint on the florists' walls.
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