back to the beach

When I went to Splendour in the Grass in 2009, I was lucky enough to be staying right by the beach, and I took some incredibly vibrant colour (slide) photos while I was there that captured the beautiful blues and yellows of the sunny Australian shore. Though this year I camped on-site at the festival, I did manage to glimpse the Queensland ocean when we took a seaside detour on the way to Brisbane airport.

Whenever I am at a beach - and especially in sunny conditions - I am always tempted to take photos. I think there's something about the colours of the landscape that inspire many people to capture beach scenes, and they often do so beautifully. In spite (or because) of this, I made the decision to capture this particular stretch of sand using black and white film.

I didn't expect to like the results - I mean, my past beach photos have been successful largely because of the colour. I anticipated a mass of indistinguishable greys, completely uninteresting to the eye. And in one sense, that's what I got; these images don't have much definition at all, in terms of colour or shape. And they're not even level! However, there is definitely an element of charm to them. With the faded shades, the poor focus and the powerfully obvious vignetting, these photos are strongly reminiscent of some lost era - the days before people took colour photos, and camera technology was in its infancy. I know plastic camera photography often has this effect, but I don't believe any of my other photos have ever evoked it so strongly. Why? Because to shoot the beach devoid of colour seems like a waste. Like something one would only do if colour wasn't widely available - say, in the 1920s. Ridiculous? Yes. But it's the only way I can explain the impression these images leave on me. Will I shoot the beach in black and white again? Maybe. But I don't know that I will be able to once more resist capturing those beautiful colours...


black and white beauties

Is there anything more beautiful than a gorgeous girl on black and white film? Not only is it classic, it also has the very welcome ability to remove flaws - or at least turn them into something lovely in and of themselves. I've recently come across a great film that, with its ultra-smooth definition and high contrast, is the perfect accompaniment to a breathtaking femme fatale.

(I recommend you click through on the images to really see the excellent detail in the film.)

With her tiny frame, platinum hair and enormous eyes, Jessica just cries out to be captured. And I don't think it's the first time she's been randomly photographed - when I asked if I could take her picture she was very open to being in front of the lens. If only every subject was as comfortable with the way they looked; even if she is very aware of being photographed, her fearlessness translates into a gorgeous image. Now, you may be thinking Well no wonder she's comfortable - she's stunning! And you'd be right in that she is undoubtedly very beautiful. But her beauty is nothing if not unconventional, and I really believe that the most attractive people, whether on the street or on film, truly embrace the way they look, even (or especially) if it doesn't fit conventional standards.

Imogen: another wildly attractive lady with unique features. Here she is at a party, and after a few drinks her exhibitionist tendencies have overcome her usual (unwarranted) self-consciousness. I think this is a great shot of Imogen, but knowing how disapproving she can be of herself, I wasn't sure she would agree with me - it's certainly not a typical glamour shot and her eccentricities are on full display. When I showed it to her, though, she loved it! And I suspect it is because she looks so totally confident here. More proof that regardless of anything else, you look your best when you feel great.

Melissa has a dignified modesty about her that ensures she never gratuitously flaunts her beauty. She is also one of the most consistently stylish people I know. I mean, she always looks great. Perhaps this explains why Melissa also always seems quietly self-assured. I look at this photo, and I think her expression communicates that very strongly - she is justifiably calm and confident in front of the camera, but without a trace of arrogance. She is just so elegant.

Bronwyn is the kind of ecstatically enthusiastic person that immediately puts others at ease. Always at the ready with kind words and a heart-warming smile, her outwardly sunny disposition infects everyone around her. I realise this is almost a stereotype, like the introductory voice-over of a bad romance movie, but trust me, in the case of Bronwyn it's true. Well actually, you don't need to trust me - just look at that photo and tell me I'm wrong.

Each of these four images reinforce my impressions of their respective subjects. Are they accurate? Maybe. But it doesn't really matter. They're successful images precisely because they capture what I believe to be true qualities of these magnificent beauties. And, of course, because of that flawless black and white film.


twisted sister

I've always been fond of incorporating multiple exposures into my portraits, usually at night, usually using a coloured flash and usually layering a nondescript pattern over the subject. With these characteristics in mind, this image takes my multiple exposure portraiture in a completely new direction: daytime, natural light, landscape layered over the subject.

I didn't expect that it would work at all as I had rarely attempted this kind of photo before, but it immediately captured my attention because of its extraordinarily unique attributes. The grain, which I have written about before, adds a sense of nostalgia to the image as it reminds me of some of the photos you see from the 70s or 80s. The mise en scene (can I use that term in relation to photographs? Probably not) reinforces this impression, as there is nothing particularly modern in the frame. (Well, maybe the piercing?) Technically it's quite a success, as the portrait itself takes the majority of the film while the landscape only comes in just enough to be visible without ruining the main image. Plus the composition is nice - she's looking slightly off to the left and her hair is in sync with that movement.

Perhaps this one isn't so successful, but it's still very interesting to me - though I can't figure out why. Possibly because it's such a new kind of image for me, and I'm fascinated by the colour and grain - mediocre by today's standards - in a similar way that the portrait on the Sydney Harbour fascinated me. (In fact, they're very similar.) Maybe these images appeal to me precisely because it would be extremely difficult to replicate the effect digitally. Between the slightly off colour, the severe grain and the layered exposure, it is unquestionably created using film. And as ridiculous as it may sound, that just seems a lot more real to me.


the first day of spring

Here we are, back to the Melbourne of old - where the city's weather lives up to its reputation for being inconsistent, unpredictable and often rainy. For the past several years our winters have been alarmingly dry and umbrella ownership has probably dropped significantly, but this year's winter has been suitably wet and cold and miserable. And so it was no surprise that Melbourne welcomed spring with a dreary, grey and relentlessly wet Wednesday.

Eager to finish my film in time to drop it off before closing time, I took out the F4 for the walk between Flinders Street Station and Lonsdale Street in order to reach that often difficult exposure number, 36. (I have done this before on a different route, remember?) I also felt it would be good to test this particular film - a very high speed black and white - in (semi-)daylight because the previous shots on the roll were all taken after dark. The result was pleasantly surprising, as I think the obvious grain really suits that wonderful melancholia that a wet, cold city can evoke.

I also thought I'd try a couple of double exposures, basically because I don't do enough of them. The reason for this is that the nature of multiple exposures means leaving a lot of the outcome to chance, and I find it difficult to surrender that control - but it's a good exercise because more often than not the results are, at the very least, interesting. This image fascinates me - not because it's a perfect shot in any way, but because it shows a lot of potential for multiple exposure in black and white, and in the city. The juxtaposition of the old building with the modern shop signs is quite a good one, and the glow of the lights on this particular film is lovely.

I'll definitely be using this film in the city again. But as the weather inevitably warms up with the changing seasons, I guess the question is - will a less miserable city yield such promising results? And I suspect the answer is, of course. Because while Melbourne might be renowned for perennial teardrops falling from an endlessly grey sky, we know there's a lot more to her than that.


the older they get, the cuter they ain't

So says Marge Simpson's beauty-challenged sister Selma - and in the case of she and chain-smoking, DMV-desk-dwelling twin Patty, it's probably true. But as if to challenge the Bouviers and prove that some sisters retain their splendour long after childhood, the lovely Surace girls recently provided my lens with one of the most fabulous portraits I've taken in quite some time.

These country-bred beauties have been dear friends of mine from the time we were small enough to potentially drown in the large cow pats on their family farm. Of course this alone makes the picture special, but it also impresses me because it reveals some strikingly accurate personality traits: Dallas, the fun-loving extrovert whose outrageous humour and powerful vocal chords cause as much glee for her cohorts as irritation for her seniors, but which also make her irresistible to all but the stoniest of souls; and Bree, whose kindness and overwhelming congeniality - present in her gorgeously honest smile - enchant all whom she encounters. I think this perfectly captures a wonderful moment shared between sisters - two people who know each other intimately enough to put one another completely at ease, even with a camera present. Beyond the personal aspects of the image, the shockingly white hair (they were both wearing wigs) against the flawless skin and midnight background makes for a stunning spectacle.

The photo was taken at a wig party, and was intended to be the first in a series of wig portraits taken over the course of the evening. What a great concept - all of these completely normal guests with outrageous wigs on! In the black and white I thought it would be especially effective, letting the bizarre shapes speak for themselves. However, I only got two taken before everyone removed their wigs in a fit of itchiness. The second one really doesn't stand alone as a good portrait, particularly when compared to the success of the first one, but I think it would have worked had it belonged to an extensive series of portraits as planned. Alone, it seems unspectacular because it lacks animation, and it doesn't appear to capture any particularly vital moment.

Or maybe it's just because they're not sisters.