Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for December, 2010

Words & Pictures pt.1

Firstly, I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. Here’s to 2011!

This is the first of several posts discussing the ways in which photography can be linked to other branches of the arts, and especially to creative writing.

Night Mail: Readers from this part of the world (England’s West Midlands) might know of Wolverhampton Low Level Railway Station which stands next to the newer, upper level station which superceded it. The Victorian Low Level station hasn’t seen any use for many decades and has finally been incorporated into a major redevelopment of the area where only parts of the original structure will remain (work is still ongoing).


I photographed the station (as most Wolverhampton photography students have at some point) a few years ago in a state of near dereliction – but with abundant photo opportunities there for the taking.

When presenting the resulting prints, I interspersed them with lines from W.H.Auden‘s poem, “Night Mail” which some of you may know from the short film that was made of it in (I think) the 1950’s. It goes…

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Remember it? Well, this was my first foray into connecting photographic images with the written word.

A Circle Drawn at Random: A year or two later, as an MA Fine Art student, we were each given a street map of Wolverhampton upon which my lecturer drew a circle at random, using a coffee cup to draw around. The idea was that we would produce a piece of work based on this geographical part of the city.

I began by trudging this area – or more precisely, the circumference of this area – taking photographic “notes” as I went. I initially decided to make a slideshow of these photographic stills but eventually opted instead to re-shoot the stills as short bursts of video taken from a very static (tripod-mounted) position but often showing the tiniest hint of movement.

The problem with slideshows is what do you do with the sound? Keep the ambient street sounds? Mmm, maybe. Add music? Possibly – but what would suit a virtual walk around a Black Country town?

I began to google historical Wolverhampton poets and quickly drew a blank: the city has certainly produced some notable poetry but none of it seemingly about the city itself. I even found a recently-written poem about the city which had won a national competition but soon realised it had been written by someone who’d clearly never set foot in the place and was in fact based in the North West!

So I shifted my search towards contemporary local poets and came across a small group who had previously produced video interpretations/collaborations of their work. Among these, one stood out – Emma Purshouse – and she happened to come from Wolverhampton.

I contacted Emma and asked if she’d be interested in collaborating and she promptly agreed saying she had the germ of a poem about Wolverhampton ready to build on when the right excuse came along. That’d be me then.

I sent Emma some of the photos I’d taken plus a detailed description of the route and she fleshed this out into a fantastic poem called “Two For One“. As a local performance poet, who better to perform the poem for the film? We recorded her reading of the poem in my musician friend, Stuart Harper’s front room. I then edited the film to fit the “route” of Emma’s poem, which began and ended at Asda.

Here’s the finished item…

Emma eventually turned this film and poem into a live performance at a Wolverhampton theatre, inhabited by characters she’s created and ending with a live reading of the poem in front a large projection of my film. One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been involved in and the reason I continue to encourage collaboration between visual and written art forms.

You’ll hear more about Emma as the story continues…


Exhibition: “Pride of The Black Country” @Fotofilia

Now here’s an exhibition I know quite a bit about. “Pride of The Black Country” is an exhibition of photographs by… erm… me (David Rann).

I first photographed Priory Park Amateur Boxing Club a few years ago for a uni project. At the time I couldn’t honestly profess to be a huge boxing fan but I quickly realised there was more to this place than just the sport.

In this crumbling shed on the edge of  Dudley’s Priory Park, something amazing was going on. Youngsters from every concievable background were training side by side under the watchful eye of Paul Gough and his team of dedicated trainers.

I returned in the Autumn of 2010 to continue my documentation of this extraordinary group of people. I was told by parents how the club had transformed their previously wayward kids, how police officers had brought along youngsters, saying “we can’t do anything with him – can you?”, how there was now a huge waiting list for places, and how club members were competing – and winning – at increasingly high levels.

This just confirmed what I’d seen with my own eyes – that the trainers somehow commanded the respect and attention of these youngsters in a way that parents, teachers, police and other authority figures could only dream of. I saw a well-mannered, disciplined, focussed and hard-working group of young people that spent their spare time and spare energy working towards a clear and common goal.

I watched and photographed as they trained until exhausted, and as they competed in the ring against other young fighters from around the country.

Yes, there are pictures of the boxing itself. But I have chosen to concentrate more on the unique relationship between the young boxers and the trainers. This is a study not of violence and aggression, but of pride, self-respect and purpose.

The title of the show comes from the club’s slogan, emblazoned on their kit, and in my opinion, very appropriate.

To Edit Or Not To Edit, That Is The Question

I’ve recently returned to my first photographic love – documentary. After years of working on commercial and art photography, I have become re-acquainted with an old dilemma: How much post-production is permissible in documentary photography? 

It could be argued that every photograph includes a certain amount of editing; we edit what we shoot, with what equipment, what we include/exclude in the crop etc. When using film, I selected certain film for a particular “feel” and printed on  papers chosen for texture and contrast. I would even dodge and burn (selectively lighten and darken) parts of the picture in the darkroom. 

But in digital photography, the range of post-production options is mind-blowingly wide. And so my dilemma is harder than ever. Is it okay to dodge? Burn? Sharpen? Vignette? Blur? Sharpen? Clone? Reduce noise? 

My project involves shooting in low light at high ISO’s in very “busy” environments. Exactly when does enhancement begin to compromise the integrity of the photographic document? And does it matter?

There have been notable examples in recent years where photo-journalists have been caught out when crossing the line between recording the facts and making a picture – often a more saleable picture. 

Shot by Hungarian tourist, Peter Guzli, seemingly showing his demise on 9/11

With every photograph I edit, I have to restrain my Photoshop-happy tendencies – old (or new) habits die hard. And so I’m erring on the side of caution: I’m doing only cropping, exposure and contrast adjustment, grayscaling, and a teeny bit of vignetting when I think it really needs it…


And I haven’t even thought about how much “setting up” is permissable yet!

There’s an interesting New York Times article about this whole issue here…

Even Reuters have been at it, with the most amateurish example of clone-stamping you’ll ever see in a news article (in this case, bomb damage in Beirut) –,7340,L-3286966,00.html

When To Get Nifty With A Fifty

One of the questions I’m most often asked by my students is “What’s the next bit of kit I should buy?”. I (almost) invariably answer, “A 50mm prime lens”.

Why? Well, firstly it’s one of the cheapest lenses you can add to your kit bag – £90-110 usually for Canon/Nikon. And secondly its one of the most versatile lenses you can add to your kit bag. 

The f1.8 maximum aperture gives you an affordable way in to feasible low light photography.

Mezzotonic, shot on a 50mm during a Fotofilia Live Music workshop.

My fifty’s always along with me whenever I’m shooting weddings, natural light portraits, live music, and even sport. It’s certainly the most useful lens for my “Night Photo Safari”, “Portraiture Using Natural Light”, and “Live Music” workshops.

Not only does the humungous aperture mean you can shave a few stops off your ISO or shoot at the kind of shutter speeds you can only dream of with your kit lens or most budget-end zooms, but it also means you can work with some very funky shallow depth-of-field. For instance, get in close for a low-light portrait and with the eyes in sharp focus, the ears and end of the nose will already be slipping into blur.

Of course this can also be a problem in itself – you’re going to have to be spot-on with your focussing to make sure you get what you want in focus, erm, in focus, when using the lens‘s maximum aperture.

And then there’s the problem of too much light. Yes, too much light (not a phrase you hear much in photography). If you want to use the maximum aperture to get that lovely shallow depth-of-field and it’s a bright day, even at 100 ISO and with your shutter at its fastest speed, you still might not be able to open up to f1.8 without over-exposing. The only real way around this is to fit a neutral density (ND) filter or two. Not ideal.

When I bought my first (film) SLR, it came with a 50mm f1.8 lens: no “kit lenses” back then. This meant that until I could afford my first zoom, which was a while later, I got used to working within the confines of a fixed focal length (or prime) lens. A prime lens is a great way to practice getting into the right position for a shot rather than letting the zoom do all the work – you get a bit more exercise that’s for sure.

If you’ve only ever previously used zooms, you might also be pleasantly surprised by the optical quality of this simple, and let’s face it, cheap lens. PLUS, it’s teeny-weeny and so could even slip into your pocket.

And so I still whole-heartedly recommend you make a 50mm the next lens you buy. It may have its limitations but you will come to wonder what you ever did without it.

THE CLUB Expo 2010

The Bike by Jeff Boston

Tuesday 14th December sees the launch of our next exhibition.

This time it’s an “inside job” – an exhibition by members of THE CLUB, our own photographic society.

The private view is on the evening of the 14th (7:30-9pm) and this event will also serve as Fotofilia’s Christmas get-together, to which you are all invited.

Image by Keith Goodwin

There’ll be the usual seasonal nibbles (and possibly tipples) and at 8:30pm we’ll be making a few presentations to those entrants whose work stands out to the three judges (myself, Lisa Lester and guest, Rebecca Parker).

This exhibition will take us over the Christmas and New Year period and into mid-January.

The work is as varied as it is impressive.

If you’ve never been to Fotofilia before, this might be the ideal excuse. Hope to see you there.

A Shameless Plug (for a good cause)

Please excuse this shameless plug…

 Lisa Lester, the other full time photographer at Fotofilia (with a little help from her friends) has spent many an hour in 2010 putting together “A Calendar for Cancer”.

Here’s a few more details:
The calendar was produced to raise funds for “Pink Ribbon” for Breast Cancer and “Orchid” for male cancers (penile,prostate and testicular). 100% of the money from the sales of the calendars (after printing costs) will be split between the charities.
Everyone involved has given their time and talent for free. The calendar has 24 images – 12 for the girls and 12 for the guys. Some have funny themes, some have a theme relevant to the month they appear and some have a serious message. They are a huge A3 size and as colourful as the people inside. We have models from all comunities, both gay and straight, and a model who has survived breast cancer featured on October for breast cancer awereness month.

You can get your copy (which cost £12) from Fotofilia or by contacting Lisa via her website –

Silvershotz: The best photo mag?

I was wandering around Focus (the photography show at Birmingham NEC) a couple of years ago and in one of the smaller rows of stands, I found a nice man called Clive who was selling subscriptions to a magazine called Silvershotz. Clive, it turns out, is the editor.

From Waters Edge by Gina Socrates (Silvershotz Folios issue)

I thumbed through a few of the back issues he had lying around on the table, and was sufficiently impressed to not only sign up for a subscription, but also to fill my satchel with back issues.

Ever since, I have told my various classes about Silvershotz. For those of us brought up on Practical Photography and Amateur Photographer, Silvershotz is quite a departure.

Firstly, Silvershotz is a truly international publication, with work featured from photographers all over the world (in fact, there are frequently whole magazines dedicated to the work emanating from one country – Poland, for example).

Image by Louise Mann, from Silvershotz Folios edition

The second thing is the notable absence of advertising. Or at least, minimal amount of advertising – only 6 of the 100 or so pages are advertising. I’m guessing that even if they wanted more advertisers, the international distribution would rule out all but the bigger, multinational companies. In fact when I renewed my subscription I asked if someone could contact me about advertising for Fotofilia… I’m still waiting.

And then there’s the quality of the thing! This isn’t a magazine – it’s more of a periodical coffee table book. The pages are well printed (although I spoke to one featured photographer who said her work hadn’t been accurately reproduced) on sumptuously thick paper.

The only oddity about this mag is its rather bizarre editioning system. As I understand it (and I don’t – not really), subscriptions are “a Volume set of 6 editions. This ensures you don’t miss out on article series. It also makes Silvershotz volumes highly collectable… Subscriptions run from September 2010 to August 2011 so if you subscribe half way through you recieve Volume 7, Editions 1, 2 and 3 then the balance finishing in August 2011“. Clear? No, me neither.

What I CAN say is that I get a real buzz when an edition/volume/whatever lands on my mat. This is a publication I feel justified in giving bookshelf space because I get (almost) as much fun looking through old copies as through the new one. Each copy isn’t especially topical and so is pretty much timeless, with only a few trends appearing to drift in and out of favour.

Also, as the name suggests, there is an emphasis on silver-based traditional processes but by no means are digital practitioners excluded. There are also some great instructional article series which cover everything from digital manipulation to experimental or historical image-making processes.

I’ve just recieved the “Folios” issue which includes specially selected work submitted over the last 12 months (some of which has already been published but not much). There is some amazing work in there.

So far there hasn’t been a single copy which hasn’t inspired and astounded me. This is a world class magazine in my opinion. Anyone disagree? Or can you recommend anything better?

Check it out at

The images I’ve included here are by Gina Socrates

and Louise Mann