why film? part two

lomo lca+, 2013 
In part one of my investigation into my reasons for exclusively using film, I set up the questions surrounding my assumption that, generally speaking, film offers a closer representation of the real than digital technology. And there were a lot of questions, and a lot of contradictions. This surprised even me. It also led to a lot of introspective thought on my part, as I searched all the logic in my head to try to find answers. I've always known why I love film: its honesty. I just had to figure out why I so steadfastly believe that film and honesty are inextricably linked.

Before I go into my conclusions, I want to take a moment to explain why honesty in my photography is so important to me. Photography is, among other things, an art form. As such, creative people have long been pushing the medium - both with film and digital technologies - to produce wonderful, fantastical images that are very obviously not representations of reality. Some artists, such as Jeff Wall, employ meticulous staging and production techniques to challenge our very assumptions of truth in the image. All of these approaches to photography are valid. Many artists create brilliant, important work by presenting visual untruths.

In most of my work, however, I aim to capture actual truths. I mean this both in the journalistic sense, where my social and travel photography documents people and places as they exist at a moment in time, and in a more literal sense, where I aim to keep my (sometimes staged) portraits and press shots free of any post-production manipulation. It is the medium's ability to capture an image of reality, as Bazin discussed, that draws me to the camera again and again. And I think this implication of truth in the image, and particularly in photojournalism, is why we collectively feel so cheated when a journalistic image is exposed as a hoax, or even as a manipulated version of reality (such as the war photos of freelance photojournalist Adnan Hajj, which were revealed to be heavily doctored after being published globally via Reuters).

nikon f4, 2013 
But Greta, you might say, your multiple exposures don't represent truth! The world doesn't look like that! And you would be right in the sense that during the gig depicted in the above photo, for example, there were not two identical guitarists on the stage. However, in all my multiple exposures, each image within the frame is a representation of truth, and usually there is some 'real' connection between the exposures (for example, a person and the environment they're in, or, as above, the same person mere moments apart). Furthermore, the process of exposing such images - all within the camera, on film - is also keenly related to truth and authenticity. But more on that in part three.

Digital is just as capable of being honest with us as film is. There is no reason why a digital camera can't capture as much truth as a film camera can. And, as we have seen, film cameras (and film photos that have been digitally edited after the fact) are just as capable of telling untruths as digital cameras. So - back to the issue at hand - why do I (and others) more readily associate film with truth, and digital with deception? My reasoning can be separated into two distinct arguments: the psychological and the practical.

splitcam, 2013 
psychological factors

Most of us have grown up with scores of family photo albums. Those enormous tomes, with pages where the plastic sheets peel away to unleash faded prints laid over cut newspaper (lest they stick to the board), mapping out pieces of lives once lived. Some prints have rounded corners. Some are torn. Some have that strange textured surface, like a miniature grid. Maybe some are really old - cracked black and white wedding photos of great aunties, or baby portraits of Grandpa. There may be sepia, and dust marks or scratches. There may even be a few photos with strange multiple images because someone forgot to wind on the film. There will be dated fashions: long hair and crocheted bikinis of the seventies; smart hats and daytime gloves of the fifties; mullets and fluoro colours of the eighties. There are picnics, birthday parties (complete with Women's Weekly party cakes), camping trips, Christmas trees, grinning kids with missing teeth, dress-up days, first days of school, weddings, debutante balls, pregnant bellies, bassinets. All of these common events appear to create a distinct tapestry of life. Each family has a different history; each album is filled with an enormous array of stories unique to those lives.

But for all the myriad variations that exist from family to family and album to album, each of these exorbitantly heavy, dust-covered epics have something in common: when we look at the images within, we know that they are real. Mum did bake that swimming pool cake. Your sister did wear those fluoro leggings. Your grandpa was wearing a dress for his 1920s baby portrait. There was no Photoshopping when your parents got married in 1976. No-one airbrushed the pimples on your cousin's chin when he won that under-18s footy trophy in 1989. These photos show us life through the poor-quality lenses of our family's past.

diana, c. 2009 

holga, 2012 

holga, 2012 
It is for this reason that when we see the faded colours, the vignetting, the soft focus and/or the multiple exposures that are now synonymous with Lomography cameras and other analogue toy/plastic cameras, we feel that we can trust them more than, say, a glaringly flawless digital image. Whether it's conscious or not - and I suspect in most cases, it isn't - our attraction to analogue aesthetics is a rejection of the superficiality inherent in so much digital technology. We collectively crave a return to the real. I have no doubt that this accounts for the unprecedented popularity of Instagram - the retro aesthetic that the app employs combines with its primary function of taking 'instant' photos to present a modern-day version of the Polaroid; a real moment in time, captured in a few seconds and instantaneously broadcasted to the world, with no time for trickery (apart from the regimented filters, which in turn contribute to the psychological acceptance of truth in the image... get it?!).

nikon f4, 2013   

nikon f4, 2013 

nikon f4, cross-processed slide, 2011 

nikon f4, cross-processed slide, 2011 
To a lesser extent, the subtle analogue characteristics that are often present in 'professional' film cameras (such as high-end SLRs) function in the same way: the grain of a high-speed film, the complex saturation of a cross-processed slide film, the tiny specks of dust that attach to the negative during scanning, a carefully considered in-camera multiple exposure. Many of these things are sometimes considered to be imperfections, but to me, they are precisely the opposite; they are perfect because they denote the truth.

Coming up in part three: practical factors.


experimenting with some new gods

I've been progressively pushing the experimental aspects of my live photography lately. This is not to say that far-out, psychedelic effects are always better than a straightforward shot; that is most certainly untrue. But sometimes, they are as good, if not better. Sometimes, an experimental photo represents the music and/or the artist more closely than a traditional photo could.

I'm not sure if that is necessarily true of these shots of New Gods, which I took recently at Ding Dong Lounge in the city. I went there with the specific intention to try out some new techniques. This is partly because I thought New Gods - with their interesting instrumental work and sometimes erratic frontman - would suit a less conventional approach to live photography. It is also because I need to become more familiar with these effects, and hone my skills, so that in future I can make informed decisions as to which shooting mode will be more effective - and so I will have a reasonable idea of what the results of this unconventional style will look like.

I think the photo at the top of the post captures something of the band and the performance more effectively than the second two. Even though none of these three communicate movement, which is something that I generally love in live shots, the top image is somehow more evocative - all the pretty lights dominating the top third of the frame, the gorgeous lighting on Richard's face (left), and the fact that Dominic is still the focus, but in a more subtle and collaborative way. A talented songwriter backed by a devoted unit of musicians, perhaps. There's something very intimate about the shot, which I think comes from its composition. It evokes warmth (camaraderie, perhaps?), and a richness of sound that seems apt for the music, whereas the other two deceptively sparse.

Again this one feels quite sparse, and I don't think it's a great representation of the band. But it is an interesting effect, and in trials like these, interesting is all I ask for.

I actually really like this, and I think it's because of the strange, out-of-focus exposure of Dominic (the yellow figure), which again adds warmth to the image. Together with the lights, it creates a lovely atmosphere - almost dreamlike. I also like that Sam is in it - which is rare, because thanks to stage position and poor lighting, drummers are frustratingly difficult to include in live shots. However, the shot doesn't include Richard, so it's not an image of the whole band.

That movement I was talking about?

This technique is very new to me, albeit a pretty organic extension of my multiple exposure work. It's not a perfect image by any means, but with its chaos leading to an emotive cry from Dominic at the far right of the frame, it contains a lot of promise. This technique is one that needs a lot more practice - and one that will definitely be getting it.

(PS: Part Two of my investigation into film vs digital is well underway, and should appear in the coming week. I just wanted to give some photo love to the internet in the interim.)


why film? part one

Why film?

It's a question that I get asked a lot. And I ask it of myself even more often. It's something I've been thinking hard about, and trying to articulate, for the longest time. The closest thing to an answer I've ever been able to achieve is less an explanation than a feeling. A very strong feeling that I just have no interest in taking up digital photography. An extremely strong feeling that I am just in love with film. But this hasn't satisfied my intense curiosity on the matter.

While buying and testing out my new (film) camera - the most expensive one I've bought yet - the question seemed more relevant than ever. While I don't yet have a single, definitive answer, here I'm going to attempt to explore one of my strongest suspicions as to the reason I continue to stubbornly snub new (digital) forms of photography.

The core of this suspicion is my very general belief that film just seems more real than digital. When I have tried to explain this in the past, I haven't been able to get much further than the logic that film is a physical medium - the image is there on the strip of negative, permanent and concrete. Digital, on the other hand, begins and ends in the virtual realm. It's made up of ones and zeros, and open to a plethora of manipulation and dishonesty within ubiquitous programs like Photoshop. Digital photography has opened the medium up to a world of effects, techniques and methodologies that allow images to be spectacularly manipulated. In many ways, this is a wonderful thing, as artists can create images that simply couldn’t be achieved before. But it also means that our default position when we see a remarkable image is to suspect (at best) or assume (at worst) that it has been digitally manipulated. From famous hoaxes (such as the 9/11 tourist photo, see that and more here) to celebrities that have been airbrushed to within an inch of their lives (there’s a good collection here), the ubiquity of Photoshop in modern media, and photography, means that photographic images can’t really be trusted. Or, as Erik Voons writes in his introduction to the ‘New Realities’ issue of Guide to Unique Photography, ‘while fully embracing digitization and accepting that the plethora of synthesised images will continue to grow, it has nonetheless become difficult (if not impossible) to make a distinction between pictures that are “real” and those that have been altered.’

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, when photography was in its infancy, it was prized for precisely the opposite.

André Bazin was one of the most influential cinema theorists of the twentieth century. He co-founded French cinema journal Cahiers du cinéma in 1951, which would permanently alter the direction of modern film theory (case in point: its much-debated auteur theory is still taught in film schools today). In 'The Ontology of the Photographic Image', Bazin posits that photographic technology changed the face of creative representation by, for the first time, enabling reality to be visually duplicated. While traditional art forms had been representing reality for centuries, the photograph presented a way to '[completely satisfy] our appetite for illusion by a mechanical reproduction in the making of which man plays no part'. While obviously man does play a part in the composition and the act of taking the photograph, Bazin's point is that subjectivity ends there; unlike in, say, painting, the image is a mechanical duplication of life rather than a hand-made interpretation. In his words:

For the first time, between the originating object and its reproduction there intervenes only the instrumentality of a nonliving agent ... The personality of the photographer enters into the proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind. Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as is played by the painter.

That's it! I thought. That's the difference between film and digital! That's what I love about film! This logic can surely be applied to the film vs digital debate: the extensive post-production that so often occurs in digital photography is akin to the painting in Bazin’s analogy. Film is truth; digital is a warped version - a subjective interpretation - of that truth.

But the more I thought about it, the surer I became that, unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that.

The problem with this simplistic categorisation is that film photos mostly end up in the same format as digital photos. Every piece of my work you've ever seen has most likely been on a computer. Even if you've seen a framed, physical print of mine, it has been printed from a digital file scanned from the negative. Which means that film photos are just as easily Photoshopped as digital photos.

Furthermore, even before negatives were being scanned and converted into jpegs, photos were being manipulated; photo hoaxes go back to the nineteenth century. Vroons acknowledges that ‘there hasn’t really been a moment in which claiming the recording of the “real” was not problematic’, pointing out that ‘as soon as Hippolyte Bayard photographed a staged scene of himself as a drowned man (Le Noyé, 1840), he introduced his audience to the need for a sceptical eye.’ Indeed, much of my own experimentation revolves around in-camera manipulation. Even Bazin acknowledged the issue of photographic trickery just a year after writing ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, investigating how reality and special effects interact in cinematic form.

So what does it all mean? How can I maintain that film photography is closer to the Real than digital photography when there is so much conflicting evidence? Will Part Two of this blog post answer these questions? (Hopefully the answer to that question is ‘yes’.)


musical bits and pieces

For better or worse, music has been preoccupying my lenses of late. I have some very specific music- and non-music-related projects coming up, but before I get to that stuff, here is a relatively arbitrary collection of images from various music-themed shoots/events.

In my last post, I wrote about the recent shoot I did with a singer/songwriter. It was a wonderfully successful day, and in good time the final images will show up here in all their glory. Until then, I'm choosing to display a few nondescript shots. This one wasn't planned; I was walking down to the backyard to shoot from a low angle and I noticed his hand resting on the railing. I know it's quite a plain image, but there's something about it that I love. I think perhaps it's because the formality of the black-jacket-white-shirt sleeve contrasted with the relaxed state of the hand intrigues me. The gumtrees and the old verandah railing are also very Australian, and that's always nice.

I'd never heard of Immigrant Union before going to see them play, but I always like the challenge of shooting something or someone I'm unfamiliar with. Unlike bands such as Money for Rope, Royal Headache and Saskwatch, all of whom I love and whose songs I am extremely familiar with, shooting an act unknown to me means that I have to make decisions in the moment, with no forethought or preparation. I'd loaded black and white film just before the performance and I immediately regretted it when the smoke machine came out and the colours came alive through the haze. While colour film would definitely have been interesting, though, the smokiness still makes the lighting more dramatic with this black and white film (in the second shot), and I think that the first shot would look less appealing in colour. I still would have preferred colour for the night, but I guess what I'm saying is, there were a few interesting results regardless.

As incredible as the action on the stage can be, the audience can be pretty appealing too. Both of these shots were taken at a small music festival in South Gippsland. There was a very convivial atmosphere throughout the crowd, and the festival in general, and the lighting from the stage was giving all the happy faces such lovely colours. The first shot is slightly out of focus, but the softness is in keeping with the cloud-covered moon. While technically this is significantly flawed, it has a special feeling to it, and I love the deep blue of the night sky against the magenta of the stage-bathed crowd. There's not a whole lot to say about the second shot here - it's just really cute.

There'll be more coherent thoughts and collections from me soon, but I think that taking some time to pick out a few photos that maybe don't fit in with them is a great thing to do. Because they're interesting at least, lovely (or cute) at best, and I don't want them to get lost in the depths of the photo library and be forgotten.



Contrary to the title of this post, I think these images, and the things within them, are anything but. I'm aware that it's potentially a bit redundant to say that there is beauty in the ordinary; it's been said and demonstrated a million times (including a few times on this blog). But I'm also aware that so much of my output lately is of overtly extraordinary content - live shows, newborn babies, weddings - so I felt it would be a good idea to balance that with some everyday visual observations.

This first image, for example, is of perhaps the least ordinary person in the whole world: my mum. But the wooden deck, the cute deckchair cover and the comfy slippers encapsulate her typical Sunday morning, and perhaps speak to many of our typical weekends: comfort, modesty, relaxation. Certainly sitting out on the deck in a dressing gown sums up a lot of the time I spend at my parents' place, so this image is absolutely a representation of the everyday for me, in that context. It's a beautiful image, though, both because of how much I treasure the person and the activity within, and for its aesthetic simplicity. The natural tones, the composition, the lines of the planks, the slight vignetting thanks to my new LC-A+: it all works, and so visually and otherwise this is a wholly successful photo.

I recently did a solo shoot with a singer/songwriter which went for quite a few hours. We were shooting at his house and we were going about it in a pretty leisurely fashion, so much so that he decided to take a break to cook lunch. He was happy for me to shoot during lunch and the kitchen had beautiful natural light, so I got in close for a few aspects of the process. Heating oil in a pan, chopping tomatoes; an old stove, 1970s tiles, Keen's Mustard Powder on the shelf: we all know this. They are pieces of our collective everyday, and as such they simultaneously mean the same to all of us, and evoke a unique set of memories or meanings for each of us. I adore these photos, and especially the tomatoes shot, with its stunning window lighting.

More everyday - this time, an early afternoon in a place that exists on the cusp of urban and suburban, authentic and gentrified. A cafe - and it could be one of hundreds that scatter the suburbs surrounding inner-city Melbourne - with some gorgeous light streaming in; and a decidedly suburban car wash - a blue man against a brilliant blue sky. What is especially fascinating about the second shot is that the sign's 'shadow' makes it appear as though the sky is a fake - a backdrop to some kind of surreal theatre set. The strange markings that have appeared on the negative enhance this odd effect.

These are all photos of ordinary, day-in-the-life objects and occurrences. But there's a reason that images such as these are perennially appealing, and hold a special place in many hearts. Though the subjects are ordinary, they make up the bulk of our experiences. As such, I don't think they can be dismissed or discounted in any way.


(more) money for rope

It's been a while since I've posted here I know. I've been working on a whole lot of stuff, including a pretty mammoth post about my obsession with film. But seeing as that is evidently taking its sweet time to come together, I thought I should just give you some photos to look at.

It's no secret that Money for Rope are one of my favourite bands. And I don't just mean one of my favourite Melbourne bands - I mean one of my favourites in general, anywhere. It's also no secret that I love Saskwatch. So when the two bands announced a tour together it was a given that I would be there with my camera. God knows I've taken enough photos of Saskwatch, though, so I just shot MFR - though Saskwatch still manage to make their presence felt via the bass drum.

Last time I shot a MFR live show I did so in black and white, which turned out great. I think the black and white really suits the music - rough grain for the dirty garage soul rock. But variety is always a good thing, so I shot them this time in colour. The lighting was great and, let's face it, their performance always makes for awesome images, so I don't feel that colour was a bad move.

Their lead singer, Jules, has been in a chair for a while with some kind of rockstar injury (!), but bloody hell he owned that primary-school-chair-and-moonboot combo harder than I thought possible. So fun to watch. (I heard that he fell off the chair later on during the set - and continued to rock it horizontally - but I had put away the camera and moved to the back to hear it better. Damn.)

So here you go - some cool photos of a ridiculously amazing band. See you at the Northcote Social Club in May? Yeah I will.


sweat 'til you can't sweat no more

I'm sure there are other, more insightful similarities between the two gigs I saw and photographed last week, but in my mind and memory, there is one thing that unites them above all else: sweat. I'm not just talking a bit of upper-lip moisture, either. I'm talking about drenching my shirt, stinging my eyes, trickling down the back of my neck, threatening to drown my camera every time I looked through the viewfinder. I actually didn't realise I was capable of producing that much sweat. Twice in one week.

Both shows occurred during Melbourne's March heatwave, both were in venues that are notoriously warm when things get busy, and both were at capacity. The first was Saskwatch returning to Cherry for the first show of their March residency (above). The second was Royal Headache playing a wonderfully intimate show at the John Curtin Hotel (top).

I've been using the grainy black and white a lot for live stuff lately, and to be honest I think it's my go-to for this kind of thing. In large part, that's because it's the most capable film I know for low-light situations, but I also love it because it's different from most other black and white live stuff you see around the place. In the first guitar shot here (Royal Headache), it's kind of washed out and grey, and in the second (Saskwatch) it's got a lot more contrast. Usually I always prefer high contrast, but sometimes it's nice to have some variety, and there is something charming about the greyer image; again, the almost faded grainy look is just very different from most stuff I see, which is a positive .

I only used black and white for Royal Headache, but for Saskwatch at Cherry I decided to embrace the red curtain and shoot some slide as well. The way I shot and processed it really brings out extreme contrast and extra red, which again, makes them quite different from a lot of live stuff out there. Don't get me wrong - I am not against 'regular'-looking film, but with a type of photography (live music) that so often looks the same, it's important for me to experiment with how I can bring something new to the images. The intense contrast+red in these shots isn't my favourite effect in the world, but I do think it has potential, and in the second photo of these four, I think the lighting and contrast works beautifully, especially on Nic's face (centre).

As with the black and whites above, the first two photos here show how the same film and shooting conditions can produce pretty different results. The first of the two is really high contrast, while the second is a lot less intense, and red almost looks faded. I think in this case, I like the second, faded look better. Having said that, LOOK AT THE THIRD ONE! What an incredible image to have shot and not photoshopped or anything - just to have the red of the curtain and the red of the stage lights and the film producing this intense two-tone effect. I love this.

I just want to take a moment to celebrate this really animated image of the horn section. They're usually tucked away behind their very large and obscuring mic stands, so it's difficult to get a dynamic image of all of them. At this moment, they came out to the centre of the stage during their cover of Robbie Williams' 'Kids', and encouraged the audience to sing the refrain. It's particularly appealing to me because they're all active: Liam and Will are singing, Nic is wiping the sweat off his face, and Sam is encouraging the crowd to sing it loud. Great.

In my ongoing attempt to get something slightly left of centre, I often try to get in close and focus on small details that still capture the energy or some other essential part of the performance. Olaf's keys-playing is a good example, and works well here because you can see Rob's guitar in the background so the shot's a bit more dynamic. But really, the stars here are the ones of Nkechi. She's such an incredible photography subject when she's on stage, because the way she moves and the way she physically sings are mesmerising. If it weren't for all the dancing this band commands of its audience, I'm quite sure people would just be transfixed on Nkech the entire time. These images of her arm and her hand on the mic stand here are just two examples of getting in close to capture elements of her physical performance. I'd love to do this more with her, because by God, there are a lot of things to capture.

Royal Headache's lead singer, Shogun, is mesmerising in an entirely different way. He alternates between pacing frenetically across the stage and pausing to crouch and focus on singing intensely and beautifully. I was right up the front for this gig, which was great for shooting, but not great for my physical well-being; Shogun's freneticism is nothing compared to the brutal energy of Royal Headache's die-hard fans, who evidently love to shove, stage dive, crowd surf and smash shit. But I was tough! I was going to get my shots! A kick to the head, a stranger falling onto my lap and a million little bruises all over me weren't going to deter me! And my persistence paid off; apparently Shogun wasn't so sure of my physical capabilities and eventually insisted that I get onto the stage to shoot in order to be a bit safer.

I think this selection captures the energy in the room quite well. The square shots were taken on my Holga, using a flash - which I don't ordinarily do for fear of annoying people but I don't think any of these people even noticed it; with all that activity a flash of light is the last thing on their minds.

These capture the more subdued moments in the set, where the energy relaxed momentarily in anticipation of the next adrenaline surge. I feel really lucky that I was close enough to photograph Shogun like this; it's rare in any live situation to be literally face to face with a performer. In this case he knelt right in front of me to sing a little. Just perfect.

I wasn't sure about this one when I first saw it, but actually I really love it. The focus is on the guy in the audience, who is sweaty and looks exhausted, but also looks like he's loving it. Then you see the blur that is Shogun, and the movement implicit in that blur betrays the energy of the performance, giving us some idea of why the dude in the crowd may be so sweaty and satisfyingly exhausted. It just works really well for me.

These are just a few more I had to include. Like I think I've made clear above, they're basically an awesome band to watch and to shoot. I took a lot of photos but I felt that I couldn't stop because if I did I'd miss something amazing. These also represent a success story in terms of shooting at the Curtin, because in the past I've found the lighting really difficult. I think this film is the key. (Or shooting with a flash in rare cases.)

Both of these shows were incredible, and a privilege to shoot. Engaging performers, great musicians, responsive crowds and all-round awesome music is a pretty good combination for getting good shots, despite any technical obstacles that can (and do) arise.

So what I'm saying, in conclusion, is this: the sweat, the bruises, the exhaustion - one hundred per cent worth it.