April 2021 No. 9
LOCKDOWN ON ORKNEY We could all see it coming by Nicki Gwynn-Jones FRPS I managed a mad dash around some of my favourite photographic spots in the few days before our lives were brought to a crashing halt, knowing that my wings were about to be severely clipped. We moved to Orkney in July 2016 and bought a house on a remote north eastern corner of Mainland, the largest island of the archipelago. It is stunningly beautiful but remote, and with most car journeys now banned I knew that I was finally going to have to explore my home patch, which shamefully I had always passed over in favour of more obvious locations.
We are surrounded by water on three sides The North Sea and Mull Head lie to the east, while the Shapinsay Sound is to the north, along with views across to the islands of Shapinsay, Eday, Sanday, Stronsay and Auskerry. To the west lies Kirkwall … and more sea. Our road is single track with passing places and the surrounding fields are scruffy, although John Taylor’s sheep and thousands of over-wintering geese seem to like them right enough. But running along the eastern edge of the peninsula are cliffs … and seabirds!
Shag with nesting material
Right on cue the weather turned foul; there is little between us and the Arctic, and the cruel north wind brought gales and blizzards.
It was that act of concentration which brought me back into the present moment and I began to feel calmer.
I spent the first few days trudging sorrowfully through sodden rough grass and mud - there are no paths here - my shoulders getting tighter and tighter in response to the freezing conditions, the weight of my camera gear and the almost overwhelming feelings of anxiety and stress.
Over the course of the next few days I realised that I was starting to pay closer attention to my surroundings; I saw that the birds were looking smart the pretty tysties’ red legs contrasting beautifully with their black and white tuxedos, and the shags (there are hundreds!) resplendent in their iridescent breeding plumage.
The weather matched my mood, but as I grimly stuck it out on the exposed cliffs at Rerwick Head, blizzarding snow tormenting me and turning my hands to lumps of ice, the gannets and fulmars appeared. To see these birds soaring effortlessly so close to the raging sea, one wing tip skimming the wave tops like an America’s Cup hydrofoil, is thrilling; I love trying to capture birds in flight, but the light levels were very low and the wind was high, so I had to summon all my powers of concentration in order to create any half decent images. No tripods here.
I became bewitched by the tumbling courtship of lapwings… was haunted by wild lamenting curlews and gave thanks for the brightly coloured, permanently overexcited oystercatchers. However, the dial was still very much set to gloom as I began to explore the clifftops within a mile or so of home.
April 2021 No. 9 fulmar colony and watched in wonderment as they rode the updrafts again and again, surely just for the joy of it. There can be few other birds that display such mastery in the air; swooping down into the geo at breathtaking speed they come to a stop, right in front of me, expertly holding their place with the subtlest of adjustment, all the while sneaking flirtatious glances at me as if to say, ‘Did you get the picture? Were you quick enough?’ Some of the birds in this colony are too young to breed, but their personalities were on full display during the many group interactions that I was lucky enough to watch.
Arctic tern display
Then one day the sun began to shine, the sea pinks and campions began to bloom, and the arctic terns arrived. The cliffs were filled with razorbills and guillemots - sadly no puffins - and the sky thrummed with the sound of birds defending their nesting territories from marauding gulls and skuas. I named one favourite spot Cacophony Corner in honour of these feisty heroes.
I discovered many things; that the rock formations on the cliffs are largely triangular in shape - no idea why; that the seabirds love the updrafts here, and that the sea behaves in different ways according to the wind direction - ferocious waves in an easterly, ruffles and spoots in a westerly. I found a blow hole, a gloup (a collapsed cave) and three giant rocks shaped just like huge coffins … disturbing. It is known that the Vikings spent time in this area and there are many shipwrecks. I saw redshanks and purple sandpipers feeding on the rocky outcrops just under the cliffs, and when I accidentally put up a skittish snipe from the long grass I too was spooked. Orcadian place names often raise a smile and this area is no exception, and so it was that when I reached the place known as Bacon Tub I made my happiest discovery:
Echoing through a natural archway in the rock I could distinctly hear the mournful cry of a kittiwake Orkney’s western cliffs have been a mainstay for these dainty gulls, but I never expected to find them almost within earshot of my house … thrilling times! Over the course of the next few weeks the colony grew to about thirty birds and I am delighted to report that during the summer many chicks were successfully fledged. By now I was truly counting my lucky stars … what unbelievably good fortune to be locked down in such a place! I became very well-acquainted with the local
Sea serpent At the beginning of June our lockdown was partially lifted. Like so many others I know that being able to connect with nature saved my sanity, and I was able to find a peace that I could not have imagined a few weeks earlier. For the company of the wild things that call Orkney home I shall always be grateful - during my many hours of wandering I never once encountered another living soul. nickigwynnjones.zenfolio.com
April 2021 No. 9
What’s the point? So what’s the point of RPS Distinctions? As someone who has been wandering the paths of Licentiateship, Associateship and Fellowship for some time I can only speak from my personal perspective, and so these are simply my own musings.
The attainment of an Associateship requires a huge step towards an imaginative and personal approach showing your style and expertise culminating in your fifteen perfect images. If that was a massive step then the journey towards Fellowship is even more and rightly so. If you smoothly transition from L to A to F then I salute you, or if, like me, you flux with your images whilst remaining true to your original concept but are prepared to re-examine your efforts, not to please the assessors but to honestly view your image presentation in the cold light of reality and to accept constructive criticism and apply, then whatever the outcome you will likely be better f or it. We are often in danger of being highly protective of our images that we have imagined, taken, constructed and now feel fiercely about. I was about to say: “Wrong!”, but no, you may well be right, so stick with your feeling and judgment because if it’s right for you then it’s right even though others may not agree. So back to the original question.
Well, first let’s look at the context in which we operate as photographers in 2021. Few will argue that the huge advances in both equipment and digital applications during the past few years have massively increased our photographic horizons. I am in awe of the superb images that I am privileged to see almost every day, and I am often disappointed that I am not able to achieve comparable effects. Is it my equipment (sometimes), is it my lack of expertise at image manipulation (sometimes), is it my inability to be in the right place at the right time (sometimes), or is it my state of mind (always). So producing an image which touches an emotion in me, and sometimes in others, is not something that happens every day, and rightly so as it takes skill, application and imagination, and that is to produce just one image!
To produce a portfolio which is a combination of ten, fifteen or twenty/twenty-one images is a whole new ball game The achievement of a Licentiateship shows that the holder has mastered the facets of their craft and equipment.
Let us not ignore the “Elephant in the Room” when we talk about Distinctions Yes, ego is in there along with pride, recognition and a sense of achievement. Let me say that in my opinion there is nothing wrong in any of these which are in fact our super motivators. When we enter the realms of RPS Distinctions, be it at Licentiateship, Associateship or Fellowship level, we enter a new world that requires us to expand our horizons, develop new skills and open our mind, often to doing things differently. It is the road towards these goals that has most effect upon us as photographers, as much as the achievement of the final goal. Most who have achieved any of these goals will probably reflect that the “journey“ was the most valuable experience. So if you are not prepared for disappointment and possibly rejection on the road to pure satisfaction, If you are not prepared to expand your horizons, learn new things, broaden your imagination and meet some amazing people then, for you, there may well be no point in RPS Distinctions. Mike Parmee ARPS
April 2021 No. 9
Street photography is exciting Just being on the street generates a flutter within me, just being in an urban setting energises me, just feeling the pulse and rhythm of the city starts me on my creative journey. This is where most of my work is done. With the exception of winter, I take the Amtrak to New York City several times a year - sometimes even for a day. As the train approaches Penn Station my pulse quickens. I do not always know where my steps will take me. Intuitively I begin.
There comes a magical moment when that shutter is released There is something within me that tells me that this is the second to trip it rather than the one before or after. However, I can take an image and another one in quick succession and both will be very different. True there are many discards but the editing is part of the enjoyment of this medium.
There are people and animals moving in and out of a scene. And then there is my mood; sometimes I am tuned into a broad scene, at other times to a close up of people.
In most of my photographs, I do not ask anyone for permission If I do I lose that moment and spontaneity which is key to my work. The only exception to this is a group of images that I have done of the homeless. In all these cases I ask the person and I kneel down to their level to talk with them. I offer them money to take these pictures. Offering them something in exchange for what they are offering me, which is not only a photograph but an interesting discussion.
I have found so many projects in New York City; people in conversations, neighbourhoods, people taking pictures with the Disney characters in Times Square, tourists taking souvenir pictures giving them place, street musicians, subway riders, and the Gay Pride and Halloween Parades. However, my most fun has been photographing people in close physical proximity to each other but emotionally miles apart.
In deciding what to print, I find that I am not as concerned about the perfect picture as with landscape and portrait work. I do not pay exact attention to the right amount of precision, rather I am interested in the impact of the image. At times I will use a slow shutter to achieve motion and blur - at other times I want to stop all movement and concentrate on that particular moment.
In street photography there are so many nuances to be captured. There are facial expressions of the people, and their body movement, there is a city scene where the light changes from one minute to another.
My devastating time came when the pandemic hit Living 200 miles away from New York City and the fact that the city emptied out, my trips stopped. I was stuck.
April 2021 No. 9
Lockdown, hmmm… Then the thought occurred to me why not photograph in my home city, Fall River, Mass, an ethnically diverse city, but 65% Portuguese from the Azorean Islands. I chose one neighbourhood to photograph and spent hours just walking and rewalking through the streets. Each time I went, I saw something anew and it not only produced a nice grouping of work, but also it made me see better.
What was I going to achieve? What wasn’t I going to achieve? All that time and the luxury of enforced inactivity … bring it on! Let’s face it, we were all being told this was a great opportunity to be productive, to achieve, to produce that magnum opus we’ve been putting off for so long. So, I decided I would: conquer Photoshop, start a vegan blog, start painting, meditate daily, practice mindfulness, run regularly, spring clean a room every week, resume the saxophone. I watched Zooms with all sorts of ideas for photography and new processes and techniques. I would try them all, and be brilliant. I’d finish my play, start my book, bake sourdough…
The reality was very different I did start a few of my itemised activities but the sudden increase in running mileage brought inevitable injury so that was curtailed. Housework is downright boring (and no-one was coming to visit anyway so who’d see my efforts) and I had writer’s block. I couldn’t concentrate on meditation, Photoshop confounds me, online talks make everything look easy and I’d already put the sax back in its case.
I am asked what will I do with all these photographs. I love to print and have organised boxes of images. I have exhibited in Providence, RI, Boston, New York City, Washington DC. I am also a member of the Deblois Gallery in Newport, RI, where I show new work every month. I have also made several one of a kind books.
What I did do though, when the weather was gorgeous, was start having breakfast in the conservatory. Consequently, I was in the right place at the right time when the activity on the bird feeders started going crazy, with juvenile starlings making the most incredible demands on their parents to be fed. What a joy it was!
I have told my children when I am gone to just dump all this work. But please remember with each basketful the fun and enjoyment I have had. It is a wonderful journey I am on. Ron Caplain ARPS
I got my long lens and started shooting. Initially I just sat at the table with coffee and toast and shot through the windows between mouthfuls. I don’t think I really appreciated the shots I could, and would, get.
April 2021 No. 9 After a while I realised the conservatory windows were dirty and, rather than clean them, I moved – I opened the doors and sat and waited and watched. It was wonderful. I started getting up earlier and earlier – filling the feeders at 6am – and earlier and earlier the cacophony started (no doubt much to the annoyance of my neighbours!). Breakfast became a necessary but inconvenient interruption to my bird photography. The amount of buggy meal those starlings consumed was astonishing! However, herein lies an unexpected problem. It dawned on me that buggy meal is made from beef fat. Having turned vegan since buying it I was horrified. I have no idea what I’ll feed my young starling visitors this spring but I will have to find something else. As the prospect of some level of restrictions still being in place seems more and more likely, it is one of the few things that keep me positive and motivated.
While I was taking the shots it occurred to me that making the images into silhouettes would add an interesting dimension to them – or should I say, remove a dimension! This was mainly because of a blackbird that I named Scruffy. His ruffled feathers made him distinctive and he was a frequent visitor to the garden. I looked for him all the time and fell in love. The outline of his shape and disheveled appearance sparked the silhouette idea.
I have always loved high key images Going outside on a day with a white sky is a gift for me. The early morning skies at this time were cloudless which was a great start. I moved sliders up and down and went full on black and white. The shapes and patterns and negative space that came out were just a joy and I was hooked.
I used a lot of post-processing to achieve the effect because the project had changed from mindless breakfast snaps to highly stylised images. This spring I will aim to get much closer to my final image in camera. Watch this space!
Artistically speaking I did manage to tick a few other things off the list I finally tried orbs and found that totally orbsorbing (sorry!). I could, and did, spend hours trying out various images with the orb action that I created (!) in PS. In fact I made a book and a 2021 wall calendar with the images. How many of us decided to have a good clear out while we were trapped at home? I certainly did. It brought to the fore the issue of all the toys I’ve held on to from my childhood. Not ALL the toys of course but I have kept the special ones. It occurred to me that if I took photos of them I could perhaps let them go. They sit in boxes doing nothing when children somewhere could be enjoying them – tattered though they are! Leading on from that I bought a very old camera. My first camera was a Brownie Starmite and I found one for £10 on eBay. My next project is to use my childhood camera to photograph my childhood toys. I expect that to be an emotional experience and I admit to procrastinating a little. I’ve got to track down some 127 film too. Of course we’ve been shooting in colour all my life so I’d forgotten that 127 film is only black and white – or slides. I’ll take digital images as well to preserve the colour, although to be honest, I think I’m deluding myself in thinking I’ll ever let the toys go. The journey with photography started when I was quite young and although I got diverted many times over the years, I found my passion again about 7 years ago. Lockdown has now brought me full circle and back to the Brownie. Claire Carroll
Newsletter articles We are always on the lookout for material to go into the newsletter and would welcome anything you might like to send in. Lockdown projects, sharing distinction successes, learned articles, the list is long. Please contact me initially at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org John Cavana ARPS
April 2021 No. 9
Come and join a Circle. It’s rewarding, it’s useful, it’s friendly, and it’s free. Maybe you’ve thought, “One of these days I might do that”, or maybe you’ve wondered what the Circles are, but forgotten to pursue it. Well, read this and grab your opportunity while you can. Already about 60 VAG members belong to the 7 Circles we run, 2 Print and 5 Email. Vacancies vary; last summer we had a waiting list, but currently there are about 6 vacancies. Print Circles circulate mailing pouches by post, and you just pay your own postage, about £4 every 6 weeks or so. Prints can be home or commercially processed, and extra precautions are taken on account of COVID. Your print (about 8 x 5 inches) is circulated, collects comments from fellow members, and eventually comes back to you. Email Circles circulate images once a month, and collect comments similarly. E Circles are COVID-free, of course. Members range from keen newcomers to experienced photographers with or seeking LRPS or ARPS. The main thing is that they enjoy photography, are keen to talk about it, and aim to improve or diversify their work. All are keen to help, and there is no room for destructive comments. Everyone sees photography differently, so the same picture might get high praise from one person and a “not for me” from another. Next time, another image, and it will be different!
Something positive to look forward to: Your 2020 prints - already framed, yet still unseen by the public - will be exhibited this year. So far we have two venues: Friday 18th June to Sunday 1st August Patchings Art Centre, Oxton Road, Calverton, Nottingham NG14 6NU (www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk) and then Monday 13th September to Wednesday 20th October The Heseltine Gallery, Chenderit School, Archery Road, Middleton Cheney, Banbury OX17 2QR (www.theheseltinegallery.org.uk) Updates will be forthcoming as plans unfold. To mark our centenary, we are making progress with the plan to invite RPS VAG members to submit up to three square format digital images, one of which will be selected to appear in a special edition of our Visual Art magazine, scheduled to be published this autumn. Full details plus the entry form will appear in Newsletter No. 10, with an end of July deadline. Meanwhile, think digital and think square. Wendy Meagher LRPS
In normal times, belonging to a circle means you might meet fellow Circlers at Lectures, VAG Weekends or Photoshows. That’s something to look forward to soon.
It gives us great pleasure to congratulate the following
To find out more, contact me at email@example.com
ARPS Visual Art Alison Buchanan, Fiona Spence, Sophia Spurgin, Cliff Spooner, Judith Kimber, Tiong Chiong Soon
Gill Dishart ARPS
members on their recently gained RPS Distinctions: LRPS June Poston, James Waddington
FRPS Visual Art Lorna Brown, Martin Erhard, Diana Wai-Sze Chan, David Rutter, Lung-Tsai Wang ARPS Exemption Dr Prem Muthu ARPS Travel Raymond Ching If any group members have not been included in this list, and would like to be listed, please let me know. John Cavana ARPS