Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for June, 2012

Jo Gane – Alchemy On Location

I’ve been hooked on so-called alternative or historical printing processes ever since being introduced to them at university. I’ve exhibited both cyanotypes and gum bichromate prints, and continue to teach cyanotype printing to my students as part of an otherwise digital course. But one process I’ve never previously tried, or had the opportunity to try, is the wet plate collodion process.

Jo Gane, photographic alchemist

That’s all about to change, thanks to leading wet plate practitioner Jo Gane. I’ve asked her to deliver one of her highly rated wet plate collodion workshops for Fotofilia on Sunday 19th August. Jo was among the first of the revivalists of this beautiful process. This is how she explains her involvement in the process and how the workshops work:

“I have been working with the wet plate collodion process for four years, since the summer of 2008, when I attended one of the first workshops to be held in the UK, taught by Kerik Kouklis in Glasgow. I work with both a small negative process from which I make silver gelatin prints and with up to half plate ambrotypes on black glass. I enjoy the intimacy of smaller wet plate images. Workshops cover making positive ambrotypes on black aluminum and clear glass from 4”x 3” up to 10” x 12”. Participants are given the opportunity to use a range of cameras from a box brownie to a full plate antique brass and wood Sanderson field camera.

My wet plate work is held in the permanent collection of Birmingham Museum and Art gallery, one of the national collections of photography and also in the collection at Kensal Green cemetery where the inventor of the wet plate process, Frederick Scott Archer is buried.”

You may not recognise the term “wet plate collodion”, but you will almost certainly have seen images made with it. Remember Roger Fenton‘s Crimean War images? But here’s an image from one of Jo’s workshops of fellow photographer Laura Peters

Wet plate collodion image of Laura Peters

…and another from a similar workshop…

“Paul as a Roman”

You can’t help but be hit by the feeling of history in these images, I think. Clearly, this isn’t 6 frames a second digital photography: this is slow, crafted, deliberate and considered 3 or 4 shots a day, “old school” photography. This is “real” photography. This is photography that you set up, capture and then bring to life chemically. You are involved in the whole process, from preparation to print, and the only button you will push may be the camera shutter.

I teach cyanotypes to my “digital” groups because I think it’s essential to offer this new generation of photographers the opportunity to create something totally unique which is made entirely by them and them alone, with little help from gadgetry. It was learning to use a darkroom that really turned my photographic interest into an obsession. Some of my students get it, others don’t, but all (I believe) benefit from the experience. Jo Gane, I think, shares this belief. Arguably, you can’t call yourself a photographer until you’ve worked with real chemicals and understood the way that impacts on modern practices, because it undoubtedly does.

The photographic process, with this level of human involvement, elevates the final print to something more, something like a craft, something like alchemy. Pressing the button on your DSLR on “Auto” then “Send to print” simply isn’t the same.

The venue for this workshop is a secret location I’ve recently been offered; a lovely rural smallholding with fishing pools, stables, river frontage, and various outbuildings (which may come in useful in case of bad weather). All I can say is that it’s a few minutes drive from Alcester in Warwickshire. This course is entirely appropriate for this location and vice versa, not least because the chemicals used are not suitable for use in enclosed environments such as our studio. If the setting itself is not inspiring enough, and subject to us achieving full enrolment, there will be a model for you to photograph if you like.

Transport from Fotofilia can be arranged, or meet at pub local to the farm.

Jo’s asked for a small group number so that everyone gets plenty of time to play with the cameras and to produce a few images. And the cost is just £110, incuding all materials. Fotofilia CLUB & f2 members get to take part for just £100. – Jo’s website.

To book your place –!learn – Please check availability before paying.



Tanneke Petoom: Light Fantastic

Image by Tanneke Petoom

If photography is all about light, then any photographer could do much worse than to study the work of Dutch photographer Tanneke Petoom. I’ve been following her feed on Instagram since I first joined and I freely admit I am utterly in awe of her mastery of light. What wouldn’t I give to watch her shooting.

Tanneke is one of the leading lights (ahem) of the Fotoblur community (which is worth a visit in itself) and contributor to the Fotoblur online magazine –

Image by Tanneke Petoom

Her work is portrait-based but has a very unique tonal quality. Her most frequently used subjects are her daughters, but all are beautifully styled – high key, clean white light, flawless compexions and features, nordic/arian features, a confident but expressionless gaze…

Her daughter Isabelle especially is one of the most distinctive young “models” you will ever see. Simultaneously self-assured and cherubic, Isabelle is clearly a photographer’s dream. The confidence of her gaze is perhaps due to the obvious mother-daughter rapport but the results speak for themselves.

Image by Tanneke Petoom

Tanneke’s daughter Isabelle. Image by Tanneke Petoom

Quite simply, these are among the most exquisite portraits I have ever seen, timeless yet contemporary. See more at

Image by Tanneke Petoom

Image by Tanneke Petoom

A Law Against Photographing Traffic? And Hospitals? Really?

You may remember my reporting that I was confronted by a park warden in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park for taking pictures of a (fully-clothed) model at around 8pm in the evening. And that I was told by a Birmingham WPC that I needed a permit to photograph the buildings in St. Paul’s Square. Well, here we are again.

Twice in one week, I have been told by my students that they have been stopped by police or security staff when taking photographs in the street for their projects. On the first occasion, a student was photographing “light trails” made by cars in the area near the new Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham when security staff pulled up in a car and asked him what he was doing and told him he was not allowed to take photographs which included the hospital. Fair enough, you might think. After all, he had the hospital in his viewfinder.

But what is wrong with that? Is there a law against photographing hospitals now? Even if we assume he was within the boundary’s of the hospital grounds (which I’m not sure is the case), what is the problem? Don’t we, the taxpayers of the West Midlands own that hospital? What exactly are they afraid of? It’s not exactly a high security politically or militarily sensitive installation. A moment ago, I did a Google image search for “Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital” and it threw up 440,000 results, most of which, one assumes, are pictures of this hospital that the security guards are so keen to prevent from being photographed.

On the second occasion, another student was again photographing car light trails near Quinton on the outskirts of Birmingham, accompanied by her partner. A police car pulled up and officers (from West Midlands Police) asked her what she was doing. She told them, truthfully, that she was taking images for a photograohy course. They wanted to know what course and where it was held. I understand that my student’s partner did much of the talking as she was quite frightened. As she told me, “I’ve never had anything to do with the police before”. They must have picked up on her unease because they ended on quite a friendly tone, telling her not to look so worried. She felt obliged to give up at that point and drove away.

Again, what crime was she committing? Or even could have been contemplating committing? Did she really have to answer questions about what course she was taking the pictures for? What business was it of the police?!? Why do they need to know? Doesn’t she have the right to take photographs on a public street? The very nature of this type of photography means that the cars are rendered as mere blurs, and so the police’s reasons for concern couldn’t be based upon “data protection”, “invasion of privacy” or any other similarly spurious cover-all excuses for heavy-handed harrassment.

Remember the Eurovision Song Contest a few weeks ago, and the claims that Azerbaijan was an unsuitable host because it is an oppressive dictatorship with a history of human rights violations and persecution? One thought: The UK hosts the Olympics this summer. Are people harrassed by police for photographing cars in Azerbaijan?

Please, folks – know your rights: and

Ooh, Getty!

If you have an ipad, then you may have already discovered the abundance of great books available via the book store app. You may also have worked out that there are quite a few books that can be downloaded for free.

Well, here’s my recommendation for one such free book download: Getty Images’ “Year in Focus 2011”.

Amazing images from the Getty collection encompassing everything from frontline “Arab Spring” conflict scenes to 2011’s bestest celebrity, fashion and sport images. There are even sections dedicated to obituaries (classic images of those we lost in 2011) and anniversaries of key historical events. Stills are combined with film clips to provide a comprehensive visual summary of the year.

All in all, a wonderful collection of photographs which can be viewed with the benefit of electronic illumination, which really brings the images to life in a way that a traditional book would be hard-pressed to do, and all at my favourite price – FREE.


Another Day With Katie-May


Katie-May: natural beauty


Some time ago, I published a post about a very varied day’s shoot with Katie-May, one of our regular (in a frequency sense) Fotofilia models. Well, we had another half day’s shoot earlier this year which again proved very fruitful. As luck would have it, we timed the shoot rather nicely, choosing one of the unseasonably sunny days in very early Spring (which at the time we thought might turn out to be our Summer).


The day began with some studio beauty-type shots and then some lingerie sets (something Katie-May doesn’t do much of, but perhaps should). And then we headed outside to take advantage of the rare sunshine. We began in the local cemetery – oh yes, I know how to make a gal feel special. At this point, Katie is dressed in a bright yellow summer dress and make-up artist Kate Lambie has done a great job of providing some suitably retro-but-modern make-up. The idea (as far as I was concerned) was to get some shots with a “Roman Holiday” look/feel. Katie-May manages to “time-slip” remarkably well given her tender years.

A bit of Snapseed Grunge

Despite the sunshine, it was still the closing overs of Winter here  in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and Katie-May was doing her best to look as though she wasn’t in fact freezing half to death and was actually strolling around on a balmy Mediterranean afternoon. Not an easy task. I was freezing – and I was wearing a jumper and jacket.

Back-lit plus reflector

When the need for some warming caffeine-based beverages proved too appealing to resist, we headed back to the studio via a cafe, where, to the staff’s amazement, we asked to sit outside where I could take a few more shots before Katie-May’s hypothermia reached debilitating levels. Finally, with blood sugar and temperature returning to normal levels, Katie-May had the opportunity to sit around on the edge of the pavement in the back-streets for a few last images (her idea, honest!).

Not nearly as warm as it looks

So the images you see here are just a small selection of images from the day. There were some lovely colour images too but these are just the monochrome versions, which I think I prefer in most cases. If you’re wondering, they were all processed in Lightroom, then a bit of Photoshop and the odd smidgen of Snapseed.

Hope you like ’em.

And finally…