photography

Photographer Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray comes from a world a way, and captures his landscape and surroundings in a lovely way. I first learned about Steve through his Borderland project, but I’m recently digging his Postcards from Cambridge, MA series.

Where are you and what do you do?

I am based in the county of Herefordshire in the west of England, close to the border with Wales. It is a region of rolling farmland, wooded hills and (close to the border) dramatic upland moor. I am very fond of this landscape and it features a lot in my photography.  My initial interest photographically was in taking what I guess you could call a traditional approach, working slowly with a tripod, using filters and trying to be out in dramatic light and the start and end of the day. I soon realised thought that this wasn’t really for me and latterly I have pursued a more contemporary, documentary approach to my work (always handheld these days!) – whether shooting in an urban or rural environment.

How did you get started in photography?

My interest led me to enroll in a beginners black and white darkroom evening class back in 2003. I knew next to nothing about photographic technique and so it was a pretty steep learning curve. Very quickly, however, I knew that I was hooked and photography has been a huge part of my life ever since.

What do you like about your photography?

It has taken many years of experimentation and many failed images and projects for me to feel comfortable with my own work, but I’m happy to say I now do. I think it is really important to develop an approach and style that works for you, produce images that make you happy and not worry if others like them too. That said, I do really enjoy sharing my work and hope that some of my images create a positive reaction. If pushed, I guess I would say I like the freedom in my approach to image-making – I work quite spontaneously with little planning. I’m also very partial to photograph patterns, shadows and shapes I find interesting. Lastly, it really appeals to me to have such a personal means by which to share how I see the world around me.

I like that your work explores different locations. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas? 

My local landscape is definitely a source of inspiration. I believe the best approach is to photography what’s around you, what you know or where you happen to be, and try to find ways to make interesting pictures. This is in contrast to the trend to travel to well-known and much-photographed beauty spots. I’m not criticising that approach, I’ve simply come to realise it’s not for me and doesn’t produce results I feel happy with.

You’re “Yashica Steve” on Instagram – using film to express your vision. What kinds of themes do you explore with your work? How does film help you accomplish that? 

I set up my Instagram account as @yashicasteve to share new film work when I started working with film again last year. I have really loved photographing this way over the last few months, using a Yashica T4 35mm compact camera loaded with AgfaVista 200. I’m don’t support the notion that film is better than digital (or vice versa), it’s just that I find the feel of the pictures, the atmosphere, really pleasing and it seems to suit my preferred subject matter. I am increasingly enjoying walking around urban environments with no planned route or expectations and simply photographing things I encounter that interest me. I also love the deferred gratification of seeing the images after getting the film developed – digital has made everything so instantaneous this is a real pleasure!

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

My focus over recent months has been on a project called Borderland: where England meets Wales, documenting the often forgotten rural hinterland I call home on the border between the two countries. The landscape there is changing in many ways as (very slowly!) this rural landscape modernises and traditional ways of life decline. I think it makes for a fascinating and timely subject and I’m hoping others agree! I have managed all aspects of putting the book together and promoting it myself and am delighted to have sold most of the limited edition of 100 copies. There are some still available, however, and the whole series can be viewed and orders placed on my website.

Follow Steve on Instagram and Twitter, or check out his website for more work


Reminders For Days

China City - Jackson, MI

Reminders basically rule my life. Since my first iPhone, I’ve let a combination of to-do tasks and calendar pop-ups tell me what to do, and when. Everything from taking my daily medication to taking out the trash – I assign a robot to tell me things that I would otherwise forget. It’s a mix of Absent-Minded Professorness and outboard brain reliance.

I know that if I want to build a habit (exercise), or tell myself to do something later in a day (call the cable company), or if there’s something I just can’t or shouldn’t forget (a doctor’s appointment), I have to set a reminder. Otherwise, my brain won’t hold on to the information.

Now, I’m using a reminder system to keep my daily project going. It’s simple: twice a day, Day One tells me to make a new entry. That’s my signal to keep my photo project going – usually at 4 p.m. (before I leave work) and 7 p.m. (before the light disappears).

Why Day One? For me, it serves as both a reminder system and a daily log for the photo I take and the camera settings I used. I can even include a reference photo as a visual clue.

Day One has served me well since the birth of my daughter in 2015. Then, I used it as a journal to record her growing up – personality developments, funny sayings, a photo, that kind of thing. It came in handy when I made her first year photo book; I could look back and see, chronologically, how she was turning into a toddler.

The app doesn’t really matter. You could do something similar with a calendar or a text file. The point is that I rely so much on reminders that I’m using them to keep my daily photo project moving along. I’m both reminding myself and logging my progress as I go. Over time, it may become a habit, and I won’t need to think about it.

But probably not. I know myself well enough to keep a system like this in place until the project is done.


For My Next Project

 

Bronica ETRSi

Details are starting to come together for my next community project.

For this next one, I want to experiment with some studio space, and making the portraits on black and white film. To do that, I picked up a Bronica ETRSi from Jon Wilkening – a fantastic kit, full of potential. And it includes a learning curve, which is the part I’m most looking forward to.

(One of the benefits of picking up photography as a hobby is that you get to tinker, and learn new equipment, while you’re making photographs. That puts it in the same realm as classic computers or engine repair as much as art.)

I hope to set up a quick photo studio to practice with the Bronica, including making photos with friends and family, just for fun.

Restrictions are simply creative challenges. Using medium format film for a portrait project is a restriction that, I hope, leads to interesting results and good photographs. It forces me to learn something new, while lending a timeless feel to the whole endeavor. Should be fun.


Self Publish Or Bust

Rick Smolan has a bunch of good tips on self-publishing your next photo book.

It’s a bit crowdfunding heavy, but has advice from a guy who has done a lot of photo publishing. I appreciate that Smolan’s first tip is on audience:

The traditional publishing model was to turn to a big publisher who would throw it into book stores and hope the book found an audience. Now photographers are able to market directly to the people who are already invested in your chosen subject.

I don’t start a photo book project unless I have an audience in mind. And because I’m seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign, I’ll take all the good tips I can.

(via Blurb on Twitter.)


Riley May

I’ve spent the last week enjoying our new baby daughter, Riley May Lawrence.

She arrived early Tuesday morning, purple and gooey, and has been either eating or sleeping since. We got back home on Friday afternoon, and took most of the weekend getting settled: spending time with the other two kids, getting our routine down, and taking care of the baby.

This baby – the c-section, the hospital stay, our sleep cycle – has been a smooth one. We’re lucky. We’re also lucky to get lots of help from grandparents and friends. And our new house is prepped enough to make the living part easy.

I’m taking this next week off of work, too (the first time in my working life I’ve had two consecutive weeks off), to help with the kids, enjoy the new baby, and help my wife around the house. Plus photo making, of course.

Life gets really simple when you have one big (or tiny, as it were) priority. I find it surprisingly relaxing to tune out everything else and concentrate on this crying, squeaking little person.

Everything else takes a distant second.


Go Outside and Play

Last summer, at our former house, we noticed something more and more: of all our neighbors, we were the only ones who spent any measurable amount of time outside.

Whether for grilling, or for playing on the swing set, or going for a simple walk around the block, our family was largely alone. We didn’t see some neighbors for weeks. Others only went outside to mow the lawn, or get in their car and leave. My wife and I would sit in the backyard, after putting the kids to bed, just to read and drink and watch the birds. Again: all alone, all by ourselves.

Granted, we lived in a rural neighborhood, and most country folks stick to themselves. But we couldn’t shake a thought: how weird that other people in our neighborhood weren’t enjoying the lovely Michigan summer. So far, it’s been the same story at our new house.

Maybe a lot has changed since I was a kid (“Go outside and play!” my mother would shout, and we did – all day long). There are a lot of new time suck options, from Netflix to Facebook, even in rural areas. Given that more people (especially children) are spending less time outside, my values probably differ from my nation’s.

On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into nature worship, and praise fresh air so much that you become annoying. I’ll admit that not everyone craves Thoreau’s “tonic of wilderness” like I do. We sent our son to a nature center for preschool, and he spent most of his school day outdoors in the woods. That’s not for everyone.

But, I do think that if you have a yard, you should spend time in it. If you live on a road, you should walk up and down it from time to time.

And if you’re a photographer, getting outside should be a part of your practice. Take your camera, grab your kids or pet, and go outside to see what the season has accomplished.

(Coincidentally, a recent Roderick On the Line podcast episode had a discussion about this subject, specifically about people playing sports outside. Good listen.)


Using Your Family As Photo Subjects

What Do You Dream About?

A generous On Taking Pictures listener gifted me a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family for our gift exchange during the holidays, and it has me thinking about family photos. As a parent, family photography came naturally. Is there a better way to capture your kids growing up?

Unless you’re a parent, a lot of this won’t be clear. But for those parents out there, you instinctively know how important family photography is.

In her memoir, Hold Still (which is a great read, by the way – give me a memoir over an autobiography any day) Mann tells her photography students:

Photograph what is important to you, what is closest to you, photograph the great events of your life, and let your photography live with your reality.

“Your reality” could include dreams, or emotions, or flowers by a big window. For parents, “what is closest” is often our children, especially at first. And what is photography if not to capture something before its gone?

Photographing the family has a few side benefits. For one, it’s just good practice. Think about shooting something every day, week after week. and then add in that you have a readily-available subject who more or less cooperates. Want to try out a new technique? Want to test a new piece of gear? Need to sketch out an idea? “C’mere, kiddo. Stand here.”

Second, while I love a good snapshot, I love making art with my family even more. I put feelings into the photos I make of my family, and that lends them a greater weight. Maybe they don’t mean anything to the casual observer. And maybe the kids, themselves, will look back and wonder why I made such a fuss. But with my family photos, I’m the audience (okay, maybe the grandparents, too).

Can I show someone that I love them by taking their photo? I believe so. That’s the ultimate reason I photograph my family. All you need is love, as John Lennon sang. It’s the ultimate personal project.

So now, I look for examples of good family photos, a genre I would never had been interested if it weren’t for exploring image making with my own kids. If I get the same sense of fondness and artistic expression – artists living with their reality, as Mann says – then the photographer has succeeded.


This Other Hunger

Red Reflections

Frank Chimero, in “Back to the Cave“:

Making things is putting the world in your mouth.

I make things for the same reasons babies put things in their mouths: to better understand the world, to sooth ourselves, and learn what to say.

Agreed. Whether it’s a new job or a new house, I use photography as a way to explore and absorb new surroundings and situations. This makes going anywhere new a thrill, because I bring along my camera and chew the hell out of the place.

(via Craig Mod)