Social documentary photography. People. Life. Telling a story about a time and place. I guess this is what makes myself and Sarah tick as photographers. We enjoy the challenge of stepping out of our front door with a camera and a couple of lenses, going somewhere we haven’t been before, and taking photographs. 

We lived together in Derby for the best part of fourteen years. We got married there, our daughter was born there, and Sarah’s family still live there. The picturesque town of Bakewell was somewhere we used to visit on our day off during the wedding season, but we never went to The Bakewell Show. So last month we went. And it rained. A lot. And then it rained again. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t kind, and yet there was something quintessentially English about carrying on with the show regardless of the weather. Over two days we walked through mud and puddles and took photographs. It was a challenge but incredibly enjoyable to do.

Dealing with the weather

Rain is a problem for photographers and living in the UK we are subjected to a lot of it. Just the process of trying to keep everything dry can become a distraction. It’s not the camera bodies particularly, but rather the lenses and, in the case of my Leica’s, the rangefinder optics. Most of the time I was shooting using zone focusing with a wide angle lens so I didn’t need to focus to take the photographs. This solved the problem of water on the viewfinder. I just needed to see enough to frame the image and take the shot. I have an old Berghaus Rosgill jacket with large front pockets which are the perfect size for a Leica M9 and 28mm lens, so when I wasn’t shooting this is where the camera was stored. We racked up in the region of 25-28K steps each day we were shooting and those that have followed my blogs in the past will know that I’m a great believer in good shoes. The bad back problems that photographers experience are often nothing to do with carrying gear and everything to do with bad footwear. Unfortunately it was so wet underfoot that normal shoes were out of the question and so I dug my old pair of Meindl GTX boots out for the two days. They were great. Everything stayed dry.

The photographs

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

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  • Great work as always guys – and hello from across the waterReplyCancel

  • These are absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your street photography work. ReplyCancel

father and daughter at a london weddingThis week’s image is of a father and his baby daughter at a Winter wedding in London. I’ve never really seen this image as a wedding photograph as such. To me it’s a moment between dad and daughter which, in many years time and possibly on her own wedding day, she will be able to look back on and see just how much she means to her dad. It just happens that this moment took place at a wedding.

The guests had just alighted from a London bus just outside of the venue and were walking through the building on the way to the back terrace for the drinks reception. There were a lot of people quickly moving through the venue and because of the strong Winter sunlight and busy backgrounds there was little opportunity to get good pictures in this situation. In cases like this, which happen quite a lot at weddings, I will often seek out pictures away from the main action. If the light or backgrounds aren’t conducive to getting good images I will look for places where I can photograph. Simply snapping away without thought isn’t an option. Our pictures have to be of a certain standard. That is really important to us.

The man in the picture is a guest at the wedding. He was helping his daughter to walk through the building and the interaction between them caught my eye. She was getting a little distressed at all of the people around them and he picked her up. There was my picture. I wanted to show the intimacy between these two and so shot the image back through a mirrored panel that was part of a large piece of furniture I was standing next to. The abstract patterns of light were caused by the edges of the mirror catching the sunlight. These reflections helped to isolate the two of them from everything else while adding a dream like quality to the image. I also think the picture has quite a voyeuristic feel to it.

The light on the two of them came from several large windows which opened out onto the terrace. It was a soft rim light with the baby’s dress acting as a kicker pushing light into her father’s face. Flash would have absolutely killed this image and it would have also made them aware they were being photographed. For me it is important that they were totally unaware of my presence so that I could explore the interaction between them. Compositionally it works best as a vertical image; the lines are all running top to bottom, and because the mirrored panel was a vertical rectangle we are seeing what the mirror saw.

This image for me shows the images that can be found just by observing, being patient and not being drawn into the mindset of recording everything that moves.

Click on the image for a bigger version.

~ Jeff

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  • Absolutely beautiful! Thats a photograph that you remember for all the right reasons. ReplyCancel

  • David Murray

    One of the best images from a wedding I’ve ever seen. I ‘feel’ this picture and could look at it for hours, like I can do with so much of your work. Wonderful. ReplyCancel

  • stephen rowell

    When I first started wedding photography I was inspired to capture these moments in my own personal style and I still find such precious moments, moving and essential as a wedding photographer. Black and white lends itself to all the emotions on show, and to capture this takes love and a understanding of marriage. I first seen your work about 8 yrs ago and have followed you with interest. My style is very different  but the intention the same. To cut a long story short, weddings show every emotion and it puts the fear of god into me when I go into a 16 hr wedding story and I regularly say to my self, why do I do this. Then I remember, best job in the world (it’s great you inspire photographers)ReplyCancel

  • Lovely image Jeff! Always admired your style and thoughtfulness regarding image making, and love your black and white conversions as the final piece in the puzzle. I always struggled with stepping back from the main action in fear of missing a key moment there. I wonder how you deal with situation where the bride, groom and there immediate family are situated mainly in areas that have the poorest light conditions. Do you end up with a bulk of images taken around the periphery or do you sacrifice the quality and shoot in those poorer lighting conditions, in order to deliver sufficient images of the actual couple whose day it actually is and whose personal interactions with their guests and each other, that they will want to look back on? Great work as ever and always an inspiration going forward, even though I shot my last wedding two weeks ago.ReplyCancel

  • Henry

    Love it when you go through the thoughts and intent of your shots. Thanks for sharing and the inspiration Jeff! ReplyCancel

  • This is a great picture and moment..i really like your pictures…have a nice day 🙂ReplyCancel

wedding photo in a marquee

 

I’ve often spoken in the past about my work and how it isn’t really wedding photography. Obviously it is. My career and business has been pretty much dedicated to photographing weddings, but what I mean is I’ve never really seen the pictures that myself and Sarah provide as being wedding photography in the accepted sense of the term. One of my street photography friends described our approach as being like a couple of National Geographic photographers capturing a ‘day in the life’ story of a couple of families on a wedding day. I can live with that. In fact it describes what we do very well. Although I’m not sure Nat Geo would be happy with the amount of black and white pictures we shoot!!

This picture is from a wedding. It was taken by me during the drinks reception. It doesn’t show a bride or groom. It doesn’t show a bridesmaid, or anyone in the bridal party. It doesn’t show any flowers or shoes. All of the things wedding photographs are supposed to show. These small and often overlooked moments are always constructed carefully and with consideration to the composition and light. They aren’t random snaps. We don’t do those.

The picture was taken towards the end of the reception. Most of the guests were outside with only a handful remaining inside. The lack of people forced me to look for something different in terms of picture. Something simple and interesting. The lines and shapes of the glass and aluminium structure of the bar caught my eye, along with the young man’s proximity to it. I felt there was a picture here if I was patient. The light was pretty flat because of the location of the bar within the marquee, so to make the picture interesting it would need some careful framing and good composition. The young man leaned against the bar with a canapé in his hand just as someone reached for their glass. I took the shot. This is the result. For me it’s what Cartier-Bresson referred to as a decisive moment; all the elements are in play within the frame and have all come together geometrically. It’s a simple shot but to my eye at least, it works. Take any of the elements out of the frame and the picture doesn’t work; the boy’s hand, the glass, the hand reaching for the glass. Even the people in the background work within the frame with the guy mimicking the boy. The dark suit contrasting with the hand to allow it to stand out, and the white bottle making sure the black sleeve also stands out.

A wedding photo with golden swirl showing composition
If we look at the composition, we can see it works within the theory of the Golden Ratio, the Golden Spiral, or whatever you wish to call it. It also works well within the rule of thirds. I don’t consciously think about any of this when shooting, I just know what I want my pictures to look like within the camera. My photographic brain loves geometry and lines, and the placement of elements within a frame. Sometimes my images may need cropping slightly, but that’s absolutely fine, I can’t always be in total control over camera to subject distance at something like a wedding. The hands and glass became the main elements within the frame, and yet it was the boy and the bar that initially took my attention. In my mind I went from watching a potential scenario to reacting to a change and putting together a different picture very quickly. This is a picture that does appeal to my eye. Whether or not it’s a wedding photography. I’ll let you decide 😉

~ Jeff

 

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One of the things I wanted to do with this blog is share some of the books that I have on my bookshelf and the importance they have in my photographic life. In this kindle/ipad dominated world it is very easy to dismiss books as something from another time, but when it comes to photography books nothing matches the experience of holding a book, opening its pages and looking at photographs with which you have an emotional connection. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. I remember my daughter coming home from her first day at Arts College and mentioning that some of the photography students were grumpy and not happy. Their tutor had given them some old photography books to study when all they wanted to do was mess about with cameras.

The famous cover by Matisse with the omission of the hyphen between ‘Cartier’ and ‘Bresson’

At this year’s Photography Show in Birmingham, Sarah wanted to get her old and worn copy of Cuba by David Alan Harvey signed. We attended his talk at the show and afterwards she asked him if he would sign it for her. David asked her if she would like a personal message or just a signature because the solo signature would make the book more valuable. She told him that a personal message was more important to her and he kindly obliged. After David signed her book, a guy behind Sarah took out a carefully wrapped and completely immaculate example of the same book. He had even left the dust jacket at home because of the fear of creasing it. He handed it to David and insisted on having just a signature. After it was signed he carefully wrapped it back up and I imagined him never opening it again.

Damage to the dust jacket is just a consequence of having books which are looked at regularly

We have nearly 300 photography books at home. Most of them sit on bookshelves in our dining room. Some have become rare and increased in value while others you can find for a few quid on eBay. We don’t hide the valuable ones away and we don’t worry about creased dust jackets or yellowing pages. At any time you can take a book from our shelf, turn the pages, and enjoy the pictures. It doesn’t matter if it’s a signed first edition by Salgado, or a £20 Steve McCurry book from a bargain store. We can’t take them with us when we finally fall off our perch, so why not enjoy them while we are here?

I have a lot of books by Henri Cartier-Bresson. At the last count it was 15 including a pretty beat up signed edition. My love affair with his work started when I was a 21 year old photography student at college. My tutor was a big fan of Bresson and would spend entire lessons talking about the way Bresson used geometry and composition in his work. I was mesmerised by the idea of how a random snapshot could be so complex in terms of the way it was constructed. My youthful ignorance bothered me and I worked hard at understanding composition often turning my images upside down, as Bresson used to do, in order to concentrate on form and the visual interplay of lines and shapes. Understanding composition and the use of a 50mm lens became an obsession to me in those early years, but that obsession became the foundation for my photographic style, and many years later I am still visually excited by amazing composition.

A lot of the Bresson images I saw in those early days were photocopies from his book, The Decisive Moment, which belonged to my tutor. As students we never actually saw the book in its original format as it was too valuable to bring into college, but even those crude photocopies spoke to me visually and over the years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get a decent original copy of the book without paying a small fortune. Several years ago, and in a moment of madness, I actually considered dropping £3K on an original used copy, but sanity prevailed and I was finally able to get my hands on a copy when Steidl re-released the book towards the end of 2014.

The Decisive Moment is quite a large book compared to other titles by Henri Cartier-Bresson

It was Christmas morning and Sarah had bought me the book for my birthday. I kind of knew I was getting it but that didn’t prevent the emotional impact of actually seeing this book for the first time. I carefully removed the wrapping paper and slipped the book out of its hard sleeve. The beautiful Matisse cover was opened and then it happened; a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. This is the book I had coveted for my entire career, and even though this was a facsimile of the original, in my eyes it was an object of beauty in its own right. I actually have no issue with buying modern editions of old books. Often the print and build quality are superior in the later editions and that is the most important thing to me. Steidl have done an incredible job with the print quality in this book and it is quite unlike any other photo book I own. If you have this book you will know exactly what I mean. Big, beautifully printed images on heavyweight paper. They are more like prints than book pages – that’s the only way I can describe them.

The quality of the printing is impossible to show via the internet but it is quite spectacular

This was the first book Bresson published. There are lots of stories about its conception, but away from the romanticism and internet chatter, it is a very well designed book considering it was first published nearly 70 years ago. My understanding is that Bresson wanted to have a vehicle to show his work as he intended (rather than in a magazine) and was responsible for the layout of the photographs. His words at the beginning of the book on technique are like finding gold. Many will think they belong to another time, and that’s ok, but to me they just make so much sense. However, design and words aside, the book’s real importance lies within the photographs. Bresson’s compositional skills are quite remarkable especially given the cameras he was using at the time. His images connect with me in a way that no other photographer seems to do. These are the pictures from my past that continue to shape my future; each one a master class in composition and geometry, rhythm and timing. To be able to see these pictures as Bresson wanted them to be seen is why this book is so important to me. Yes, some of the images are soft by today’s standards, and others obviously could have benefitted from a little more exposure or development, but to get caught up on the technical side of his pictures completely misses the point of his work. He was the world’s most important photographer and this was his greatest work.

So in a marketplace littered with countless Henri Cartier-Bresson titles, my advice would be to save your money and buy this one book. It really is all you need.

~ Jeff

 

 

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  • Hi Jeff,

    Greetings from Australia. I agree wholeheartedly.I too waited decades to get my copy – the same reprint as yours. It is one of the books that are almost compulsory. It is simply a masterclass in genius.RegardsWilieReplyCancel

It has been several years since I last blogged on my photographic life. Things change in life and Facebook took over my online writing but my Dad always wanted me to write a book about my life as a photographer. I used to think it was a daft idea but as I’ve got older I think the time is right to at least start to put some of my experiences from the past three decades down somewhere. Not in the pages of a book but in an online journal so that wherever you are in the world you can hopefully find something interesting or amusing to read. Sadly my dad won’t be able to read what I write, but I believe he is in some way standing over my shoulder telling me that my sentence construction isn’t quite right or that my use of punctuation is a bit ropey. I know I can’t ask him to read it for me and correct it, so we will just have to go with it.

So here we are. My first couple of posts. Kind of like a new chapter in my photographic and personal life. The title of my blog is Walk Like Alice. It’s from a famous quote by one of the greatest social documentary photographers of the 20th century, Tony Ray-Jones. It resonates with both myself and Sarah as photographers.

Thanks for stopping by to read my ramblings and hope you enjoy the blog….

~ Jeff

“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think it is possible to walk, like Alice, through a looking glass and find another kind of world with the camera.”
Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)

 

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