250th Summer Exhibition – Royal Academy of Arts

A couple of weeks ago I visited the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts with friends. If you have never been – and I hadn’t – then this is the year to make the effort. You won’t be disappointed.

The Summer Exhibition is a unique institution. Held without interruption since 1769, The Summer Exhibition is a heady mix of art produced by established artists and amateurs. Yes, you can have your art hanging next to a Hockney or a Gormley.

Every year a member of the Royal Academy (and there are ever only 80 of them) is invited to coordinate the Exhibition. This year the fabulous Grayson Perry has done the job, and of course he has done it exactly as you would imagine; with openness, uproariousness, a great sense of the absurd and yet a respect for the great institution.

Over 20,000 works were submitted for the consideration of Grayson’s panel. Somehow they whittled this down to over 1,400 which are then exhibited over several themed rooms throughout the Royal Academy. The impression left is one of overwhelming variety, talent, colour, vibrancy, brilliance and crassness. Yes, there will be art you just don’t like or get. But I guarantee there will also be pieces that seduce, bewitch and brand themselves onto your consciousness. Unfortunately, all the ones that did the latter to me were over £40,000. It appears that I have expensive taste.

Don’t delay. You only have until the 19th August; then it will close and they will distribute the sold pieces, return those unsold and breathe. A couple of months later next year’s coordinator will be appointed and the call will go out for submissions. I for one will be keeping an eye on the appointment and the possibility of a submission. Will you?

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Cefn Coed Hospital Heritage Project

Over the last couple of months I have been supporting ‘A Mental Picture’ an ABMU Health Board Heritage Project in Partnership with Swansea University & Swansea Museum. My role has been to provide photography guidance and support to the people who come on our tours of Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea.

Cefn Coed Hospital building work began in 1928, utilising Unemployment Relief schemes. The hospital was opened in December 1932 by the Princess Royal (the daughter of King George V). At its peak it provided care for up to 600 patients with mental health issues and was almost self sufficient.

The hospital is due to close and its role in the Swansea Community is being curated and celebrated in an exhibition at Swansea Museum in 2019. The photography tours I have been involved in have been provided to enable interested members of the public the opportunity to create photographs that capture something of the hospital’s history and place.

My Photographs

When I have been on site and had the opportunity to create photos I have taken a particular approach. My intention has been to create a representation of a living, working building. This challenge in an empty closed building has been to integrate the passage of those exploring the site, but to throw their detail into distortion. This represents an echo of the buildings’ previous occupants, in an ethereal light.

The three photos that accompany this post represent my most successful outcomes of this intention to date. I would be interested to hear what you think.

 

 

Summer’s here

It seems like it has been some time since we experienced a full on summer in the UK. Maybe that is just my experience, living in Wales – as the west of the UK does get more rain – or maybe it’s just age wreaking havoc with my short term memory!

However, the truth is that the weather has been fabulous for two weeks and we had a warm dry Spring. If you know anything about the UK then you will know that it will only take a couple of more weeks of this lovely sunshine and we will experiencing a drought, or at least that is how it will be reported.

In the meantime the sun shines, the average daily temperature is in the 20s and I have only needed a sheet to cover myself at night for 10 days or more. Added to that the sea is actually quite warm, warm enough for even me to go swimming twice this last week. I say ‘swimming’, bobbing about would be more accurate. But I am in and it is gorgeous.

I thought I would share a few of my favourite photos of this last two weeks as a precursor to more summer and more photography to come. I do love all this brilliant sunshine. It is great for shadows, depth, vibrancy, reflections and silhouettes. Do get out there and create. Here they are.

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Waiting

As I type this I am sat in a cafe drinking tea (of course) waiting for a garage to phone me back and tell me that my car’s brakes are not a problem, or more likely that certain costs are due. The waiting, any waiting, is an exercise in patience and perhaps one that in our fast paced modern life we resent. How does a mindful photographer occupy his time when he has to wait?

Fortunately, this morning the sun is shining and the sky is dazzling bolt blue. Bright low light abounds, shadows are out to play and the world appears vibrant. The garage I dropped the car at is on the edge of town, so I have wandered into the centre for a cuppa.

I like the town centre when it’s quiet and shiny. It imbues a sense of ownership when at any other hectic dreary time I want to be far away. I walked up from the garage just noticing the interplay of light, shade and colour. When something caught my eye I stopped, pulled out my glasses (the trials of using my second camera without a viewfinder) and created a photo.

I only stopped three times before reaching my destination and each photo here both represents those pauses and captures what attracts me on a bold sunlit morning. Waiting is easier with a positive way to spend my time. Using the time to take in my place and reflect it in a photo or two not only makes use of the time, in roots me in the moment and allows the morning to further brighten my day. Then I can write about it and share it with you!

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Mindfulness in the Woods Workshop

I recently took part in a great mindfulness in the woods workshop with Woodland Classroom led by Lea and James Kendall. We were based in Penllergare Valley Woods in Swansea and spent 3 hours following a variety of mindful activities.

We met in the car park at the re-imagined Penllergare Woods. From there Lea encouraged us to be present with the feeling of our feet on the floor and our movement of weight through our walk to the woodland base. Here we met James and sat in a circle around an open fire, acclimatising to the world around us.

Lea and James led us through a series of mindful activities that celebrated the woods and our presence in them. I found the session invigorating and grounding, feeling refreshed and breathing deeply and well. It is easy to forget how re-balancing nature is, Mindfulness in the Woods Workshop reminded me of its power.

Lea and James will be running another Swansea based Mindfulness in the Woods workshop at Penllergare Woods 2nd June. Book early to avoid disappointment, the last one sold out!

 

I’m hoping this makes you smile

This photo is for you. I had in my mind that I would try and create a photo to make you smile. So when I released the day into my bedroom and saw the dazzling blue sky an idea burst into existence.

I thought how could you not fail to smile at the sight of my sparkling white English legs, loose for the first time this year on a bracing Welsh beach? There were other factors I hoped would also help: memories of time spent at the beach, the sight of consistently sunny Swansea (joke) and of course, my smiling face.

Then if all that failed to turn up the corners, perhaps the tale of what happened directly after this photo was created would amuse you. There I was, my lovely new Fuji XT2 on a little tripod – only a foot off the sand, blithely imagining that the sea was in retreat. The shutter fired and I looked over my left shoulder to see a wave racing towards me. I dashed forward, scooped up the camera and tripod and sprung up the sloped sea wall.

Unfortunately, the angle and surface combined to make clinging there until the tide had once again retreated a trial. Watched by a mother and her two kids, who had also raced out of the way – although they were next to the steps – I slowly slid back towards the water. Inexorably I neared its pooled edge.  Visions of soggy socks and frozen toes swam past.

Then with a single bound I was free!

 

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Sunset Afterglow

I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without sharing a Rise/Set photo I created at a mindful photography workshop a few years ago.

I had booked the space, date and time in Llanmadoc on the Gower Peninsula in late September in the hope that we would be blessed with a great sunset. The reality exceeded my expectations providing one of those sunsets where the afterglow colours remind you of the unforgetable artistry that nature can provide.

Llanmadoc Beach faces west and America so the sunset was directly behind the retreating tide. This low tide also provided the opportunities for reflections of the swooning colours in the water sitting on the smooth slick sand. I decided to create something a little different, using a tripod, a low ISO and a slow shutter speed I slowly swept the camera through the horizon and back, creating the finished blurred effect. The colours are as close to the reality as my ability, recollection and software allows. I’m sure that nature’s reality was even more spectacular.

As a footnote it is interesting to reflect how this photo has come to symbolise my work in mindful photography, being used throughout this website, my business card and course promotion material. I even have a spectacular large print framed in my lounge. It has grown to represent this adventure in mindful photography I am currently living.

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My favourite place is right here right now

The photo above was my one of my first thoughts for an image that represented a Favorite Place. It suggests that I have been out with my camera, creating photos and have now settled to review the photos whilst consuming a quality cup of tea and possibly the best Apple Cake in the world!

Firstly, you want to know about the cake, I know. It’s provided at Brynmill Coffee House, my local café. A little stop on the way home after a stroll around the park. Secondly, the photos – they follow at the bottom of this post, or a favourite few do. They’re from this morning’s practice, actually in a park in Porth – nowhere near the café. That’s artistic licence for you!

My second thought, after some reflection about what made a favourite place was a connection with mindfulness. It was the moment of creating this blog post that provided the inspiration. For whilst I do have special places that I love, and people that I love to be with that turn any place into a favourite place (you know who you are), the present moment is my favourite place of all.

If I am totally present in this moment then I am really here. Completely inhabiting my mind, body and place. I am completely immersed in the one thing that I am doing. I am aware of the sights, sounds and smells. I am tuned into the thoughts whizzing through my mind and occasionally when I notice this I remember to connect back to what I can see, or the ground under my feet.

Sometimes I am present enough to be aware of how I feel. As an English middle aged man this ability is a work in progress! But supported by my photographic practices, meditation and mindfulness practices it is developing.

This morning I went out to practice mindful photography originally with the intention of creating photos whilst I was experiencing feelings of uncertainty. However as soon as I got outside in the sharp morning air and brilliant sunshine those feelings dissolved and I was there, present with the day, my camera and my dog. Another favourite place.

Barcelona

After a three day visit to Barcelona with my sister I am in recovery! Overdid it a bit and my breathing is a little shabby. The trip itself was great fun (mainly – more later) and we got to see lots.

Cheap flights and Airbnb all make travel to European cities easy and accessible. We stayed in the El Ravel area about a 5 minute walk from La Rambla. The accommodation was a great find clean, comfortable and well located.

First morning we had a late breakfast, a little mooch around the big market, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria and then met up with a local for a guided walking tour. That was a great start, got our bearings (well, I got mine, not one of Kim’s strengths!) and gave us some great ideas of where to visit, eat and drink. This was all organised through With Locals.

We then headed for a little culture at MACBA (contemporary art) to get confused. Though I do believe that the art inspired my abstract images around the building, seen below.

Later on that day we stopped for a cuppa, after walking 8 miles! I placed my camera next to me, under my coat. The nearest person was a table away, somehow he still stole it. After the shock, anger and frustration of the fruitless police reporting I resigned myself to the loss, hoping that my camera insurance covered it.

The highlights of the trip all happened on the second day. Sagrada Familia is astounding, even though it is still 8 years from completion. A ‘Wow’ escaped my lips as we first walked in. The photos here barely do it justice, taken as all these photos are on my smartphone and edited using Snapseed.

Later we walked down to the marina and sat in the warm winter sun with a comforting bottle of Cava and tapas. Nice. Later in the evening more bars and the 4 Gats (cats to you – an old haunt of Picasso) for more lovely tapas. We finished off in a cocktail bar, Dr Stravinsky’s, as suggested by our guide.

It’s a fabulous city, but keep your valuables very close.

 

Favourite Photos 2017

I don’t know why I haven’t thought to do this before. Thanks to WordPress photo challenge for suggesting 2017 Favorites: an invitation to share a favourite or a gallery of the best of 2017. So here they are.

Start the year with a selfie

Contemplative moment

Brynmill Park looking exotic in February

Taylor busting some birthday moves

Simon and I get surreal

Calm

India’s Final Exhibition (it’s behind us)

A much needed Spring break in Turkey

What do you think?

Simply held

Just

Rain shower

Retreat

Rippled

Perfect Pwlldu

Got my eye on you

Gower sunset (Lundy on horizon)

Double twilight

December dawn

Misty Winter’s morning

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Ascend

Ascend is the WordPress photo challenge of the week. These word challenges resonate when I can relate them to my living practice of paying attention to the world and responding skillfully to events and challenges, rather than simply following old habitual thoughts or actions.

To ascend simply means to climb up, or to rise. It is in the latter interpretation that I find an echo of my practice. To rise or soar, to my highest potential is ultimately my intention. I chose the word intention, rather than goal because I want to indicate that this is an ongoing practice, a daily paying attention, rather than a goal to aspire to. I am not certain that there is an end point, that would be the the purpose of using it as a goal. It is more a regular tuning in to how I am living. What I am doing, the choices I am making. The way I am through each day. Living a mindful life is regularly reminding yourself that you are intending to live a mindful life!

So to soar to my highest potential is a journey of small increments. Not of steps forward and retreats back, but more of flowing with the current of life’s river, my head above the water paying attention to my travels. It is about noticing when I fight against the general flow, or cling to the banks to avoid being torn away by the way life is heading, particularly when I am uncomfortable with the direction or speed.

I am fortunate, at least I call it good fortune today, I didn’t a couple of days ago. I get reminders if I cling to hard, or try swimming against the flow. My body reminds me that I am trying too hard. My breathing condition manifests as a physical change. I literally have to slow or stop, for my limited breathing will not allow anything else. After the initial anger, and the necessary medication, the breathing usually re-balances. And in that space, where I am right now I reflect upon my choices that led to the physical change.

Each time I get a little wiser. Only a little! Each time I learn a little more about how I am and how I could be. Soaring in your life is not a one time event, those ascensions are just happenings that bring us joy and make us feel alive. They are the opposite of the crashes. Both are to be treated with the same equanimity. They both pass, and by paying attention to how we are in them, we get a little wiser and more attuned to who we are and how we are. Living a mindful live is an intention not a goal.

The Photo

The photo is simple metaphor for keeping your feet on the ground when you are looking at the heavens. It was created all in camera, using a double exposure and playing with the white balance.

 

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ME – Multiple Exposure

ME or Multiple exposure is as old as photography. Back in film days it often happened by accident when you forgot to wind on after taking a shot, then the second image would be superimposed on the first. It is also something that I have experimented with in the past using a Holga camera – a medium format film toy camera. The image below was created in the cold Winter of 2011, and was created from three consecutive exposures.

Digital ME

When I owned a Canon 5D II I had hoped to be able to create digital versions of the technique, but Canon didn’t introduce the feature until the mark III was released.

This week I have been editing my Mindful Photography book (again) and rediscovered the art of Chris Friel a creative genius with ME and ICM (Intentional Camera Movement). He uses a Canon 5D III and is  self-effacing about his intriguing creations.

It was reading about his technical choices that reminded me that my Fuji X-T2 might have the facility to create ME photos. I checked and it does, although there are limitations with its use. Only two images can be combined in camera, whereas the Canons can combine many more.

I also noted in Chris’s generous advice that he uses many extreme settings in camera and tries to avoid doing much post editing work, only doing minor adjustments in Lightroom. This appealed to me. I like to work as much in camera as possible and it seemed to me that ME had the possibility of creating work that was an emotional response to found scenes, rather than documenting them.

A Mindful Approach

Of course being a photographer who is practicing living a mindful life I have started to consider a mindful approach to experimenting with ME and have come up with the following 7 steps. They are equally applicable to any genre or photographic technique.

  1. Read and study the skill. This is a great start.
  2. Understand the possibilities and limitations of your camera.
  3. Go to a location with possibility, stay in one place and practice.
  4. After each photo review what you have done and consider changes.
  5. Be compassionate with your creations. They are signposts to your path forwards.
  6. Share your art and get feedback.
  7. Keep practicing, refining, reading, studying, comparing and distilling what you create. Your aim is to discover what you like. Your photos only need to please you. Feedback from others is interesting and potentially helpful, but ultimately if you like the photo then that is enough.

In the spirit of being a teacher who practices what he preaches, I have started practicing. The photo below is my favourite from a set I took at twilight last night on Swansea Bay. I invite your comments! The extreme colours were created by playing with the white balance, the highlight tones, shadow tones and colour settings in camera.

Chris Friel recommends NOT combining ICM with ME. I get that, but I decided to experiment with it anyway. Hence the rather soft defocused nature of the tree. I believe there is possibility here and will continue to practice.

It struck me today, whilst out walking at the beautiful Langland bay that a ME selfie would make the perfect header image. The me in ME! Here it is below in all its glory. I will continue to practice and refine how and why I use this technique. I am interested in its ability to convey emotion experienced through visual elements of design and the blurring of what we consider reality. Watch out for more ME!