Week 27: Flattery

This week we were asked to choose our favourite photographer and imitate their art or technique. Well, it actually said ‘master’ photographer. I’m not sure what that really means? What makes a master?

When I tried to think of ‘photographers’, who came to mind?

My friend’s husband Paul, who is based in Raglan. His photos have a clarity and an intense interest in the ‘people’.

Ansel Adams – I love his philosophy about nature and conservation as well as his photography

An ex colleague Ruth Gilmour who takes the most amazing portraits of people to celebrate their special occasions.

I then also thought of all the people I follow on Instagram – some of my friends take incredible photographs – what they see in the world around them, their challenges, their successes, the people they love and live with.  There is such life and passion in those photos, and whilst they may not be technically perfect, just like mine, does that make them any less a ‘Master Photographer’?

Of course, they haven’t learned their craft like professional photographers, they haven’t studied the ‘science’ of photography, they probably don’t know, like me, the rules about shutter speeds, light, framing techniques etc. But they have an ‘eye’ for a shot, they capture a moment, and I think there is something special about that.

But I’m not going to try and emulate any of these photographers – I hope in my own way, I already capture moments and have an eye for a shot, that I bring as much pleasure to others as their photos bring to me. No, I am going to introduce you to Norman Barry Hodgson, my Dad.

Young man from 1950s with dark hair and brown eyes wearing a jacket with his chin resting on his hand looking directly into the camera

He is the person who inspired my interest in taking photos. I am not going to call it photography, because  I think that that suggests that I know what I’m doing, that I have studied it as an art and a science.

My Dad always had a camera in his hand when we were kids. We had heaps of slides of us, and also some movies, because he also had a cine camera. We loved the screening evenings when we would all get together in the front room. The anticipation was palpable as the screen was hung over the curtain rail, the lights were switched off and the slide projector or the film projector was switched on. Four little girls waited excitedly to see photos of ourselves, laughed at each other and hoped that there would be a flattering one of ourselves!  He turned some of the slides into photos that were hung on the walls. Sadly, many of the slides were lost, although I managed to salvage some which I have carefully scanned and digitised.

Dad was a gadget man and a technician. His photos had to be technically perfect. He would read books about framing subjects, about low key and high key lighting, the rule of thirds, F-stops and exposure times. I don’t think he always trusted his eye.  I thought, when I was younger, that he wasn’t very imaginative or daring.

When he went through his ‘portrait’ phase, I remember three of us (number 4 was not yet born!) all under 5, sitting on the table, lights and screens set up in the living room, curtains closed, whilst he got the perfect shot! I still have some of the contact strips.

3 little girls sitting on a cushion against a wall. Two older ones on either side of a baby. The one on the left has dark, curly hair and brown eyes, the giirl on the right has straight, blond hair and blue eyes. Dressed in their best clothes, they are all smiling
As his daughters grew up and were less willing subjects – teenagers really are too precious about what they look like – he turned to landscapes, cars, planes, boats, trains. To be honest, his first photography, before we were all born, was all about vehicles!

When I was 12 he gave me a basic camera to take on overseas trips – one to Berlin and one to Paris. I remember him showing me how to put the film in the camera, how to roll it round so that it caught properly on the spool. He told me how to hold the camera, frame the subject and not move the whole camera when taking a shot. It was a fixed lens with no adjustments for shutter speed or anything like that. I brought home my first photos – mostly blurry, and very grainy, but I still remember the excitement of opening that package from the developers to see what would be there. Oh, yes, and the disappointment too that my photos didn’t look anything like the picture I had seen when I took it!  Those feelings of hope, anticipation and disappointment or satisfaction were to continue for many years!

The Arc du Carrousel in Paris. There are a few people walking around in the foreground
Arc du Carrousel, Paris

When I was 18, Dad bought me a camera for my birthday – an Olympus Trip. I still have it. That was the start of my journey. My life has been documented ever since!  I have every photo and every negative I have ever taken, carefully catalogued and arranged into scrap books from 1978 until 2003 when I started taking digital photos. I also have every camera he passed on to me.

Dad used to develop his own photos too.  When we were little he set up a darkroom in the garden shed. Then, Harry Potter like, he moved into the cupboard under the stairs!  By this time I was a teenager and wanted to learn how to develop and print too. After a few months of getting under each other’s feet, he decided to rig up the kitchen to give us more space and easier access to running water. So he designed a ‘mobile’ dark room. After dinner and washing up was done, we would put light-tight blinds on the windows and doors, wheel in the trolley with the equipment on it, put the ‘Do not disturb’ sign in the hallway, lock the outside door, put the music on that we sang along loudly to, and get to work!

So what can I emulate – what photo can I take this week to ‘flatter’ my Dad?

As I already said, he was a technical photographer. We would often go out together and I would be his ‘eye’. He would have read about a particular technique in a book that he wanted to try, and have some idea of what he wanted to do but often couldn’t see the possibilities in a situation.  He got better as he got older!  I like to think I influenced that just a wee bit. On the other hand I used to frustrate the hell out of him, because I would just see something,  and take a photo without any regard for setting up the shot. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  I wonder now, though, whether it wasn’t so much that he didn’t have any imagination, but that film was a restriction. With film, we were limited to 36 shots, it was expensive to buy film, and expensive to buy the materials to develop and print or to have it done commercially. I think going digital helped to shift his thinking?  Didi it give him license to be more adventurous? He didn’t have to spend time getting everything right; failure is possible with digital because there is no limit to how many tries you get.

So, what can I do? I guess, I could try to take a more technical shot, try to follow the rules. Where Dad was quite imaginative, was in his editing of photos, both during the developing process years ago and using digital editing tools. He was always experimenting, always wanting to learn new things. Maybe, just by doing this whole challenge, I am emulating him? Is that enough? Maybe, I’ll try to get my boys to pose for a ‘portrait shoot’?

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