It has been a busy fall. Now that I’m no longer working for a living (yay!), I’ve been able to devote a lot of time to my passion: photography. In September, I enrolled in the Photo Arts program at Sir Sandford Fleming College. Fortunately for me, this program is offered at the Haliburton School of the Arts, a beautiful campus set in the woods near Haliburton, not very far from my cottage. The Fleming photo arts program is the last remaining analog photography course in Ontario, so the emphasis of the course work has been on creating black and white analog prints. The program is also unique in that it is condensed into 15 weeks, instead of being offered over a full year. For someone of my considerable years, this is really important! I don’t have time to waste.
Why take a course that stresses darkroom work? Hasn’t digital taken over photography? There are a few reasons for my choice here. First, I really learned photography in the modern digital age. While many of my contemporaries took photography courses in high school, my passion developed later in life and there was a big gap. I’d never had the magical experience of watching a print image emerge in the developer tray. So many of the terms in photography come from the analog era (dodging and burning for example) that I felt I was missing something and needed to fill in the blanks.
I’ve always loved colour, but there was something about a black and white print that really worked for the right image. Without a background in analog black and white photography, I felt a distinct lack of competence in producing black and white work. What is a black and white print supposed to look like? Should it be dark and contrasty? Should it be lighter and predominantly gray? There was a great deal of variation in prints displayed in galleries and online and I had no compass to be able to judge the “good” from the “bad” or, more importantly, to establish my own style.
So, what has it been like to go back to school after years of working? In short, it has been brilliant. The class size is small (9 people), so the interaction with the instructor has been wonderful. Our class is very talented, so I’ve learned from my classmates as well. They tend to be younger than me by a wide margin (as do the instructors!) and aren’t burdened by a photographic style that has already emerged. As a result, they seem to find it easier to experiment and produce some really fine work. I’ve been doing very well at a technical level and my essays reflect a bit more maturity and world experience, but I’ve been really having to work hard to get outside my comfort zone and produce experimental work.
There have been exceptions. As you can see from the images below, the course on design inspired me to produce a series of whimsical images consisting of circles on squares or squares on circles. There are nine images in the series, designed to be presented as a square (see the portfolio section for more details).
Right now, we’re nearing the end of reading week and I’ve been busy re-inventing my website. There is now a static cover page with an image of the Ystalyfera Tin Works, showing some of the new black and white work that I’ve been doing. This is an older image that I always liked for its form and subject, but the amount of green in the photo was overwhelming. By converting to black and white and going for a higher contrast, the image becomes more dramatic and the green doesn’t detract. The subject of industrial cathedrals (i.e. abandoned places of work) has always fascinated me, so I was pleased to find an image that I could use to kick off a new project.