Skip navigation

I see it’s been over a year — I went travelling, which I wrote about here: http://fleetingexperience.wordpress.com/

But I’ve determined I need to pick up the camera again, after largely ignoring it for six months or so. More than that, I want to return to the fashion side of photography that I was doing. So I dusted off my website and cleaned up my camera gear and, since I have moved cities, plunged deep into the quagmire that is social media as it relates to photoshoots.

Thus I have rediscovered that hoary old chestnut, TFP (Time-For-Print/Portfolio/Photos). This is the system whereby instead of exchanging invoices, the creative team for a photoshoot (photographer, model, makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion stylist, etc) opt not to charge on the basis that all will get copies of the final images for their portfolio and are thus ‘paid’ in-kind. Its a win-win (or should that be, win-win-win-win-win?) or at least, so it should be.

So, here is what I think TFP is good for, and what it is not for, and why I am very selective now about doing it myself (and that doesn’t mean I will always be paid instead, it actually means I sometimes wont shoot).

TFP in its ideal form is a collaboration between peers. This implies a few things:

1) That you collaborate – The photographer is often the ‘manager’ of the team, and this can be frustrating at times because wrangling creative types is like herding cats, luckily often a good fashion stylist will bring together the elements. So, the photographer puts in his prep time, shoot time and post production (think hour-for-hour at least – each shooting hour probably entails at least an hour outside the shoot), stylist sources, develops and implements outfits and looks, hair and makeup do their magic on game day, model works it like a boss. The thing fails if someone is being slack, and it shows. The photographer cannot be expected to correct lazy mistakes on behalf of the others in post production. Equally, the photographer should be bringing their full talent and experience to bear on the shoot.

2) It’s between peers – So, a good photographer might collaborate with a good model for a shoot, and then they bring in the rest of the creative team, who will benefit from the photographer and model’s experience and talent. But a new model cannot expect that an experienced photographer will shoot TFP with them unless that photographer sees a particular talent in the model. Equally, a great model will not shoot TFP with a new photographer unless she/he feels that the photographer has special talent, which will be evident in the photographer’s portfolio. Put simply, your TFP shoots should be mostly between people of similar experience and talent. If a particular member of the team is wildly more experienced than the others, then that member may well expect payment. All this is common sense really, and, of course, none of this affects a person’s right to do their work for free, though that be a strange choice (unless its family I guess).

Two-way vesus one-way relationships

So a collaboration is a two-way street, a model might come to a photographer with an idea for a shoot, the photographer likes it, likes the model, they discuss it and work through the concept. They find hair and makeup artists who are likewise interested. All agree this shoot is worth their while and agree not to charge, instead making it TFP.

If, on the other hand, a new model sees an experienced photographer’s portfolio and decides she’d love to have that photographer shoot her and then just asks him straight up if he’ll shoot ‘TFP’, that’s a one-way street. That’s the same as asking for your vegan orange and fennel salad for free at that cafe where you park your fixie. No difference at all. Nothing has been offered in return for the photographer’s time. TFP is a form of payment, something is offered in return for something else. It’s a TRADE.

Now, when I say ‘offer’, I mean something that the photographer can benefit from. Such things include: a model with a look and experience that could see the photographers career progress, a makeup artist or hair stylist with particular skill and experience, a fashion stylist who’s on trend and has perhaps been published before (actually that one applies to everyone). In ALL cases, it must suit what the photographer needs in their portfolio, just as it should suit the rest of the team’s portfolios. There are no free kicks here people, we all spend a deal of time on these shoots, we need something in return (and that’s before we mention the costs of these shoots, so many times have I been the sole bearer of the cost of studio hire that frankly I am tempted to NEVER shoot TFP in a studio).

So, don’t be offended if a photographer’s choices don’t include what you want to shoot and he says no to TFP. This is a matter of personal choice after all, especially for TFP. Also, perhaps be a little circumspect about directly approaching a photographer with a request for TFP, many consider it rude, considering it to be the same as asking for free stuff…

Then again, if you want that photographer badly enough, there is always the more traditional option: PAY FOR IT. Few photographers will say no to that.

Advertisements

Vatra Magazine, Issue 2, just came out. It’s a fantastic new magazine, well worth a look if your interests lie in fashion, art and culture. In it is a selection of photographs of mine from a series called ‘Evolution’ that I shot. The images are of a model in different body paint, exploring ideas of discovery and evolution and adaptation. The ideas are loose, the shoots were aimed towards a fashion/beauty context.

For body paint, the model needs to be nearly completely naked. It just doesn’t work well otherwise. Frequently, the underlying nakedness is obvious enough, despite being beside the point.

Unfortunately, this limits where such images can be displayed. In my haste to promote the shoot, I put one of them up on Facebook, which resulted in it being deleted and me serving a 24 hour ban from the social media site (and if you’re a soc-med tragic like me, you’ll know how bad that is!)

Discussions with people on this typically revolve around ‘community standards’. I was upset at it being taken down, but others seemed to think that it was I that couldn’t accept others’ standards. This is not true! I do think people should look into themselves though and appraise where those standards come from (frequently religious).

I know that others’ standards differ. Indeed I am not a particular fan of “fine art nude” photography except in what my personal taste deems to be particularly good examples of its use as art (Bill Henson comes to mind here). I guess I have slightly conservative taste there and don’t generally seek out pictures of naked people.

That said, some nudity in the context of the artistic side of fashion and beauty photography is commonplace. And sometimes it adds to the feel of a photograph. Sometimes it is gratuitous and adds nothing, too. Actually there is a whole ‘sub-genre’ of fashion photography, loosely termed ‘post-punk’ that thrives on this. See “C-Heads Magazine” for an example.

As for my work, I do very little work involving a requirement that a model at least start out nude or partially nude. I think I have only done 2, this series being one of them. I have also done some ‘vintage glamour’ photography in the past. That’s about as risqué as I get.

This particular series does not fall into ‘nude photography’ in my book. The body paint is quite extensive, and its mostly abstract forms are in part designed to camouflage parts of the body. In post production I actually ‘toned down’ the nipple area to reduce the perceived nudity. I very much did not want people looking at this as a naked person.

The series is about discovery and evolution. The creature discovers and evolves. However, putting such ideas into a fashion/beauty context demands a ‘mainstreaming’ of the concept to an extent. Certain things need to be recognisable – a person, some jewellery, etc.

I understand that it probably requires a certain ‘eye’ to simply see this series as either art or beauty photographs. You probably need to have been looking at fashion and art photographs for a while. The ‘general public’, whom we fear so, probably doesn’t see that side straight away.

However, I don’t think this series places any ‘moral risk’ on any viewer. There is no seductive sexuality, no implications of harm. It is, essentially, harmless. And so if your interests in protecting the public from its view relate to a general principle of ‘doing no harm’, then this series requires no special attention.

That said, I am acutely aware of attention bias and understand that certain members of society have sharp radars for anything that might even skirt the boundaries of their moral compass. Predictably, those who seek to ‘protect society’ from such images are typically the same who seek them out for attention. It is a regrettable side to society that some people are not able to engage or otherwise with art, that does no essential harm to anyone, without ruining it for others.

I have fallen for the worst trap of all, in some ways — to seek to justify one’s own art. For now, here is one image from the series (the one, incidentally, that started this problem), the rest can be seen here: http://mkrobinson.com/themes/evolution/

Image

In the process of developing a series of photographs, loosely called ‘contained anxiety’, that will be exhibited in a group exhibition next year, I became side-tracked with an idea. So many of us live lives in cities, pacing out a life between office, shop and home. Enjoying our weekends and loving our friends and families. And yet, we still dream of quiet woodlands, warm sunshine, tropical beaches, fishing at a peaceful lake. We yearn for something different. Sometimes, we put little postcards up on our cubicles, an vestige of a holiday not yet taken. We might even have dreams of a different life, and our walls may be plastered in imagery to suit.

My series involved a number of images of empty spaces. Many contained receding lines and closed doors. One did not… and while I was staring at it during the editing process, I imagined the open doorway as an attempt to carry through with our dreams, only to walk straight through it into the same reality as before. That mild despondency you get at the end of a great holiday. The sense of temporary relief and fulfillment.

So I took such a space, and applied the dream in temporary form, laying it all over the cracks in the wall, letting those cracks spoil the dream just like reality sometimes can. I imagine our protagonist to have put down the phone and to have walked through that doorway into … well we don’t know. For some reason, the resulting image is both melancholy and uplifting to me. I’m not sure I’m content with it, but for some reason, it sticks with me. The problem is, it is an orphan. I can’t really find a good way to build on this. Perhaps that’s fine. It can drift out there in the morass.

‘Shop Front Dreams’

For a while now I have followed the work of Yoram Roth, a remarkable artist from Berlin, a photographer who has a strong sense of the purpose of art. His blog is a collection of fascinating insights and thoughts into the world of visual art, as well as his own projects.

Lately he has been writing around themes of the purpose and place of art, and in particular, the need for photography, especially, to seek to achieve the same goals of concept, craft, discourse and aesthetics as any other form. Roth’s Manifesto is a lovely and concise exposition of this idea).

It has me thinking again about an idea that I have always struggled with: Where does an image come from for a photographer? I know photographers who have nearly fully formed images come to them during daily routines. I know others who ‘see’ old themes and tropes in visual terms. Others imagine a narrative in visual form, and seek to play this out in a series of images. Where does this language of imagery come from? We all grow up bombarded by visually told narratives, and visually evocative stories. Is an artist’s work just a re-imagining of all that he’s seen?

Personally, I struggle with pre-conceiving ideas in visual form (I’m also a hopeless drawer, so storyboards are a nightmare). That might sound strange coming from a photographer who does work that attempts some message or narrative (however loose). But I do. I can write, I can even tell stories, but I struggle to connect with a certain visual language that is used commonly in art.

Where I think I diverge from Roth is that I like to begin with the aesthetic. I seek out the visual form and arrangement, and then weave that into something larger. If I have a concept, it is perhaps just a feeling, or an emotion. Feelings and emotions, however, are not of themselves visually tangible. They are just emotions and feelings. So the only way I can connect to those is to seek out the things that strike a chord (harmoniously or not) with that feeling. That makes it quite difficult to tell a story with images for me. Perhaps I lack a background in stories. Perhaps I imagine in words and ideas, not pictures? What the hell am I doing being a photographer then?

I think that returns me to the aesthetic. A sense of beauty, in the philosophical sense. A need to show people something that I saw, that I created, that I imagined, that I felt, however briefly. So, in the end, there is a story in my pictures. Its just that sometimes I have to create an environment for a photograph for even me to comprehend it. I think I understand, in a small way, some of the frustrations that plagued Mark Rothko’s illustrious career as an abstract expressionist. To channel these basic emotions into your art is perhaps the greatest goal of all.

I’m sure I’ll get better at this and eventually bring actual concepts to bear in my work. For the time being, I shall have to continue in my ‘experimental style’. I think I do ultimately hope to achieve that hit in the nerve centre of emotions that comes instantly from the ‘feel’ of certain great art. If I can ever do this, I will have had some success.

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

Clutter, mess, disorganised things causing stress. A brick wall in the way of relief. If you’ve ever felt so strung up that even doing the simple things gets tough, then you know what I mean. You can’t intellectualise your way out of it because intellectualising things is what got you there in the first place. No, the only cure is action. To confront the things that are causing angst, get them out of the way and move on. Which sounds simple, and it is, really, but this can be a major blocking point in life. Sometimes what feels like freedom is actually just myriad choices that you don’t need.

Other times, a little ‘holiday’ is what is needed. Removing yourself from the cluttered world and transporting your mind elsewhere can reduce the angst, and bring down the wall. The simple things become simple again. This is not about postponing the anxiety, or putting things off (which is what you are doing if you avoid the problems), this is about pause and meditation. It might not take long, but then the things that are stressing you out probably wont either.

For me, an important aspect of photography is this very function. When I look through the lens, I get a sense of calm. Photography has an immediacy. It promotes mindfulness – you really are concentrating on something ‘here and now’ and being aware of your surroundings and what is going on.

Further than that, though, I take time out to photograph things that in some ways represent the very opposite of chaos and clutter. This is where a series of photographs of empty internal spaces has come from. To me, as I look through the viewfinder at an empty shop or warehouse, typically through the glass of the front window, I am struck by the calm of the scene, the organised leading lines of the ceilings and floors, the lack of mess, the feeling of desertion. It is a meditative moment for me, and has qualities bordering on the therapeutic. I normally shoot these photographs on 35mm, sometimes on medium format. But almost always on film – again the deliberate nature of the film shooting and developing process and the fact that there is a particular method to this is all part of this mindful adventure. For this reason also, I have moved to shooting this series completely in black and white.

Upon viewing the prints, I am struck again by the arrangement of forms, the design, the calm. But I have been told by others, and I can see this now, that actually these photographs convey a sense of anxiety. Frequently there are closed doors or gates in the distance. It is an enclosed space. I tend to have slightly off-kilter leading lines. There is anxiousness here. That’s not what I see, but I am very intrigued by the idea that I have projected my anxiety into this space, and thus ‘transferred’ it to the viewer, no longer feeling it myself as a result. This is a slow and ongoing project, but one that becomes more and more interesting as I explore it. I hope to exhibit some of the results soon.

Image

(c) 2011 Michael K P Robinson

“I am going to outlive myself. Eat, sleep, sleep, eat. Exist slowly, softly, like these trees, like a puddle of water, like the red bench in the streetcar.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

What does it mean to live an ‘authentic life’? If the world has no meaning, then all we can do is exist; live. This should not really surprise us, yet it is a fundamental source of anxiety in human beings. Our developed brain and its wild imagination is both a blessing and a curse. We live, and then we die. With a whole lot of thinking time in between.

So it is that an outlet of my existential angst is to photograph things that might go unnoticed, or things that are ‘challenging’. These are the found objects of a mindful wander through the world. Sometimes these are quite macabre, such as road kill. But what is ‘macabre’ anyway? There’s a beauty in the decay of a carcass, as it breaks down and its molecules return to the Earth to continue their aeons-long cycle. The black space of the mind intrudes, but this is not a fearful thing. This is life, and death, and the world turning.

(c) 2011 Michael K P Robinson

At other times, it is the mundane, or even the moderately beautiful things. I say ‘moderately’ because they have little hope in competing for attention against the truly beautiful. They just exist, like us. Forming part of our sphere of attention, these objects are part of this same cycle, beautiful in their own, small way.

(c) 2011 Michael K P Robinson

At other times still, it is the very contrast between the majestic and the pedestrian that is what makes mindful observation the very spice of life. If we’re to live on this planet for all these years, and if we are to realise how very unlikely it was that we would be conscious of the world through our own eyes at this point in history, we might smile more often at the absurd nature of it all. Truly much is going on all around you. All the time. Enjoy it, interact with it. Allow your thoughts to roam and your actions to follow.

(c) 2011 Michael K P Robinson

The journey is long, time consuming, and may very well have no point at all other than to procreate. But you are conscious, you can think, you can do. Play with it. Enjoy it, because you can. Take the road less travelled, and keep your eyes, ears and mind open.

(c) 2011 Michael K P Robinson

[Images taken from “The Terror of Existence”, an exhibition I held as part of the 2012 FotoFreo Open Exhibitions Program, in Perth, Australia.]

We go round again and again, the highs and lows cycling over. As it happens, winter became spring, spring became summer, summer became autumn, and then it became winter again, and only now do I return to this blog and this project.

Followers of my facebook page will think of me as a kind of fashion/culture type photographer now. My flickr followers will probably just know me as, well, that one’s a bit chaotic actually, and I now have an official portfolio website. But this sublimation project began as an attempt to understand what was going on with me. Why did I so happily sacrifice hours on the development of film? What is the value of others seeing your photographs? Did I even care about them anyway, or was I just photographing for the sake of photographing?

Hindsight is a glorious thing, and I can see now that it was all just part of a hectic, frenzied struggle to practise an art and see if anyone felt I was ok at it. But it was mostly, as I knew at the time, a sublimation, a way of replacing one “treatment” for my anxieties, with another. Self-medication became self-expression. But I really had no idea what exactly it was I was expressing. I was just “doing”.

I moved into a more overt form of photography when I started shooting models and fashion and such things. Here was a field that was both occupying and popular. Fashion results in meeting lots of fun people. And there is a attention-attracting power to a photograph with a person in it. I found I could do such photographs with a measure of proficiency. Narcissism was layered upon my sublimating occupation and I loved it. Replacement of self-medication joined forces with the promise of a kind of popularity. Such small-time acclaim promised to even attack the core of some of my anxieties. But the fun and the social conspired and I slipped back into the old ways.

I kept photographing though, focussed on this new found direction. Formal studies at university in photography extended this practise and further encouragement found form in publication and exhibition of my work. Modest recognition spurred on new work. I was on a roll and it became clear that I could probably really take this somewhere. But beneath my feet lay the trap, coiled like a scorpion with a sting in its tail. I was doing too much. I was working full time, I had domestic issues, I was photographing nearly weekly with all the antecedent work involved, and I was studying photography part time at uni. It didn’t feel overwhelming, but the sea had receded and the tsunami was approaching.

One torrid July night this year, full of thoughts and emotions, I decided to ‘act out’ these emotions in front of my camera. I took about 30 frames, out of which 9 good shots emerged. These are self portraits, something I have never wanted to do. I was quite impressed with the results and posted them on my Flickr. And then had a good chuckle about how silly that all was. Turns out there was something there. Around a week later I found myself in an email and subsequent telephone exchange with my Mother where it became clear that things had really overwhelmed me. I noticed that my attention span for anything had fallen apart and everything looked difficult. Without really knowing it, the anxiety pest had snuck up on me again and taken over.

So in some ways, I am back to where this blog began, letting my photography take over, because, after all, doing art is in itself quite harmless… but if it replaces other bad habits then it is positively beneficial. Now, a month or so later, I have had a “moment of insight” that has drawn together many of my “photographic projects” under the one banner, making more sense of it all.

The story I am telling in my photographs is not really in the photographs themselves, rather in the mental place I am in when taking them. The different genres and projects actually represent different facets of the same sublime crystal. And this is what I plan to explore for the time being.

So there will be a shift in style for this blog for a while as I try to bring this together and make sense of it a bit. I hope that my newly-discovered-but-actually-quite-old artistic journey is of interest. Although I’ll probably write about it anyway regardless!

Its been a while, I know. The project started out with grand visions and plans. It’s going through that groping, feeling, lost phase. But In its early form, the sublimation is about replacement. Substitution of one for the other, with little regard for the implications.

Boys will be boys. by Tony Martin (NT)
Boys will be boys., a photo by Tony Martin (NT) on Flickr.

And so I’ve kinda drifted with the idea, letting my photography just happen. This has resulted in a whole lot of experimentation with cameras, films, even brewing my own developer using coffee. So much more time on my hands for this sort of thing, and yet, far less time for anything or anyone else. I’m not sure what all this is becoming. Is it any better than before?

Untitled by zosogis
Untitled, a photo by zosogis on Flickr.

I always notice how many people on their Flickr page, or their portfolio, cite passion for photography. The need to have their camera, the need to document. Just how addictive is this? Why are photographers any different in their view of the world. What particular thing makes them need to capture the moment instead of or perhaps along with simply enjoying it? How do these people get caught in the moment AND take the photo?

Untitled by krameroneill
Untitled, a photo by krameroneill on Flickr.

Have they lost out on something whilst playing photographer that the simple observer enjoyed? Have they replaced a little part of themselves with the camera?

These thoughts go through my head. But ultimately, I just love the process, love the outlook, and enjoy the results. Perhaps soon I can come to grips with the deeper meanings in this project. Perhaps there aren’t any.

Focus and Tone (1 of 1) by MK--
Focus and Tone (1 of 1), a photo by MK– on Flickr.

Photography is a active process. Whilst the walking around looking at the world may have a certain passive, meditative quality to it, the act of making a photograph is not passive. You are conciously deciding to record something in time and space. Perhaps this is why I feel fine walking through an unfamiliar place, but am then stuck with self-conciousness when the camera comes out. And yet this compulsion cannot be ignored. Whilst the smoker may sheepishly hide around the corner for smoke, or the mid-morning drinker may conceal his whisky in his coffee; you cannot hide from that which you want to photograph. And so you are forced into it. You have to get closer than you like at times. The tonic is there in the viewfinder. Lost in the image through the lens, on the ground-glass, just you and the timing of the shutter count.

Perth mall, May 2011 (C) Michael Robinson

So much easier then to not confront humanity, but rather become lost in the landscape where the people aren’t. Can this be where you go when you can’t face the people? Is that going to lead to anything interesting? Why do we feel uncomfortable photographing people doing things that are visible to the world anyway?

There were people here... (c) Michael Robinson

Waiting for people, or have the people left? (c) Michael Robinson

So, do we connect with the world through photographs, or is it a veil through which we simply view it. Is the scene made important through the very act of photography? How can this activity replace other social pursuits? Or is it merely an addition?

Are you involved? (c) Regina van der Kloet - http://www.flickr.com/photos/reginius/

Then again, perhaps it is just that quiet contemplation that makes it so right. When you explore, look, become mindful. That’s a drug of choice.

Reflect. (c) Michael Robinson

… the world is detached. The camera sees, and you are the viewer. The remote controls are levered by your hands; your brain the director.

Within the focal plane, a moment is stored; upon development, something of the photographer is revealed.

So it is, through this detached window unto the world and into myself that I embark on this project. To document my use of the lens to see where I was and where I am going. It becomes a shield against past mistakes, a cover for insecurity, a promise for the future.