Interacting with photographs first occurred, for me, among family. My mother, a housewife, had a large 13” x 19” photo album with large black pages; in it, square, black and white photos were held with corner photo holders allowing the photograph to be pulled from the album, viewed and then returned to the album. In it, I saw her family – her parents (my two much younger grandparents), her two brothers (my uncles – one I knew growing up, the other I might have met three times in my life) and her, my mother, as a child. She had a dog. She and her brothers rode sleds in winter. They lived in a two storey home through the thirties, forties and fifties. All this information was gleaned from her photographs. Her photos became reference points for significant family happenings. In all this, each photograph became the seed or basis from which family narrative could be gathered. The photograph began the story; Mom would tell the rest of it as answer to our questions at the kitchen table.
In Edmonton, in the home I grew up in, my father’s photographs were presented as slides. Dad would take his films to Ottewell’s Tamblyn Drug Store to be developed. When his slides returned he would scan them first with an individual slide viewer, then present them on his KODAK Ektagraphic III Projector, a carousel projector. A Saturday evening would often be spent with family in our living room viewing a slide show. Images recorded glimpses of us in our lives (Mom, Dad, me and my two brothers) at home, on vacation and within significant events. In the slideshow we would see ourselves again in what we had been doing. Dad or Mom would bring each photograph into discussion and we would talk. Questions might be asked. Throughout, the photograph and accompanying narrative allowed each of us to gain perspective on or about ourselves and the event or situation we saw ourselves reflected in. In each photograph, Dad’s effort was twofold – a willingness and readiness to capture a poignant moment; and an effort to compose the image to expose us (his family) at our best.
Our slideshows reflected back to us our family and moments within the narrative(s) of our lives. Unwrapping a Christmas present could be gathered for a photograph. Vacations always captured our doings in photographs. On the way to Church a photograph could be taken. At Church camp, many memorable moments were collected by way of photographs. Our Saturday evening slideshows held the treasure of Mom and Dad revealing to us where they had been in their travels – England (often), Spain (Costa del Sol), France (Monet’s home, Arles and rows of Lavender), Tokyo (temples, Mount Fuji, gardens, Geisha kimonos). Mom and Dad also had a life prior to having a family – photos contained images of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of Paris and the Moulin Rouge, of a first few years of home life when Dad’s work based him in the United Kingdom. In many ways, Mom and Dad’s photographs articulated what would become their intentions for my two brothers and I and the future lives they’d have us lead.
Our extended family, who they were and their life endeavors, were best understood with photographs. Photographs became reference points for the stories of family and friends that we had heard discussed around the kitchen table. From a photograph we could identify an aunt or uncle (we’d not yet met), a departed great grandparent and associate them with the narrative about them that we’d discussed. More poignantly and perhaps surprisingly, we’d see something of one’s own face or visage being reflected back to us in the faces of our older or distant relations – a connection or perhaps recognition associating us to family. In those older slides of Dad’s, in that photo album of Mom’s, family that I knew were often surrounded by others I could now never meet; photographs, again, became starting point for articulating narrative(s) of family.
Cameras and Photography
At age 10, perhaps in response to my skulking through items in our basement storage, my mother encouraged me to try taking photographs with her Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. Addressing the matter of film, not exposing it to light and loading a roll of film into the camera was a reality of practice that took some learning and mastery in order to produce photographs. There was film to be bought, the photos to be taken, the careful winding of the film when done, the removal of the film from the camera, the drop-off of the film to the Tamblyn Drugstore and the wait for the images to be developed and returned. A week or two weeks would go by and then the film would need to be picked up … all before you could see your result. And, in those first days, there was sometimes difference between your memory of the photo you took and the resulting image.
For my thirteenth birthday, my family got me a Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera; the Kodak 110 cartridge film was easier to load and remove from this camera and the camera made use of a cube flash with four flash possibilities to use. This Kodak camera came to Britain with me in 1976 – I still have photographs of the Lake District, Newcastle, Durham, York and London. Ten years later, with my brother’s encouragement, I bought my first Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, a Canon T-70 – the camera body I purchased from London Drug’s in Edmonton Centre and two lenses from Saveco (also in Edmonton). As my father and brother upgraded their Canon cameras (Canon FTb & Canon AE-1), their old lenses came my way. I used the Canon T-70 until 2000.
A Canon Powershot S110 Digital ELPH was next. Our second child had just been born and we were in the midst of point and shoot compact cameras that allowed digital images to be transferred to a computer and then whisked away to others via the Internet. The camera allowed for portability and ease of use with a young family and I was able to take it with me, as a home education coordinator, to photograph the world in my daily drives throughout Northwestern Alberta. When opportunities to photograph something presented themselves, they were easily and readily seized.
A Canon EOS 30D was the first DSLR I owned (2006). With an 18-55mm kit lens, I added a 75-300mm lens, a tripod for stability with long exposures and a shutter release. With the 30D I gathered school images for our annual school year book and images of our family on holidays. The 30D is a good camera, but its processor speed for storing images on its compact flash card can become sluggish in situations gathering many photos. From the EOS 30D, I have updated my camera twice – first to a Canon EOS 60D (Lens & Shutter, Victoria, B.C.) and then eighteen months ago to an EOS 5D Mk III (London Drugs – Grande Prairie). I also use a Canon Powershot SD 1200 for portability (always in my pocket).
In My Camera Bag – Currently
Camera Bodies – (1) Canon EOS 5D Mk III, (2) Canon EOS 60D; Lenses – (1) Canon EF 50 mm F1.4, (2) Canon EF-S 15-85 mm F3.5-5.6 IS, (3) Canon EF 16-35 mm F4.0L IS USM, (4) Canon EF 24-70 mm F2.8L II USM, (5) Canon EF 70-200 mm F2.8L IS II USM, (6) Sigma 10-20 mm F3.5 EX DC HSM and (7) Tamron AF SP 150-600 mm F5.0-6.3 Di VC USD; Speedlite – Canon 580EX II.
In terms of post-processing, I am a fan of NiK Software – Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro and Dfine; I am working with the Topaz Labs Photography Collection – Adjust, B&W Effects, Clarity, Clean, DeNoise, Detail, Lens Effects, Restyle, Simplify and Star Effects are the key plug-ins I currently use … I am hoping to try Glow at some point. Adobe Lightroom 5.7 is my starting point for importing, cataloguing, working with and exporting images. And, I’ve recently begun using Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite 6 as an alternative means to create High Dynamic Range photos, HDRs.
Beyond post-processing, image presentation will take different formats. On the digital side, my image files are quite large when editing in RAW; from Adobe Lightroom I export in jpeg format. And, from there, images need to be compressed for easy access on this blog – I use the AVS Image Converter (AVS 4 You Software) for compression. I also will use Animoto Slideshows for public sharing of images – retirement or eulogy slideshows, graduation slideshows and end-of-year presentations; Animoto does allow you to add a soundtrack to the slideshow and will adjust frame transition to accompany tempo of the music; the result can be quite moving.
Creating images to be hung on walls is something I have explored in Northwestern Alberta. I am impressed with print rendering by Vivid Print in Edmonton; I’ve also had good success with Costco and laminating images to press board – doing so, is a cost effective solution to image presentation. Watson’s Photo Source in Grande Prairie has produced some excellent Canvas Prints and has been able to accommodate a compressed timeframe for production. I’ve also had very good results from Technicare Imaging Ltd; from my home via the Internet I am able to transfer a jpeg file to them; they’ll review it in terms of potential visual result and call me if there’s an image problem. But, what is totally outstanding is that their image print quality exceeds all expectations and they can ship the product to me within a very short turn-around time. I’ve also used Mixbook to create calendars with my images – the only hold-up, here, is that they need to ship products to a land address and not a postal address (but, this can be worked through).
Other imaging – I’ve also had great success with Blurb publishing and creating desktop-sized photo-books. I also work with a Canon Pixma Pro 9000 when there’s a need to print images from home; in these instances I will often have the image framed for presentation, or, someone just wants a print to work with.
My evolution with photography and photograph presentation continues to evolve. My two photographs of Peggy’s Cove (1989) in Canada’s Maritimes remain on our kitchen walls. And, my photos from these last four years of my photoblog are now hanging on more and more of the walls of our home and in my office at work. My photographs are finding interesting homes elsewhere in the world. In my youth where we would sit down to review a set of slides as a family, my family currently likes to sit down with different photobooks to recall events on their own; from there, discussion about certain images will evolve. The ability to create an image and print it within our home has led to family exploration of photographs that they will hang in different areas of the home. In it all, there is always the story of what a particular photograph was about and what else was happening on that day.
Photographic Practice – Getting There ( … to where you want to be)
I like Winston Churchill’s statement – “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” For him, the assertion likely encompasses learning his enemy (during World War II) and not relishing the impact of loss (being taught within war). For me, within my photographic practice, his assertion holds truth – I am usually more restless about being out doing than I am to sit down within a class, a seminar or workshop. For me, as a photographer I tend to do well when I am ready to pursue a next step. Often my learning is learning by doing and reviewing the result. Usually, my result is what I was aiming for. MENTORING – when I am well within the practice of a certain style of shot, my best learnings (enhancements) occur by watching how someone takes a similar practice and optimizes it.
Photography Workshops Taken
Workshops do have their place often because of the collegiality that gathers among all photographers including the instructor – such forums provide the opportunity of dialogue about practice and do much to consolidate learning. And, I am a fan of continuous learning and regularly challenging myself in terms of stepping out of my comfort zone. Workshops I recommend follow and can be accessed by photographers in Alberta easily.
Support Yourself as Photographer
While you should be shooting daily, you should also surround and support yourself with ideas about photography, everything from the technical improvements to gear to new advancements in editing software to the thinking of other, established photographers. I would recommend downloading different podcasts that deal with photography – ‘Shutter Time With Sid & Mac,’ ‘The Lonely Photographers’ and perhaps the best influence for photographic thinking, ‘The Candid Frame with Ibarionex Perello.’ Beyond this, there are magazines – find the one(s) that work for you in terms of developing your practice; I gained much from PhotoPlus Magazine through my years as a Canon camera shooter. There is also N-Photo for Nikon users. By far, though, one of the most important things you need is the ability to talk shop about cameras, photos and everything in between – find that person or people to talk to about photography (and recognize that this quite likely can occur at a camera store).
Final Thought – Borrowed
“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow. – Imogen Cunningham