PHOTO IS:RAEL PhotoMarathon

PHOTO IS:RAEL was an online photomarathon that happened over 24 hours in February 2021. I decided to take part for creative challenge and boy did I get what I asked for! There were 6 themed challenges, which had to be completed over a full 24 hours and they all related to the concept of chaos. Something that we can all currently relate to.

This post will outline each of the challenges and share my photo(s) as well as an overview of my creative process. here’s number 1 which was received at 5.00pm GMT on a gloomy evening. Challenge 2 would only be released once I had submitted the Challenge 1 photo, and so on.

  1. Embrace Uncertainty – Natural light has been the dominant tool in every photographer’s career, but like most things today, it too changes uncontrollably and at the crucial moments. In this first challenge, we ask you to find images that deal with light. Take a walk around your house or on the street, look for an interesting light direction, add the shadows usually avoided. Get out of your comfort zone, choose new and unplanned angles.

Now, that’s all well and good. Photography is all about light. However, 5.00pm on a winter’s evening in the UK does not offer much natural light! I checked the forecast for the next day and it seemed promising. It was wrong, the next day was gloomy and overcast. No sun and none expected all day. I was going to need to create a photo that was all about (natural) light and shadows without either of those things. I know, there was some natural light, but it wasn’t the sunshine that I was hoping for.

I had an idea. What if in place of the shadows I used a silhouette? Similar, but different and still caused by light. Once I had the concept I decided that the silhouette would be of me in a hoodie, gazing at the gloom. Then in a flash of inspiration (and humour) I realised that if I used multiple exposure I could create another layer with a light bulb (signifying light and a bright idea) on top of the hoodie silhouette. I used Bright mode in my Fuji X-T4’s Multiple Exposure setting. This mode favours the brighter pixels over darker, ensuring that the light bulb would appear on top of the silhouette.

To create the light bulb layer, I held the bulb against a dark background, ensuring that the brighter cloud filled background would be favoured. Here is the final multiple exposure, created in camera with no post editing.

2. Dare to Fail – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep”. We cannot move forward without failing. In this second challenge you are asked to take a representative image of darkness, natural or artificial. The core of the image should be the dark part of the frame.

Great, I thought, absence of sunlight was a positive. Although I did wish that I had known the what the challenge was the night before. However, I was comfortable about using the exposure compensation to create a darker photo. I also thought perhaps I could make use of Dark mode in the Multiple Exposure setting. I created the photo with me in it first. To do this I used reflections of myself in various windows, and in a variety of poses until I settled on the heavenward gaze, which seemed apposite.

After I had that photo in camera I looked for a darker surface that I could use as the formless background. I settled on a rough section of tarmac just outside the house, and created one photo before a final one when I used a slower shutter speed (easy on the gloomy day and with a dark subject) and zoomed the lens out during the shutter release, to create the tunnel effect. In my mind this responded to moving from darkness to light, from failure to creation.

3. Challenge the Obvious at Times of Digital Transformation – In the past year, we redefined the way employees, freelancers and self-employed actually work, with new challenges and market conditions. Video calls, remote work from just anywhere, new participants, and circumstances we never thought possible for work, became our working environment. This challenge encourages you to photograph your interpretation of “work” as redefined in this past year, or as you think it should be defined. The photograph can be staged, documentary, realistic, or abstract.

By this stage I had noticed two emerging themes in my work. One was multiple exposure in camera, the other was the tree motif. I hadn’t planned to follow these unifying features, but I was keen to ensure that all of the final photos could be seen as a coherent set. I recognised that the overarching theme of Chaos was represented by the multiple exposures and use of extreme colours. The tree motif spoke of the future flowering of Spring and new hope.

The photo for this challenge was originally a straight documentary photo. I went back to it later and re-shot it as a multi exposure image using extreme white balances and an offset composition to indicate the sometime chaos of working from home. The tree motif, my girlfriend and the dog also survived!

4. Ask questions – Covid-19 Pandemic has posed many questions and challenges for us as creators. Thinking about the past year, what you personally went through? What the world has gone through? How did it affect and change you? In this fourth challenge you are requested to upload a series of personal, emotional and abstract or rational and realistic images, that presents questions about the changes you have undergone in the past year. Take a series of 6 images that explore these questions, and ultimately tell your personal and unique story.

When I read this I cheered. Right down my street. Those of you who are familiar with my Pandemia Exhibition will recognise some of the themes in these 6 photos. Most of them take the original idea of a Covid timeline from January 2020 to the present day. But whereas I created my exhibition photos over 10 months these had to be done in an hour, and I had a limited location to work with. I should have said, all of the photos for this photomarathon were created in and around the house or in the nearby park. Each photo title reveals something of the timeline and concept.

Jan 20 – Everything here is lovely, apparently.
Feb 20 – The virus approaches
May 20 – Got to work. Don’t go to work
Dec 20 – The virus is everywhere
Jan 21 – Lockdown. Again.
Feb 21 – Storms before wisdom

5. Collaborate – Collaborations between creators characterize the new era of employment. In this fifth challenge you are requested to photograph an image or metaphor and add up to 80 words of text you find relevant. Please note – In scoring this assignment the jury will also consider your choice of the accompanying text. However, unlike the photo, it is not mandatory to use an original text written by you. If the text is not yours, please indicate the name of the author and provide the right credit.

This photo represents through the use of a simple visual metaphor the concept of bright ideas. Each light bulb and colour represents a person and their ideas. The 80 words I submitted with the photo explain everything! So here they are.

“I am collaborating online with 3 other photographers to create an online course – Developing Resilience through Photography – that will be offered on a donation basis (for a UK Mental Health charity). Their thoughts, feelings and experiences will contribute to the section ‘Conveying your feelings in a photo’. This photo (like the others) uses multiple exposure in camera and extreme white balance choices to convey the idea that many multi-coloured minds are better than one, and make the light work!”

6. Make It Happen – Only we are responsible for our lives and have the power to change them. In the last challenge, put yourself at the center. In this task a unique and intimate self-portrait must be created. Add props or artificial light, and create a personal portrait that tells something about you as creators ready for the new challenges that life provides.

By this stage I was 22 hours in and a little jaded! However, I have spent several years appearing in my own photos, so I was comfortable about creating a self portrait. All I had to do was include the same chaotic colours and multiple exposures. I do regret that one of the faces was not looking at an angle, out of frame. I was focussed on all the technical and compositional choices, tired and that final twist would have reinforced the chaos them. Hey ho, it’s too late now!

Looking through the full set I am happy that they hang together as a complete set reasonably well. They also feel pretty chaotic to me, and yet a little hopeful. What do you think?

The judges won’t be announcing their shortlist of 20 until 4th April, but I’m not too bothered about that because I loved the process and creative challenge. Who would have thought that an online international photomarathon would work so well.

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