Maybe the most common type of photo that people take is the "Hey guys! Smile!" photo, which I think could just as validly be called the facebook photo. Sometimes it's in front of a national landmark, sometimes it's with a reluctantly obliging quasi-celebrity, sometimes it includes the photographer as well as the photographer's outstretched arm. Everybody has them, and more often than not they contain a combination of bad lighting, ordinary composition, awkward facial expressions and severe red-eye-itis. Why do people insist on continually taking such unappealing photos? Three reasons: 1 - so they can tag their friends; 2 - while the images may be aesthetically unappealing, they are often treasured for the memories they capture (and besides, a lot of people aren't afflicted with the photo snobbery that I have just displayed); and 3 - occasionally, the "Hey guys! Smile!" photo avoids all the usual traps and turns out brilliantly.
I'm the first to admit that I, too, am partial to this particular type of photo for all of the reasons listed above. When my digital point-and-shoot was still around, its primary role was to click and capture after a "Hey guys! Smile" was gratuitously yelled across a room. I've also taken a lot of these photos on my lomos, usually while socialising (and often inebriated), with varying degrees of success.
On the highly successful end of the scale sits the above image, a wonderful example of a basic photo that just works. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
1 - It's in focus
2 - It's well lit (for a Holga flash photo) - the flash has illuminated both subjects without taking away shading
3 - The background is interesting without being overbearing
4 - The dark hair + dark jacket against the light hair + light shirt creates a lovely contrast
5 - It contains two beautifully natural (and naturally beautiful) smiles - a difficult thing to capture in a posed photo
6 - The glasses are reflection-free
7 - OK, the personal reason - this contains two lovely ladies, Min and Kate. Friends to me, but more significantly, extraordinarily good friends to one another.
This last reason was the motivation for taking the shot at all - Kate was visiting briefly from Canada and was revelling in the opportunity to spend time with her family and friends. But I also knew that she and Min were rapturously anticipating their reunion in the lead-up to Kate's visit, so I thought it would be nice to get the two of them in a shot together. And, in addition to all of the technical successes of the photo, it succeeds because I think it conveys a feeling. I mean, don't they just look so genuinely happy to be there next to one another?
Oh, and just to prove that I'm not claiming immunity to the bad "Hey guys! Smile!" shot, feast your eyes on this number:
OK, now go back to the one of Min and Kate.
There's this band in Melbourne that seems to be playing everywhere at the moment. The Tote (just before it announced its closure), The Birmingham, The Espy, Cherry, Rats, The Worker's Club, Pony - plus MySpace tells me there are upcoming support gigs for Dan Kelly and The Gin Club on the calendar. As far as I can tell, there are two reasons this band is gigging so much: 1 - This is an incredible band. Truly, amazing. 2 - Browntown is just such a good guy.
Eagle and the Worm is the combination of a motley bunch of musicians who, to my untrained ears, are damn good at what they do and, to my untrained eyes, have a brilliant time doing it. What they are doing, exactly, is largely dictated by the quiet genius of Browntown, or Jarrad Brown - the bespectacled man behind the band that seems to have become local music's new darling. There he is, above, on stage at The Tote in his green All Stars the night Eagle and the Worm debuted as a live band.
I met Jarrad about a year ago and he's one of the nicest and most unaffected musicians I have met. I reckon most other people who have met him would probably think the same thing, and maybe that explains why venues are so enthusiastic about hosting his band. I mean, who could say no to this face:
Moreover, the parts of Jarrad's personality that I have witnessed shine through brilliantly in his music - overwhelmingly positive, chilled out, a little bit psychadelic - in his own words, good times. Maybe that's why venues are so enthusiastic about hosting his band.
So when Jarrad asked me to take photos of his new band at The Tote, I instantly obliged even though I hadn't done such specific projects before and my cameras are notoriously unreliable. The gig was packed but for whatever reason people stayed away from the front of the stage. Which meant I had to shoot in full view of the entire audience. Which, on a school night with very little alcohol, meant I was pretty damn nervous. But I swallowed the nerves and persisted, shooting a couple of rolls on colour and black and white.
When the photos came back I was bitterly disappointed. Not because they were awful, but because they weren't what I wanted. They were (are) too dark, too vague, too ordinary. It took a long time to choose a photo to include here, but in the end I went with the one that showed Jarrad most clearly (which should give you an idea of the overall lack of clarity in the results). I could never really articulate the overarching thing that bugged me about these photos. But now I get it. After writing what I have just written, it seems so obvious. The photos just didn't do justice to, or fit, the music - or the bloke behind it all.
So here it is, my (semi-)public admission that I took some bad photos... when someone specifically asked me to take good photos. I cracked under pressure and let my discomfort get the better of me. (Jarrad being Jarrad, he maintained that he liked them and was ever grateful.) In order to wash the acrid taste of disappointment from my mouth, the best thing to do is to stand up, move on and write the whole thing off as a learning experience. And above all the other lessons I could take from this - and there are many - maybe the most poignant is to just relax and do what you love. If you're anything like Browntown, the results will not disappoint.
After some recent lomo disappointments and the realisation that I need to take my plastic-camera-photography back to basics, I challenged myself to finish off a film (four shots) on the walk from the bus depot at Spencer Street Station (Southern Cross, whatever) to Michaels. Suitcase wheeling behind me and Holga rattling against my necklace with each step, I set out on Little Bourke Street looking left, right, up and down for any kind of interesting scene.
The first one I came across involved a lot of writing on a large wall, with frequently placed and evenly spaced lights jutting out above it. What attracted me most to this structure was my surprise at having never seen it before. It's just a part of the city (west of Elizabeth Street) that I don't venture to very often. What attracts me most to this photo is the angle and the lights. What surprises me most about this photo is that it's evidently a monument to K-Rudd's 'sorry' speech - I was so taken with the aesthetics that I didn't even bother to read the words when I took it!
A bit boring, this one. At the time the sun was creating very sharp shading across the buildings and I thought it might be interesting. But I (once again) forgot that my camera wouldn't capture such fine detail.
At this point I knew I was struggling for a good shot. Two photos left. Two opportunities to get something nice. Or curious. Or surprising. Or blog-worthy.
Again, building + light + sky. This image reveals one of the drawbacks of having a viewfinder that doesn't see exactly what the lens sees - no amount of second-guessing will guarantee a perfect composition. You can see what I was going for... just didn't quite pull it off. Still, I don't think it's awful.
One photo left. Hmm. So far, the subjects haven't really been representative of the variety to be found along the Little Street. So far, it has just been looking up at mostly boring buildings. OK, stop looking up.
Again, kind of boring. Having said that, it is a scene that can be found in or just off most of the CBD's streets and lanes; for every dingy laneway with a dirty-chic bar full of hipsters and colourful (or socially relevant) street art there are a handful of dingy laneways or alleys that are just, well, dingy. Forgotten bluestone, upturned milk crates, ordinary grafitti, discarded club flyers, broken booze bottles - it's part of the city and, more specifically, part of Little Bourke Street.
The very next alley had vibrant, unique grafitti displayed lovingly all over the wall, and I considered shooting it before deciding that the dingy alley was a truer, edgier depiction of the city. Who needs pretty when I have dirty? What do I want with that flashy alley, the kind that would probably end up in some trend-a-rama tourist guide to Melbourne? My alley was hardcore. I had to risk any number of depravities - put myself at the mercy of any number of unsavoury alley-dwelling characters - just walking in there to get the shot. Yeah, I was totally keepin' it real, bitches.
Besides, I had finished my film.
When March draws to a close and those crisp autumn nights send Victorians reaching for jumpers and boots, I am usually ready for the cool. The intense heat of the Melbourne summer has traditionally left me craving winter clothes (scarves, gloves, coats) and a winter city (cafes, umbrellas, footy) by the time Easter rolls around. For the first time in many years, however, I find myself lamenting the loss of the balmy nights, the bare legs, the sweat, the heady romance. Maybe it's because my winter wardrobe leaves a bit to be desired. Maybe it's because I prefer cider to coffee. Maybe it's because I'm a Demons supporter.
Or maybe it's because winter means that the above scene - family cricket on a sunny day in a glorious field of ebullient dandelions - is simply not possible.
I know that I will revel in the many shades of winter black I can add to my wardrobe. I know that I will cherish wrapping my hands gently around a Max Brenner hug cup of liquid chocolate on an icy day. And I am sure that I won't care about the cold when, at least a couple of times this season, the siren blows at the MCG and the Dees are up. I know that Melbourne is an incredible winter city. But I also know that right from the beginning, I'll be longing for those magnificent balmy nights.