Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to join in the discussions. I'm not a huge blogger (yet) but after a long, long time being a photographer, and having traveled extensively, and taught, and photographed for hundreds of clients, and having held a number of exhibitions (I feel exhausted just writing about this stuff!) I may have something of interest for you from time to time. I will be trying to update my photographs on the site as often as I can, so make sure you come back and see what's happening!
Simon Cowling March 20104
©Guy BourdinCharles Jourdan Shoes
Guy Bourdin was one of my early inspirations in photography. And still is; whenever I revisit his work I am knocked out by his extraordinary compositional skills, his impeccable colour sense and his often bizarre but always fascinating concepts. His ability to work up an abstract, often erotic idea and still keep things razor-clean, balanced to perfection and with an outrageous sense of colour have deeply influenced my own approach to photography. Not that I have ever sought to copy - but when you are taken with an artist's work it is inevitable some of it will rub off on you by creative osmosis. And not that I have had a career in fashion either, except for the first few years of my photographic life when, like most young male photographers, I was in it for the girls.... but that's another story! Bourdin himself cited his own influences, including Man Ray, Magritte, Balthus and Luis Bunuel.
©Guy BourdinCharles Jourdan Shoes
Bourdin was a pioneer in fashion photography. He would devise a concept, a story, a scene, which was usually provocative and often with sexual undertones, shoot the picture and then simply ascribe a fashion brand or label to that picture. He had no time for the accepted convention of actually "showing off" the clothes - the picture itself was the thing, the fashion incidental. And fashion mags went crazy for it. Clients included Vogue, Harpers, Chanel, Versace, Ungaro and Pentax. Yep, Pentax - the camera of choice for discerning photographers... ;-) (I was obviously more influenced by him than I thought!). His longtime campaign for Charles Jourdan was perhaps his most famous, and in many ways his most outrageous. There's never been another like Bourdin in my opinion (although David La Chapelle is a close contender, albeit far more campy in his approach). Thanks Guy, for teaching me about composition and colour and the incredibly graphic possibilities of photography.
©Guy BourdinCharles Jourdan Shoes
©Simon Cowling The editing and refining of my shoot of Ochre Dance Company continues - I'm loving it. Hoping to have an exhibition at some stage of large format prints. All pictures shot on medium format Pentax 645, processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. I'll post some more up from time to time. Support Ochre here http://www.ochredance.org.au
Lightroom ExampleA hawker of fine bonnets in New York City.
I'll also be running a one day Lightroom Workshop at FAC on Sunday 15th June from 10am to 4pm. Its an introduction to what has become, in a few short years, the industry standard editing and organisational tool for digital photography. If you've always wanted to know about this great program but have been too lazy to find out, now's your chance! It will change the way you view your photography whether you're a pro or just wild about taking pictures. http://fac.org.au/photography
After a much-needed break from teaching at Shoot, I'm back! This time at the Fremantle Arts Centre, which I'm thrilled about. FAC is just about the perfect place to teach anything in the arts, with its beautiful building, history and fine reputation in the visual arts. Starting on the 6th May I'll be teaching an intermediate course in digital photography. The course runs for 6 weeks, three hours each Tuesday night except the night of June 3rd. I'll be talking about a variety of topics and the course will be slanted towards assignments and critiques of your work, so the course is part tutoring and part mentoring. It is designed for those who know their way around a camera but wish to really take a step forward in their creative, compositional and publishing skills. Hope you'll join me! Details and bookings here: http://fac.org.au/photography
SALAMANCA MARKETS, HOBART, TASMANIABustling stalls amongst beautiful buildings
Last day in Tasmania and we are running a tiny bit late to get out of the house. Rob is pacing up and down like a caged animal. I make a feeble attempt at activity by putting couple of bags in the hall, but the girls still have mulch to discuss. No, that's not a typo. Its all about gardens around here. Anyhow, we set off for Salamanca markets - its a Saturday morning so Hobart's famous and historic Salamanca place is full to bursting with stalls of every description. Beautiful fresh Tasmanian produce (the sausage stall is overwhelming - over 100 sausages of various varieties sizzling on giant grills under a marquee, the cloying smell of three tons of frying onions pervading our clothes, nostrils and and every other place. We still smell like a sausage sizzle when we board the plane two hours later). Delightful. The markets are like markets the world over - organised chaos, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, stalls of fine produce and stalls of fine craft, stalls of dreadful food and stalls of absolute crap; amazingly talented buskers and down at heel performers who have nothing remotely resembling talent. Just as it should be. But it has a special atmosphere, this market. Bordered by a sweeping row of beautiful, historic buildings it is very easy to forget that this is Australia and not some bustling European city. We had a great time there, albeit a short one, before heading out to the airport and winging our way west once again. We'll be back.
BIKER, SALAMANCA MARKETS, HOBARTGet the feeling he's been to Anzac Day a couple of times? BANJO BUSKER, SALAMANCA MARKETS HOBART
SLIDE GUITARIST, SALAMANCA MARKETS, HOBART"I'm a sucker for slide guitar" - Rob Walls. Yep, me too. He was good.
BALLOON MAN, SALAMANCA MARKETS, HOBARTMad as a hatter. STALL HOLDER LOSES HER HEAD, SALAMANCA MARKETS HOBARTHmmm....
BUMBLEBEE DRUMMER SALAMANCA MARKETS HOBARTHe was a bloody good drummer, too!
PINNOCHIO IN THE WINDOW OF A WOOD SHOPCampbell Town Tasmania We picked up a rental car in Hobart and hit the road for the east coast. Let's not dwell on the process of renting a car I had already booked for a specific time and paid for; suffice to say that Rob later commented he was pleased to see that vestiges of old-style Tasmanian (non)service still existed.
Once out of Hobart (an easy enough manoeuvre) we struck out on the open road for the Freycinet Peninsula. Before long we were oohing and aahing about the scenery and the impossibly cute towns we were passing through. Unfortunately 'cute" is a word that seemed to come up a lot during our travels. Unfortunate because it conjours up images of twee little villages with lace doilies and devonshire teas. Which is partly true, but in Tasmania cute seems to work without becoming cloying. The sturdy Georgian and colonial architecture, the old bits of machinery, the rustic cottages, are all the real deal.The dark history of Tasmania, with its convict past and genocidal slaughter of its indigenous people, seem imbued in the land and the towns, so the urge to describe so many things as "cute" is tempered by the realisation that beneath that refined colonial surface lies a violent past.
WORKING WINDMILL AT OATLANDSEven cuter, huh? FROG ON A PHONECute, huh?
We reached the Freycinet Peninsula (Coles Bay, to be accurate) in the early afternoon and were immediately drawn to the place. Wonderful topography, crystal clear waters and a range of strange, foreboding mountains known as The Hazards that brooded over the whole like keepers of the strange. We went mad and splashed out on accommodation at the Edge of the Bay Resort which was far out of our proposed budget, but I'm afraid that's the way we tend to travel. Its part of our Fuck Art Let's Dance philosophy I guess. When I awoke at dawn the next morning and saw this view from my bed I knew we'd made the right decision.
DAWN AT COLES BAY, FREYCINET PENINSULASpectacular! The Hazards are on the horizon.
Shortly afterwards my wife decided a walk was in order and was so taken with the serenity and clarity of the water that she braved the chill and took a dip in her lingerie. Brave girl. That's the ever present Hazards in the distance. Beautiful rocks there too, with a fiery patina of some sort of mineral or fungal staining.
RED ROCKS, COLES BAY TASMANIA SWIMMING IN COLES BAY, FREYCINET PENINSULABr-r-r-r-r.....
Rob had insisted that we should climb the route to the Wineglass Bay lookout in the national park. An easy stroll, he said. I knew the bastard was lying when I saw this sign at the start of the trail.
WINEGLASS BAY SIGN"The walk to Wineglass Bay lookout may be the hardest walk you do in Tasmania".
We made it however, but it left me feeling confused. I was glad for the exercise, since that's something I normally try to avoid, but I have never understood the fascination of the Australian bush, and this walk proved to be no exception. Yes, there were some interesting rocks and the occasional spectacular view to a bay, but for the most part one is scrambling vertically up or down through dun-coloured vegetation that just looks a mess to my visually anal sensibilities. The way down was fun though - I could cheerfully tell people on the way up that they didn't have far to go in a tone of voice that suggested I did this walk every day before breakfast. Mr Smug.
After a couple of days tooling around Freycinet and the Bay of Fires we came back to Hobart through a road in the middle of the island that was once one of the most used coach routes from Hobart to Launceston. Once again we passed through a number of almost impossibly cute towns, but they were all fascinating, and the Georgian architecture outstanding. Its pretty cool to be able to drive through history that is still very much alive. We stayed in a cottage in Ross overnight that was very ancient (by Australian standards) and it was a bit like sleeping in a museum; we had a suite of rooms including a parlour and a kitchen/dining room. I was sorry I had neglected to pack a frock coat. Then it was back to Hobart for a last night at the Walls' idyll, with the promise of a quick visit to the Salamanca markets the next day before we caught the plane. More on that later....
SWEET'S BODY WORKS, FINGALSeems to still be working. SWEET'S BODY WORKS, FINGALNice to know his body still works. His building looks pretty shabby though.
SWORDFISH ON A STICK, TRIABUNNA, TASMANIAFly, my little swordfish, fly!
Tasmania is magnificent. No other word will do. Just spent a week there with my wife, visiting one of my oldest friends, Rob Walls, a superb photographer, raconteur, writer and cook. His wife Susie is also one of the most delightful people you're ever likely to meet, and in the shadow of Mount Wellington, just around the corner from the famous Cascade brewery, Susie tends a lush and lively vegetable garden. A serious one. She sells to people who sell vegetables at Hobart's Salamanca markets. That's how serious. What with the bucolic scenery, complete with hens and goats (all individually named, of course) fossicking around in the lower paddock by the boundary stream (am I making you sick with jealousy yet?) I didn't want to go anywhere else. And this was just the start - we hadn't glimpsed any more of Tassie than the Walls' house and garden and we were already more than happy with our Tasmanian visit!
TASMANIA_2014-313Rob Walls serves up a magnificently cooked fresh Tasmanian trout. Let that be a lesson to you.
But of course there's more. There's MONA for a start - https://www.mona.net.au - Tasmania's already world-famous art gallery. Words can't do it justice. Well not mine anyway. Built from the eclectically mad collection of Tasmanian uber-gambler David Walsh and housed in a masterpiece of subterranean architecture, a visit to MONA should be mandatory for anyone even vaguely interested in art. The experience starts right from getting on the MONA ferry for the 20 minute journey across Derwent Harbour to the gallery. Mad art, sheep sculptures to sit on on the upper deck, superb food and coffee from the onboard kitchen manned by MONA's own chefs, the witty brochure ("Tasmanians are admitted free of charge. You just need to supply identification - yes, yes, two heads and all that...") and the passing scenery all combine to make just getting there a blast. We had a very happy and stimulating day and will definitely return soon I hope.
TASMANIA_2014-424Grumpy passenger (is it the Queen?) sits on a sheep aboard the MONA ferry.
The next day we set off from the Walls' domain to discover the pleasures of the east coast. More on that next post....
The cosmetic department in Myer, Sydney. So? I hear you cry. Well yes, it's a totally uninspiring picture, but taken for a purpose. I sometimes play a little game of how long will it take for security to tell me to desist? In this case, it took about two minutes for a very snappily dressed young man with an impeccable hipster hairdo to tell me oh-so-politely that photography was not allowed instore. That was pretty good in my experience - it usually requires me to take at least three or four pictures and make myself fairly obvious (a flak jacket and a tripod helps). Now I know these stores and shopping centerst have proprietary material they want protect from piracy, but let's be realistic. Anyone with a phone can take pictures equally as good for reference or even publication purposes, and unless you stick your phone in the security guard's face it's unlikely anyone will challenge you. To prove the point, after I was chastised by the security hipster in Myer I then proceeded to wander through the store taking odd pictures with my iPhone, my DSLR tucked out of sight in a shoulder bag. No challenges, no problems. What with the PC police jumping on any photographer within 1000mm lens distance of a child, outdoor market stall owners yelling at you for taking a photo of their crappy hippy colored bead baubles and stores and shopping centres unleashing the dogs of war against anyone who dares to tale a picture of a Clarins counter, one really has to wonder what we've all done to become such pariahs. Ah, the first-world problems of the downtrodden! PS Play the department store game - see how many pictures you can take before being reprimanded. No prizes though - I've already won, it would seem.
Light. Its what photography is all about, right? I recently discovered some lovely quotes from a man who is well known to Dr Who fans (or should be if they were paying attention). His name is Ernest Vincze, a Hungarian lighting cameraman who was responsible for setting the look and feel of the new Dr Who series from 2005 to 2009 and is regarded by many cameramen as a true master of light.
I think light and all its nuances are one of the greatest influences that not only got me interested in photography in the first place, but has kept me there ever since. There is something indefinably wondrous about the ever-changing qualities of light, and the challenge of getting that feeling into a picture. The trick is to recognise great light when you see it and grab it with both hands. And a camera is also handy. Even if it means getting out of the car in the middle of a downpour! The above was taken in Canada's Rocky Mountains last year.
Some thoughts on light from Ernest that I think are worth pondering:
"Light is beautiful. Light reveals the world to us. Light permeates our reality at every scale of our existence. Light is a carrier of beauty, a giver of life."
"Light is amazing. Light sets our biological clocks. Light is craved by the body and soul. It triggers in our brain the sensation of colour. Light feeds us and it inspires us with specials like rainbows, sunsets, Northern Lights."
"Light can be gentle or violent, living or dead, clear or misty, hot or dark and sensual. Light can be straight or slanting, subdued or bright, poisonous or calming."
Maybe he should have been called Ernest Lights.....
A few weeks ago, certain artists who were invited to show in the Sydney Biennale got together and decided they could not in good conscience be involved with an event for which Transfield was the founding sponsor, to the tune of around $600,000 per year. As such, they told the Biennale Committee that they would pull out of the event unless Transfield withdrew their sponsorship. Senator George Brandis, the Liberal Minister for the Arts and the Attorney General, was swift to condemn the artist's action. He has signalled a significant shake-up of arts funding to avoid political "blackballing" in the wake of what he describes as the "shameful" decision by the Biennale of Sydney to reject private sponsorship from Transfield - Chris Kenny, The Australian, March 13.
Why? In my view this is a predictable, knee-jerk reaction from a reactionary jerk. I'm not going to argue the merits or otherwise of the artists' decision; its a minefield, and whether one supports their stance or not, they surely have a right to protest in whatever way they can against what they see as unacceptable human rights abuses by a large corporation. Yes, they are shooting themselves in the foot in many ways; it would be very difficult to find almost any large corporate sponsor today which would scrub up as blameless in any number of areas where it could be taken to task. Whether it is discrimination, sexism, slavery, eco-destruction or just being plain greedy arseholes, big companies almost by definition will end up treading on one or several toes.
But back to Brandis. He is 'appalled" at the Biennale's decision to cave in to the demands of the artists and has threatened that their future funding from the government will "have regard to this episode and to the damage it has done". I cannot see how Brandis can take such an arrogant, heavy handed approach - whatever way you cut this cake, he is clearly sending the message that artists have no right to reject the source of their patronage if they feel conscience driven to do so. And yet this is the same man who just today has stated that people have a right to be bigots and that is why he and the liberal government want to remove sections of the anti-discrimination act that makes racial slurs an offence. Great. So we have a minster FOR the Arts who wants to legislate against artists taking political action against perceived unacceptable corporate practices but will make it quite OK for them to call someone a nigger. The man is a menace.
I said earlier in the piece that the decision by the Biennale artists to demand Transfield withdraw its sponsorship was a minefield. It is. By doing so they have certainly made it harder for artists to obtain corporate funding in general, but sadly it is and always has been a fact of society that great art has always needed generous patronage to survive, wherever that patronage may have come from. One of the most generous patrons of the Renaissance period was the infamous Borgia family; they were regarded as one of the most dangerous families of the period, with many crimes committed in the pursuit of power. I suspect that had the Biennale artists told the Borgias where to shove their golden ducats they may well have ended up with their throats cut... no doubt with Senator Brandis cheering from the sidelines.