The sole picture of Seaton Sluice in my recent Flying North post attracted positive comment for the deep blue reflected in the cold North Sea waters that morning, so it seems perverse of me that on revisiting the tiny harbour I should shoot in monochrome – sorry Myriam!
In an interview that I heard recently David Bailey explained that he shoots black and white because it has a more immediate impact. Describing the way birds are attracted to red berries, he explains how colour carries so many meanings and messages that it distracts from the subject matter. Having moved on from “shooting frocks” in the 1980’s he now concentrates on portraiture, and in that sphere I completely agree with him. Portraits are about character and expression, the lines and textures that tell a life story, and in this context colour has no part to play.
A land or seascape are different however; there is nothing to beat the subtle hues of a winter sunrise or the dirty yellow of a snow filled sky, and of course as children our early artworks were often set against verdant green grass and deep blue skies. Shooting these scenes in monochrome presents entirely different challenges; requiring some drama or interest in the picture beyond the stimulation of colour. (Some subjects of course can’t be properly treated any other way!)
So to Seaton Sluice, a tiny harbour that took its name from the fact that in the 17th Century, local landowner Ralph Delaval installed walls, piers and sluice gates in an attempt to create a port that would wash itself free of the build up of sand and silt. Ingenious, but it wasn’t entirely successful and in the following century his descendants built a new channel through solid rock and created a tiny port that could handle the output of 30 nearby coal mines, making it one of the most important on the North East coast.
Those days have long since passed, the mines have closed, the ships have left and there is no need of the ancillary trades that support a busy port so now you could drive through Seaton Sluice on the way to Blyth without really noticing the tiny gem on the shoreline.
So back to the pictures. If I’m honest, I think I’ll save the black and white for portraits. I’m no David Bailey, but I’m no Ansel Adams either!
Seaton Sluice – King’s Arms
In Newcastle today to drop some images off for a client, so I just had enough time to stop in town to give today’s imagery a different backdrop. With only 20 minutes or so to spare I made for Grey’s Monument, knowing it to be a good location to scout for people to shoot.
It was already wet when I arrived, a fine drizzle that didn’t concern me too much to begin with, but soon developed into a heavier mix of sleet and rain. Those with sense sought shelter indoors or under hoods and brollies. This bizarrely dressed promo-girl wore a flag on her back which seemed strangely prescient.
I hunted for an overhanging roof that would allow me to stay outside without risking my camera to the wet stuff. Whilst initially I wondered if the conditions would allow me to capture something akin to Magnum photographer Trent Parke‘s fantastically backlit shot of pouring rain there was neither the deluge or the light required. A pity, since there would have been a nice symmetry to recreating an image made by a man born in a different Newcastle.
Instead I found that my new vantage point gave me the opportunity to shoot some slow shutter speed images of the scattering of people that the rain triggered.The wet pavements also provided some great reflections so I took advantage of these and composed a shot with the monument at the heart of it, and then waited for the configuration of passing traffic to complete the composition. Almost immediately I abandoned this when this mod arrived on his Vespa. I considered him as today’s portrait but he was more Bradley Walsh than Bradley Wiggins, so I passed on the chance.
Not long afterwards I was doubly rewarded for my patience. A single pedestrian walking my way completed the composition of the shot I wanted, her outline, elongated by the mirroring of the wet flagstones, echoing the verticality of the stone column whilst her umbrella did the same for the nearby dome. Result #1 in the bag, but no portrait as yet.Time was up though so I abandoned my dry niche to head back to my car. Sticking close to the wall and the protection it offered I had an astonishing piece of luck when a young woman in another doorway peered round the corner to see if the rain was abating. The wet marble facade provided me with a slight reflection, and the coat over her head provided shadow to sculpt her beautiful face. I wasted no time in asking her to recreate the pose and thankfully Laura agreed, because I love the result.
*Serendipitous trivia; the new Bond film, Skyfall, is released today. What has that got to do with the shot? The first woman to front the ad campaigns for the insurance company in the iconic black cloak was Deborah Moore, daughter of Roger Moore in a commercial directed by David Bailey!
A rough count of the people who have been good enough to be photographed for this project so far revealed a degree of sexual discrimination. Not through any policy on my part of course, but nevertheless there have been more men than women featured.
Strange really, since you would think I would favour shooting beauty rather than the beast, yet I seem to find more of the latter. Having reflected on the reasons for this I’ve concluded that it is a consequence of attitudes to being photographed.
Unless I have a particular topic in mind for the day I never go out looking to capture images of one sex over another, and I will generally approach anyone who I think will make a good picture. The fact that more women than men have declined my offer may well play a part, but how much of that has conditioned me to expect a masculine “yes” and a feminine “no”? If that is the case perhaps I’m giving off some air of negativity to women that exacerbates the situation.
This week though I have been fortunate in photographing some beautiful women who can help to redress the balance, and even then there has been a spectrum of responses. Men who I approach tend to say “go for it” or words to the equivalent and stand upright ready for the shot. When I photographed Jo on Monday, surprised as she was that I had asked to photograph her at a bus stop, she was prepared to move and pose to suit me. By contrast when I shot Sita on Wednesday, although she knew me well and was keen to pose as requested, her nervousness made her a far less compliant subject.
Today I experienced two different attitudes. Hayley is a photographer’s dream. She’s slim, attractive, wanted to be photographed and was comfortable enough in front of the camera to take direction easily. How could I fail to capture her beauty? (Actually with more time, and the option to try some different locations to counter the bright sunlight I might have got more, but that’s not really how this project works).
I met Hayley at the school where Gill my wife works as she was there for some practical experience and I was running a short session on photography for some of the pupils. I don’t know her well, but I can’t wait to photograph her wedding next year based on working with her today. She’ll be stunning and a dream client.
I was a little early arriving at the school so waited a few minutes in the school office where I photographed one of the school administrators as she was answering the phone. She was too busy to pose, but had no fear of the camera. Unlike Hayley her attitude was one of tolerance rather than enthusiasm. Still got a nice picture of the old “Trouble & Strife” though. Guess which is which? 😉