Artists Explaining Themselves

I have visited countless exhibitions over the years. I have always been of the opinion that explanations are unnecessary. I often relate this Robert Frost story.  When he was asked to explain a poem he replied, “So you want me to say it worse.” I once had an exhibition where the audience only knew who had taken the pictures – no titles – no explanations. I loved the look of it. Maybe just the fact that I was the maker was too much information. Maybe that would raise expectations in the mind and eye of the viewer – prejudice.

I usually look at works and if I feel satisfied I leave without reading explanations.

However I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. There is a work there by Roger Hiorns which is simply 2 scrap jet engines from a U.S. military plane sited on a terrace.

Sculpture by Roger Hiorns
Two redundant jet engines, form a sculpture by Roger Hiorns photograph Robert Norbury

I remembered seeing his exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield which had a profound visual and emotional effect on me, I never wondered what Hiorns intended us to feel. The exhibition was a number of old engines and steel work benches like the ones I imagine you would find in a laboratory. Plus other objects. At the time I was working at the Hepworth as a kind of resident artist running workshops. I wandered round the work but initially it left me cold. Then someone came in and placed small piles of white powder on the benches and set fire to it.

At some point I became aware of two young men (I think two) in white shirts and black trousers. I watched one of them remove all his clothes and then seat himself on one of the benches. Few people in the room seemed to notice what was going on. I photographed this process. I can’t remember whether I read any kind of explanation but it didn’t seem to matter at the time.

Click the pictures to start a slideshow.

However when I saw his current display at the Y.S.P. I was at a loss as to what it was all about. I don’t think dereliction is an interesting subject any more. I read the explanation and was impressed to say the least. I will still always look at work first then read the explanation but I will read them. The engines are from a decommissioned American reconnaissance plane. Machines designed to reduce anxiety of a threat from another nation. Within the engines are crushed tablets commonly used to treat depression and the symptoms of trauma. I would never have known this without the explanation. I was impressed by Hiorns’s train of thought.

When I take a photograph I rarely have any kind of philosophical intent. The elements of the composition or the main subject impress me to capture them. As I press the button my mind is blank. Maybe that’s why I have had difficulty working on themes or series. I don’t know why I take the pictures but my mind eye and heart are in register when I do.

Heartbroken Potwasher

Today’s office is Starbucks at Hartshead Moor, Service Station. Drinking out out of paper because the pot-washer is broken.

Having visions of a human pot washer sitting in a shitty room behind the scenes having a nervous breakdown or a heart breakage.

Image taken with Huawei P20 pro on Aperture setting at f0.95.  Processed in Lightroom Mobile using my own black and white high contrast pre-set and a little burning in.  I find getting a satisfactory image straight out of the phone impossible.  Same with a camera really.  If you want to learn how to do it get in touch.

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The Tate St Ives

I came to St Ives to be solitary, to think about blogging and my work.

Also to work out the WordPress apps. I have been solitary and tried to think of things to blog about. Of course my mind has been blocked. Until this morning I went to the Tate St Ives. A fabulous building. So I decided to produce a snippet from this trip as a taster.

All the shots were taken with the Lumix G90 which I absolutely adore. Matched with an Olympus 17mm f1. 2 lens. A great combination for the seaside as they are both dust and splashproof. I used the program mode for all the shots and varied the exposure using the exposure compensation feature using my thumb on the rear control wheel. One way for darker t’other for lighter.

I had spotted the woman in cloche hat earlier, I used focus lock again with my thumb to focus on the back of her head as soon as she turned..snapped the shutter.

The guy in silhouette was in the restaurant sitting behind me. Using wifi I pointed the camera rearwards. I was able to compose and take the shot with my phone without ever looking in his direction.

The pictures were then sent to my Huawei P20 pro phone by wifi and processed there in Lightroom.

For What its Worth, Buying Second Hand Books

I do like to support local businesess when I can. However at Barter Books in Alnwick this morning I spotted a second hand book about the photographer Brassai priced at £32. I saw the same book at 81p on Abe books with £2.60 postage, this seller cannot be making any money.

 

Any road here is a selection of photographs inspired by the experience.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 

Picture by me posed by a neighbour.

Rain

“I can tell Bob Dylan in an instant,” she said. “Because his harmonica’s worse than Stevie Wonder?” She laughed again. Nice to know I could still make someone laugh. “No, I really like his voice,” she said. “It’s like a kid standing at the window watching the rain.”

Haruki Murakami, from Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

When I read this yesterday it got me thinking about rain. So here is a collection of pictures of rain.

I am fortunate in that I have a Lumix Panasonic G9 camera and a 3 lenses that are weatherproof.  An Olympus 17mm f1.2, a Leica 12mm f1.4 and an Olympus f2.8 60mm macro lens.  In the past I have used sandwich bags to protect my cameras and lenses.  Put the camera in a resealable camera bag with a filter.  Pull the bag tight over the lens and screw the filter back on so that it cuts a hole in the bag.  You can then attach a lens hood to keep rain off the front of the filter.  Don’t go swimming with it.  I once did experience a freak downpour with a Canon 5D and this setup and the camera was fucked up to the tune of several hundred quid but insurance paid out for it.  The picture below is my Lumix GX9 and Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens.

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If you are wondering about the strap, its shock cord you can buy from outdoor shops.  There will be a blog about my straps soon.

Here are some of my rain pictures taken with various equipment including mobile phones. Click on any picture to enlarge it and then scroll through. If you look below the pictures you will see metadata with details of equipment.

 

“Your own photography is never enough” About Influence.

There have been many influences on my work and inspiration comes from many sources. I can be inspired by the human form, music, the landscape, the enthusiasm and actions of others, music, to name but a few. The photographer Robert Adams has been both for me. An English language academic in the U. S., turned photographer he has for me all the right qualifications as a guru. I have tried to read Sontag and Barthes but for me they don’t speak the right language. (Notice that they don’t get a link here you’ll have to Google ’em yourself) Adams’s book ‘Why people photograph’ is a seminal work. It is a collection of articles and critiques. Adams once said “Your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other peoples pictures too – photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny but that carry with them a reminder of community.”

Over the years I have developed a visual signature, a creative personality. How did I do it. Influence. I took lots of pictures. I looked at millions of pictures to discover the photographers and artists that I wanted to emulate. I studied their work. I bought books. I have never tried to copy other’s work. I know some teachers think that’s a good way to learn. For sure one of the biggest influences has been Ralph Gibson and for me it is obvious in many of my pictures including the one of the woman in the header above.

However although I don’t copy, often a picture is or almost is a pastiche of something else, for example the picture here of Chloe climbing stairs. When I took it Marcel Duchamps Nu Descendant un Escalier‘, was definitely in my mind.

Chloe climbing the stairs at Vortex
Chloe climbing the stairs at Vortex

On another occasion I was overtaken by a black dog in snow I quickly snapped a shot which reminded me so much of this one by Joseph Koudelka. Koudelka has been an influence for sure. I am fascinated by white lines at road junctions because of this shot.

Dog in the snow at Meltham photographed by Robert Norbury
Dog in the snow at Meltham photographed by Robert Norbury
Winksley Banks North Yorkshire
Winksley Banks North Yorkshire by Robert Norbury

A few words about books. Art and photography books can be expensive and the chances of finding a bargain in a charity shop these days are slim. You can of course view work on the internet. However the Photofile and Photopoche books are really good value for money. New they are 8 or nine pounds new and can be bought second hand on Abe or Alibris. The new ones can be bought on Amazon. The Photopoche ones are written in French. I have around 40 of them and they do fit in your pocket. They are from the same stable and are identical in size.

Photo Stories

Last year at Shrewsbury Festival, music teacher and musician Diana Buckle asked me if I would take a few shots of her mandolin workshop. The weather was absolutely foul, my duties as steward weren’t particularly onerous, so I agreed.

Having the consent of the facilitator means that no one complains about being photographed in my experience. I grabbed a few introductory shots of the weather and the empty tent before people arrived but most it of happens by instinct. Much of the storytelling happens in the editing. How do you decide which is the right shot? Not easy. Years ago I bought a book called ‘The Right Picture’ by a photographer Ken Heyman and John Durniak a picture editor. Its probably time I read it again but it has made editing easier over the years. Its still available new and used. I edited this down to 9 shots from around 50.

It was an interesting exercise. I was using a Panasonic Lumix G9 micro four thirds camera and an Olympus 17mm f1.2 lens. Both are weatherproof. I have used this outfit in heavy rain and snow for several hours without any problems.

The G9 is not my favourite camera I find it heavy and cumbersome. The shutter release is a real hair trigger job and not recessed to prevent accidental operation. If you leave it switched on whilst carrying it accidental operation is inevitable. I can’t fault the image quality, the extra pixels of the 20mp sensor are evident. I miss my old Lumix GH4R’s they were light and a delight to use but their 16 mp sensors were outdated.

The Olympus 17mm f1.2 is again a heavy piece of kit but indispensable in wet weather its f1.2 maximum aperture gathers lots of light in very dark conditions.

My preferred lens is an Olympus f1.8 which is minute in comparison but doesn’t have a built in raincoat. Combined with my GX9 body(also 20mp) they will fit into a large pocket. I shall be publishing a blog about the 17mm lenses I use soon.

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Lady Agnew of Lochnaw a Muse.

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I have been fascinated by this painting since I first wandered into the Scottish National Gallery.  It’s of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargeant who was born in Florence of American parentage. It was my favourite work of art for a long time but other favourites are creeping in which I shall write about some other time.  You really have to go and see her in the gallery.  There are nuances that aren’t apparent in reproductions.  I have stared at her for hours and now I can see an enigmatic  smile I think.  The raised eyebrow, what’s all that about?  Click the picture above for more information about the painting.
Of course I am in love with her.
One of the best bits for me is the bracelet.  When you see the original close it’s just a few simple brush strokes of gold coloured paint which are rendered metallic by his skill.
I went to see her once and to my horror she had been loaned to the Australians!  I was distraught.  A while later I happened across an Edinburgh prospect on a dating website.  Tongue in cheek I asked her to go look to see if Lady Agnew had returned.  She did and she had. I suggested we go see her together.  We did.  I am still single.  Interesting conversation though Irvine Welsh had been her neighbour for a while.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw and Me
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw and Me a selfy.

Has this painting had an influence on my work?  I believe it has for example in nudes.  When I first used a model for nude work I wondered what would happen.  I had photographed people I was close to. My favourite nudes up to then were probably by Ralph Gibson.  What happened with my pictures?  Portraits of the model is what happened I have done a few more and the same thing happened.  I will write a blog with examples soon.  If you are reading this and would like to be photographed please get in touch.  I will provide images and pay reasonable expenses.
Here are a few snaps I have taken of the painting at the National Gallery of Scotland who welcome photographers. They were all taken with Lumix cameras and an Olympus 17mm f1.4 lens. The national galleries of Scotland are much better looked after than the English ones,  generally the cafés are clean.  The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a delight, there are two of them on opposite sides of the road with a choice of caffs.  Their portrait gallery is in a magnificent red building.  I will have a root around to see if I have enough snaps for blogs. If not I will have to go back 🙂