Young Harry travelled with me and Diane set off in her own car early on Friday morning. We met up for coffee at Fleet services before making our way to the Riviera Hotel, a stone’s throw from the beach at Bournemouth. Harry has been a member of the Arena Group of photographers for many years and each year they provide us with a wonderful weekend conference. It is an event not to be missed. The food at the hotel is an added bonus as well as its location as a short walk, albeit a steep walk back, takes you directly to the beach. Bournemouth Pier is exactly one mile away.
Having dumped our bags in our rooms Diane and I set off for the beach, with our cameras at the ready. We headed towards the pier and the town. It was a greyish day as we strolled along the promenade with relatively poor light and few people on the beach. I became rather fascinated by the behaviour of three white terriers who seemed determined to play and explore the litter bins. We both took a few pictures of people sitting, watching and talking. We even managed to find a lady in red to brighten our pictures. On the pier we watched and photographed the very brave or very mad surfers who all looked more than just cold! Having walked about four miles we headed back up the hill to the hotel and into the shower before enjoying what was to be a delicious three course meal. The conversation was lively and we all agreed how nice it was to be with fellow photographers as we could talk pictures, lenses, cameras etc without seeing the ‘glazed over’ look our rather limited conversations created in non photographers. We could obsess legitimately!
Early Saturday morning at 6.40 we set off to the beach again, meeting several photographers who unlike us, had got up really early to capture the pink sunrise. They enthused about the soft colours and realising we had missed it all, we decided we would get up very early on Sunday.
Saturday’s seminars began with a talk I had seen before from a great street photographer Dave Mason. He had presented recently at our local club but on this occasion he had added new material. He is a lively presenter who enjoys the humour and decisive moments that street photography provides. He has a vivid imagination often telling an interesting story about what he thinks might be going on in any given street shot. Street photography is great fun and I spend a lot of my time trying to capture the essence of strangers that pass by but it is a shame that many judges despise humour and like street photography even less! Visit Dave’s website http://www.davemasonimages.com/
I kind of dread wildlife presentations as I have seen so many now and often they deteriorate into ‘snaps’ of what is widely known in the photography world, as ‘birds on sticks’. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the skills that wildlife photographers have, but when you have seen one thousand pictures of birds sitting in a tree, often taken with a very expensive 600mm lens, there is a tendency for me to ‘nod off’. The final insult of course is that many judges love them and so they are usually awarded very high marks, regardless sometimes of whether they are even sharp! The next presenter Paul Goldstein, conducts photography tours around the world and I was interested to see the standard of photography in these more exacting environments. For once I was not disappointed. The images were exciting and vibrant and he was brave and confident enough to show us the photographs that didn’t quite live up to his self imposed rules. Why do we do that, impose arbitrary rules on ourselves? He was worried about stray grass, animals touching each other and composition. Wild animals live in wild places, why worry about stray grass and a busy background? The panoramic views of wild polar bears on acres of split ice were stunning and yes I did want to be there alongside the cheetahs and all the cubs that engendered so many ‘oohs and arghhs’ from the captivated audience. Diane and I grabbed the booklet provided and carefully surveyed the cost of such photographic tours. I think it would be fair to say you’d need a banker’s pension or footballer’s salary to ever achieve that dream, at least in the short term! Diane and I have started saving already! To see some of Paul’s wonderful wildlife pictures go to http://www.paulgoldstein.co.uk/ Take a look at the slow panning shots for something a little more real in wildlife.
The final speaker of the day was completely different and just as fascinating, if slightly obsessive! His pictures sell in the Art world and he uses photography as a means of creating, what can only be described, as totally unique and unusual photographs. I was slightly worried when he described how he returned time and time again to photograph the same wall and the tiny lichen every two years, especially as the lichen grew no more about a millimetre, but it did make me smile. Fortunately for us and him I think, the wall he was so fond of , was finally fenced off by the council and he was unable to study it further. Instead, he became interested in how the detritus found on the beach deteriorates over time and how sea water creates patterns as it decays anything it surrounds. His abstract pictures of this patterning are totally stunning and I can see why he sells so many as each one is so fabulously unique despite his love of circles in a square format. Using a scanner he arranges the sea water, surrounded by bathroom sealant, around rusty nuts and the bottoms of old cans. I still can’t believe how these stunning art photographs can be created from such mundane objects. Check out his website http://www.paul-kenny.co.uk/gallery.html
We had some time before the ‘print walk’ so cameras in hand again we almost ran down to the beach. It was even greyer this time. Enthused by the wildlife photographer’s instructions to practice our photographic skills on domestic animals and to anticipate what might happen, I saw two beautiful retrievers playing on the beach. Diane and I both ran across the sand to get a better ‘head on ‘ shot when they were joined by a rather handsome young man who, noticing our cameras explained that he only had a phone camera at his disposal. As usual we took his email address and I agreed to share with him any of the pictures that came out okay. I was taken with his eight month old retriever Furzey who seemed to have such energy, a lovely smile and sunny disposition – a bit like his owner! We finally returned to the hotel to enjoy the ‘print walk’. This provides an opportunity for both delegates and Arena members to show their most recent work to each other. There were a huge number and variety of prints this year all of a very high standard.
At 5.15 am precisely, Diane and I set off to enjoy what we expected to be a lovely soft sunset. It was very cold with drizzly rain and a breeze. On our way to the beach we disturbed two young fox cubs who scuttled off before we could say cameras let alone get them out of our bags. Setting up to take long exposure photographs, as I was to discover, is quite a performance especially when your hands are very cold and still recovering from losing two bones. When we arrived at the spot on the promenade we had chosen the day before, it was pitch black! Diane was concerned we could be ‘taken out’ at any time by an unsuspecting cyclist. I managed to get the new tripod up but getting the camera into the slot was a whole different ball game. Try as I might it would not slot in. I made the mistake of taking the connection plate off the camera and then of course without a light I couldn’t see which way to put it back on. I had forgotten my torch so I used the flashlight app on my mobile. The air got bluer with curses as I struggled to hold the camera and snap it into position. After twenty minutes the mobile started bleeping, the battery was nearly out and so was my only light source. Finally the camera clicked in and I set about attaching my remote shutter release. OMG now I couldn’t get the camera to work with it. I faffed, talked to it and swore at it but still nothing. Diane by this time, was cold. She began running up and down and skipping about like some professional athlete and to make matters worse there was absolutely no sign of any beautiful soft light, just greyness, rain and wind! As it grew a little lighter I attached my ‘Big Stopper’ and tried again to get a shot. Finally, having decided that it was probably too dark to use the filter I removed it and tried the remote on three different settings. Eventually I heard the shutter click, but the picture that emerged was pretty awful. I do have patience for damsels and dragons but not it seems for long exposure seascapes in the freezing rain. We both gave up, returned to our warm showers and a huge English breakfast!
Two of the speakers on Sunday were truly enthralling. John Bulmer was a press photographer working for the Sunday Times Supplement for many years. I bought his book ‘North’ as it documents a time we will never see again, in the most wonderfully evocative way. He was a thoughtful and entertaining presenter whose life in that world I envy. From the dark room to digital he has seen and photographed a time in our history both in war and in British cities that must have been a wonderful privilege. Check out his website http://www.johnbulmer.co.uk/
Finally we were entertained by Harry Borden whose iconic portrait of Bill Nighy, adorns the front cover of the Royal Photographic Society’s journal this month. There is something quite intriguing about some of his portraits of celebrities that almost borders on extraordinary and bizarre, if not serendipitous. For example, he took quite an ordinary picture of Oscar Pistorious before he shot his girlfriend. In the picture he is leaning casually against a wall and behind him is the perfect shadow of a young woman. Harry shot Max Clifford before he was found guilty recently and the photograph shows him holding his hands up as if he is hiding his face from the press. Even his photograph of Jimmy Saville depicts a kind of shadowy dark figure with an eerie double in the background and this too was taken before he was exposed. His more recent work depicting Holocaust survivors and single fathers is evocative and interesting. To see some of his iconic pictures go to http://harryborden.co.uk/
It is always an eye opening experience to step outside the somewhat parochial world of camera club photography that so many of us live in. Very few, if any, of the brilliant pictures I have seen during this last weekend would achieve even a commended in a camera club competition. They would be criticised by some judges as burned out, too dark, too arty, too abstract, too cluttered and so on. Maybe then, the whole world of club photography, and the tendency for so many judges (but not all) to live and judge by such strict dictated and arbitrary rules needs a good shake up in this the 21st Century, especially if us mere mortals are ever going to capture the kind of pictures that turn other photographers’ heads!
We had a wonderful weekend and met many interesting and passionate photographers. A big thank you to Leigh Preston for making us laugh so much, to Kathy Harcom for her great organisation and prompt responses to queries and all other Arena members who worked so hard to put the conference together. Thanks too, to all the presenters, whose passion for photography shone so brightly.