Category Archives: Photography

Talking about portraiture with Patricia Coakley

A couple of weeks ago I was in the U.S. and I visited fellow blogger Pat Coakley, at her home. As we shot the breeze I brought up the subject of  portaiture photography and the sorts of images people put up of themselves on their blogs.

I mentioned that I find self selected portraits fascinating because they give such an interesting insight into the mindset of of the sitter. Often I see photos of female bloggers that to my mind show a preoccupation with their self image of themselves as sex objects rather than humans that happen to be female. A similar thing goes for many men with the added conceit that conveys an attempt to look either seriously “deep” or macho.

Now I know it’s human nature to feel exposed when displaying a photo of oneself and it takes a fair amount of courage to let down our defences and allow someone else the try and show a little more about ourselves to others. I’ve often thought that the higher the defences that a person presents, the weaker and more vulnerable they feel. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that the people who “let it all hang out” are usually very brave confident people (either that or drunk!) and I’ve admired them for it.

I hold the advertising industry largely responsible for the mass negative self-consciousness I see exhibited in western society. Our self image is constantly under attack by businesses that want us to feel that we need to buy their products to feel better about ourselves. Like some kind of insidious water torture, the steady dripping of corrosive advertising messages is eroding away many of the fragile positive attitudes we may have of ourselves, to the point that a lot of us feel we can’t be photographed, “warts and all”. As a society we have been brainwashed into thinking that everyone else in our society has to find us sexually alluring at all times. The ad industry would has us believe that we are constantly on some kind meat market catwalk with the spotlight on us, and the rest of the society we live with is the audience of buyers.  

Crazy making stuff.

As I was ranting on along these lines, Pat asked me what sort of portraits did I think people should put on their blogs. My answer was, “a character portrait”.

By a character portrait, I mean a portrait that gives some kind of insight into the character of the sitter, rather than a fruitless (and to my mind, an excruciatingly embarrassing) attempt to cover-up and compensate for their ad industry created insecurities.

To my reply Pat said something along the lines of, “well then, take a photo of me to show what you mean”

So without allowing Pat to make any adjustments to herself I grabbed my camera and took a few shots right where we were sitting at the dining table.

patc

I always like taking portraits of people looking straight back at me. I’m of the opinion that it’s almost impossible to hide on one’s face, what is going on internally in one’s mind. Having a portrait is quite confronting for most of us and I love how when people look down my lens back at me there is usually a questioning openness in their expressions.

Pat gave me a look that appeared on the surface to be a mixture of defiance and vulnerability that intimated to me, “I’m trusting you here”.

Needless to say, I love the photos I took of Pat (even though the depth of field is a bit shallow) because they show her the way how I see her (it’s always going to be a subjective projection from my point of view). In the few days that I spent with Pat I received the impression that I was in the presence of an erudite and compassionate being.

The photo above is all eyes and mouth and in the kindest way I feel that sums up Pat. The eyes are always observing behaviour and soaking up beauty, while the mouth is often transmitting wisdom and insight.

“Strokkur” the geyser. Iceland. 2011

Today we went driving into the mountains north east of Reykjavíc, up towards the Langjökull glacier. We knew we’d be passing the home of the eponymous “Geysir” (the first geyser known to Europeans). We also knew it would be a total tourist trap and that Geysir only erupts when there is seismic activity, which isn’t right now, but we thought we may as well go and see it.

Yep the place had the obligatory store with very over priced tourist stuff in it, and there were all sorts of tour groups there, just like we expected. So it was with an unwilling heart I went to look at Strokkur, the only geyser that regularly blows a column of water into the air.

As I hung  around with all the other mooks with my camera at the ready, waiting as the minutes crawled by I kept thinking to myself, “why am I bothering with this?”

I have to admit that as I watched the water in the geyser well up and down for about fifteen minutes, I could feel the tension of expectation mount inside me. Then all of a sudden the water wells a little higher than before and with a gushing blast a large tower of steaming hot water shot into space. It was so violent, powerful and fast that everybody, including me jumped.

sgil

One moment I’m a jaded piece of meat that couldn’t care less, the next I’m an excited little kid who can’t wait for the geyser to go off again.

I watched Strokkur do its thing three more times and eventually had to be dragged away from it by my wife.

So far I’m impressed, just going from the airport to the hotel! Reykjavík, Iceland. 2011

For years I’ve been an avid reader of Icelandic sagas, and for that reason I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a long time. Over the years I’ve noticed that when I hype myself up with expectations over a long period of time, I’m invariably disappointed. So it has been with a certain amount of dread that I’ve been facing the prospect of actually setting foot in Iceland.

As soon as I landed at Keflavik international airport I noticed the colour of the light and how lush and saturated everything looked. As I drove into Reykjavík I was struck by how utterly alien the landscape looked. All new geology caused by volcanic activity, no trees in amongst the rocks, just tiny little heath and lichen. I got such a shock when I stepped out of the car to take this picture.

lsii

Although the ground is obviously very rocky, the rocks are covered in such think lichen that it is like walking on the softest and most luxurious shag carpet that you could possibly dream of.

After we spent about half an hour marvelling at the amazing landscape we got back in the car and within about ten minutes I saw a small tornado off in the distance.

tii

Although I’ve been through areas within an hour of one passing through the countryside and a small town in Ontario, Canada years ago, and have seen close up the destruction they cause, I’ve never seen one actually happen. More amazement!

After boggling on the tornado until it petered out, we made our way to the accommodation that we booked (reykjavik4you) and were blown away by how nice it is! I’m not kidding, this place it as good as it’s website says it is. Here’s a picture of the lounge area of our room.

riir

Spa bath, DVD player with free movies, flat screen TV, hi speed internet, kitchen plus a great bakery just across the road and it’s located in the middle of town!

As soon as we dumped our bags we went for a stroll downtown. With a population of about 120,000, Reykjavík is not a huge city, but it has tremendous heart. The town is just abuzz with an energy that I haven’t seen anywhere else that I’ve been to in Europe. For me there is a real sense of Reykjavík being a “happening place”, and in the short time I’ve been here, I’m already kicking myself we spent so much time in Finland and we didn’t spend it here instead!

irss

So far, so good (he says, tempting the gods).

Aboard some Baltic Ferries with Engogirl and Razzbuffnik. 2011

Travel in Scandinavia quite often involves ferry trips. The ferries range in size from small ones that only take about twenty vehicles across fjords right up to ships the size of cruise liners that cross the Baltic Sea from one country to another.

This first image was taken by Engogirl on the overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and it shows me in the foreground with some excited Russians next to me.

fwa

What struck me about this shot, and why I like it so much is that it shows such a striking difference in attitude between me and the little boy. I’m constantly thinking about what’s going on around me and my expression shows this. On the other hand the little boy’s face is full of wonder.

I often think about how as we go through life we gather information and understanding of the world around us. When we start off on our life’s journey we are ignorant, full of awe and wonder, but as we get older and understand more, we see the complexities before us and using the knowledge we have gathered, try to decipher it.

This next image is of Engogirl on the three hour Ferry trip from Stockholm to Gotland.

fwk

Once a ship leaves it’s harbour and is out at sea there isn’t much to do or see, other than the watery horizon in every direction, so most people head off to the various restaurants or snack bars to make their purchases so that they can eat and drink their way through their voyage. Since there isn’t that much to look at (other than the other passengers), Engogirl and I sometimes listen to music. As we were listening to our music, the woman next to Engogirl kept looking out the window with a funny expression on her face, so I took a picture of them both.

The great thing about using such a wide angle lens (10mm) as mine is that people off to one side don’t realise that you’re taking photos of them.