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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Alan Hunter - Photographer

Sorry it has been a while since my last blog update but I took a bit of a break and have been enjoying some holiday time. I thought it best to catch up and get things going with the blog. I will start off with a some notes on presentation I attended A little while ago…

I attended a presentation by Alan Hunter professional photographer. He started photography in the 1970’s as a keen amateur and through his job at the time, a research scientist, he spent a lot of time around fishing boats and the fishing industry along the north west coast of England, particularly Tyneside and Newcastle.

By taking images of the fishermen at their work on the trawlers and around the docks, and at play, in the local pubs around the dockyards, developing a style of photography documenting the people and places of the time (70’s & 80’s)

He continued to develop this documentary approach, involving people in their environment, documenting the decline in the industry and the effect of this on the people and area. He shot exclusively on black and white film (and still does), developing the photographs himself in a studio darkroom.

He had some great images of this time; old weathered local men in cloth-caps sitting in their local pub and staring into a pint of brown ale, they looked like they could have been from the 1930’s and not the 80’s when some of the shots were taken. the high contrast and dark shadows gave general sad feeling to the collection, emphasising the story of the decline of the fishing industry

Alan talked about the ‘Zone system’ for exposure as developed by Ansel Adams. He explained that he would mainly shoot in Zone 2, which he said is lowest exposure before losing detail in the shadow tones.I had never heard of this zone system before so I looked this up finding a number of references to it below.

I’m not going to explore the ‘zone system’ or Ansel Adams in this entry, but a note to self that it would be worthwhile doing a bit more reading (and logging) around this subject. 

Throughout the presentation Alan discussed the importance of composition in this documentary style creating a context to the location and activity and the use of juxtaposition to enhance the the qualities of the story telling.

I found this very interesting as it touched on areas that I looked at in the previous section around design elements, including the use of light to enhance textures and bring dimension to the photograph

In 1992 Alan moved to the South coast as well as turning professional, and as such necessitated the need to expand his documentary style into other areas to sustain a business, such as portraiture, advertising and commercial commissions. However I got the impression that his heart was very much in documentary/reportage style, and this was also reflected in the images that he presented.

He went on to explain that he did a study in fine art  nude photography, picking up the Ilford-sponsored Black and White Master Photographer Of The Year Award in 1999. He showed a selection of this work and I was very impressed by the use of light and the textures and shapes he had created (all still black and white). Some were very abstract so you would only see part of the body with the rest fading into black (a very low key style) creating almost landscape shapes as if you were looking at sand dunes or rolling hills.

He explained that he remains an advocate of black and white film only; and was somewhat non-complimentary towards digital image making. I got the impression that he felt that digital could not replicate the quality of film and was still a long way off from doing so. I didn’t actually agree with totally what he was saying about this, but I could see from his perspective that the digital world has reduced the ‘tangibility’ of the photograph; whereas he would have spent hours on a physical thing (paper, chemicals) in a darkroom and physically touching and developing negatives and transparencies, then viewing these on a mounted frame on display or in a book and developing an almost physical relationship with them. This being very different from the majority of photographic processing of today, spending hours on a computer adjusting the pixels then presenting it on a website or blog and many never actually leaving the digital world, with no physical relationship.

I do agree that there is a physical aspect that is often overlooked these days, and since doing this course, I have felt that there is something so much more satisfying when I get my photographs back from the printers,  but in terms of processing I think its the same.

Hours in a darkroom or hours in a virtual darkroom? Subjective it is!

Anyway a very interesting and thought provoking presentation, it made a change from the business aspects of photography that can often be the focus in these presentations.

There are a few examples of his work on his website