I’ve always been a fan of black and white photographs.
But what is it about black and white photographs that’s so appealing? What does shooting in black and white add? Are there times when you should or shouldn’t use it?
Picture this: I was out walking in local woodland earlier this morning. It was 7am in mid May. The sun was already up and you could feel the change in the seasons. Spring was blossoming into summer. The birds seemed to be singing of its coming and the Bluebells were beginning to wilt.
In its beginnings, all photography was black and white. Colour photography didn’t really start to become popular until the Lumière brothers developed the photographic colour process, called the Lumière Autochrome in 1907.
Black and white photography therefore has a nostalgic dimension. It suggests a time when everything was simpler, before our lives became so cluttered with colour and distraction.
Without wanting to sound too maudlin, black and white hints at a time that has past, just as the Bluebells’ time is passing at the end of Spring, I wanted the black and white of the photograph to express that transience.
Bluebells go by many names. They can also be referred to as ‘wild hyacinths,’ which recalls the Greek myth.
According to the myth Hyacinth was a lover of Apollo who died tragically when he was struck on the head with a discus. Apollo created the flower from his lover’s spilt blood. Like most Greek myths, you can take different meanings from it, but there is the suggestion that out of death comes new life.
A fitting message for the changing of the seasons.
Black and white is also a good way of creating mood.
Photography is all about making creative choices for me. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of a Bluebell is arguably its colour (it’s in the name after all). By taking away that colour in the photograph you effectively take away the flower’s most distinctive feature.
As one of my friend’s commented on social media “Beautiful greybells. Love this!” I liked how he turned the flower into something new with the play on words.
I like that new things are constantly born out of old things.
Nope, it’s not a movie sequel – it’s my foray into the world of creating a virtual escape room.
I have to admit, I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to escape rooms. They’ve been around a while, but I’ve never done one, either in person or virtually. I know, I need to get out more (if that’s the right expression).
This term we ran a Jisc event to share teaching ideas and one of my FE contacts at Coleg Gwent in Wales mentioned escape rooms (thanks Natalie btw!). They sounded fun and a sure-fire way of gamifying the learning experience which appealed to me.
I’ve put together an escape room using the free account on the Genially site. If you’ve not come across it by the way the site has lots of templates to choose from and the learning curve on their editor is minimal. It’s also a site for creating all sorts of interactive content you can use with learners, not just escape rooms.
I went with the horror theme and made my escape room a little tongue-in-cheek. As I intend to share it with teaching staff that’s the target audience. The context is a beleaguered member of teaching staff who has a number of challenges to overcome before they can wrap up the term and go on holiday.
It’s a little cheesey, I know, but I wanted to make the escape room fairly light-hearted and fun, as well as educational.
Can you escape to that exotic Caribbean island?
Have a go and let me know what you think. Could you use escape rooms with your learners? If so, what type of scenario would you use? Let me know in the comments or drop me a tweet!
Everything you put into your photograph, including what’s in (and sometimes out of) frame; all the tweaks with the camera settings to get the right exposure; the colours captured and all the other little creative things you do, help make that story.
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what my photography lecturer said in class this week.
When you think about photography in this way it makes you approach the subject differently.
What kind of story do you want to tell? How do you want the viewer to feel? What conclusions do you want them to draw about your work (and you)?
These are all important questions to reflect on. By thinking about photography in this way it’s made me put a lot more thought into why I am taking a particular shot, who am I taking the shot for and what is the story I want to tell.
In the digital age where everyone is practically tethered to a smart phone and has a high spec camera at their fingertips the art of taking a photograph is often overlooked. It’s all too easy just to get out your phone and take a shot without thinking about it. I’m guilty of it myself and you probably are too.
One of the main benefits for me from studying photography has been to slow down that process between taking out a camera and taking the shot. There’s so much more detail that needs to happen between those two things.
Take the photograph above of the butterfly, let’s deconstruct the story.
I like walking in the great outdoors, during lockdown I’ve done a lot of it too. We all have. This has had many benefits for my wellbeing and has made me appreciate the simpler things that we so often overlook in our busy lives.
I’m lucky that I live near Anston Stones Wood (an SSSI) which has many fantastic walks with an abundance of wildlife. An ideal setting for my story. It’s personal to me, but it’s something others can identify with and enjoy too.
Who am I taking the shot for?
It’s important to immerse yourself in your subject. If you care about what you do and enjoy it, that will shine through in your work. It will come as no surprise then that I partly took this photograph for myself. This is reflected in the image as I’m subtly in the frame (at least, my shadow is, as I took the photograph).
A minor detail, perhaps, but it was difficult to achieve in this shot. I had to keep the sun behind me to make my shadow visible in the shot, and make it clear from the shadow that I was taking a photograph. I also had to do this and get close enough to the butterfly to capture its beauty before it fluttered away (slow shutter speed a must!).
Not so easy, trust me, but it’s exactly that kind of detail that photographers strive for in a shot.
What is the story?
One thing I love about photography, like much of the arts, is that it’s so open to interpretation and you can make your own story out of something.
I hope the story you take from this is about the beauty of the little things all around us, like walking in the morning dew with the butterflies. I hope you take away something of the detail and effort that is needed to make an interesting photograph too.
Neither had I until the spring of 1993. I was in my last year of A Levels and had the opportunity to attend an open day. My parents and I made the epic journey from Sheffield (some 200 miles or so – a 4 hour journey, even with my dad’s ‘Lewis Hamilton’ style of driving…).
Come to think of it, despite applying for other universities, Lampeter was the only open day I attended. Perhaps, subliminally, I knew it was the place for me.
We had to look it up on a map first – sat nav wasn’t really a thing back then. If you drove anywhere of distance the passenger rode shotgun with an atlas, providing directions en route. Lampeter wasn’t a place many of my friends had heard of either. It was one of those places you had to look up to check that it actually existed.
I first heard about Lampeter from my old Classics teacher who recommended the place to me. Lampeter was one of the few universities that taught Classics and there was no question that this was what I wanted to do. Apparently my tutor knew one of the Classics lecturers at Lampeter (a certain Tony Brothers) through his work with the Open University.
I remember meeting Geoff Eatough, the head of department for Classics at that time. Geoff was a gritty northerner, like myself, and had a charm that I instantly warmed to. The Classics department was based in the Bryn, an amazing building. One the Classics department shared with the Philosophy department and was slightly off campus, giving it a unique sense of character. What really impressed me too was how approachable the lecturers were at Lampeter. I’ve been to other universities since where I’ve been one of many students in vast lecture halls. Lampeter wasn’t like that. All of the lecturers knew you by name. I even went out drinking in the evening with many of them and visited their homes. Something that I very much doubt happens elsewhere.
Due to the long journey I stayed in halls of residence for the night whilst my parents stayed in town. I had a room in Dawson (in the 90s this hall had a bit of a reputation!). Back then many of the halls were split into floors and corridors, with about eight students living on each corridor, sharing one bathroom, one kitchen and one toilet. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Mundane things like someone drinking your milk from the shared kitchen or running out of toilet rolls (!) were regular challenges to overcome and all part of the Lampy experience. Along with queueing for hours at the local phone box on Station Terrace to make a call back home.
No mobile phones and no wifi then, obviously.
I remember going out in the evening round the pubs in town with my parents. Back in the 90s the humble pub was in its heyday – most people went and they were a hive of activity and atmosphere. Lampeter was no different and had a good selection to choose from – I would get to know these quite well over the next five years or so! The locals were really friendly and I remember chatting with my parents to the landlady of the Ivy Bush. Every time my parents came back to visit me when I started my degree the landlady always remembered my parents. That was the kind of place Lampeter was. People took the time to get to know you and they remembered you.
I’ve painted a bit of a picture of somewhere remote, and Lampeter was remote, but that was also part of its charm. That little town nestled in the rolling hills of the Teifi valley was a place apart, very unique and the experiences the students had back then in the 90s were like no other university experience.
There are many fond memories I have of Lampeter and the people I’ve met there over the years (perhaps you, reader, are one of those people and share some of those memories too?), but I just wanted to share my first impressions from that open day.
I return to Lampeter most years and still catch up with the friends that I met there all those years ago and I’ve even made new friends on return visits. It’s hard to imagine that open day was nearly thirty years ago now and I daresay some of my recollections are filtered through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe I’m a bit of a nostalgia freak – or maybe I was just so lucky to have had my time there.
Thank you, my old A level Classics teacher, for recommending this magical place.
Beyond the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, just outside the small village of Kouklia in Cyprus, a trail meanders along the hillside. To the left lie scorched fields of yellow grass, broken by the dual carriageway that joins Paphos to Lemesos, before sweeping towards the endless blue expanse of the Mediterranean.
The trail is stony and littered with white pebbles. Occasionally, if you are lucky, an orange-tailed lizard scurries across the path.
After a short stretch the winding trail ends at the House of Leda. Very little remains of the house itself, apart from a copy of a mosaic of Leda and the swan. A silver plaque reads (in both Greek and English): Copy of a mosaic representing Leda and the swan. The original is exhibited in the Cyprus museum. The mosaic with the geometric decoration is the original one. 2nd-3rd century AD.
The mosaic is incomplete. Many of the little stones that make up the picture are missing, making the onlooker use their imagination to recreate the whole. Perhaps this imperfection is all part of its beauty.
The geometric border of the mosaic gives the impression of a crashing surf on the shore. This could be a subtle reference to the birth of Aphrodite herself (according to Hesiod in The Theogony, Aphrodite was born from the sea foam crashing on to the island of Cyprus. The Greek word aprhos means “foam”). The square central section depicts Leda preparing to disrobe, attended by a swan (Zeus in disguise) attempting to pinch at her dress. Shades of pink, white and brown capture the illusion of light. Although Leda has her back to the onlooker, she casts a backwards glance over her shoulder, as if she knows you are watching her bathe.
You are a voyeur.
Her shawl drapes over her left arm, dropping loosely in folds beneath her exposed bottom, before it’s clasped again in her right hand. What looks like a font frames her left side and a tree her right.
According to one version of the myth, Leda was bathing in a pool by moonlight when Zeus, the king of the gods, saw her and fell in love with her beauty. Fell “in lust” is probably more accurate, as the gods in Greek myth, especially Zeus, often take advantage of helpless damsels. Zeus transformed himself into a swan in order to get close to her and then ravaged her. Afterwards, so the story goes, Leda gave birth to an egg which hatched into a beautiful baby girl. The girl grew up to become none other than Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, the most beautiful woman in all of Greece.
Helen is often reputed to be one of the causes for the Trojan war.
It’s an interesting myth. Like many myths, you can draw a number of lessons from it, depending on your interpretation. Is it a moral about beauty being the cause of conflict? Or perhaps the lesson is not to go out alone when randy Greek gods are on the prowl!
I’m not sure. I wonder if the original artist ever envisaged people still pondering over the mosaic centuries later? For me the mosaic represents how time has the capacity to change all things, sometimes even beyond their original meaning.
We’ve all either done it or considered doing it at some point.
Like real life relationships, our relationship with social media changes over time. People in our networks come and go; the platforms themselves evolve, along with our reasons for engaging with them.
But what happens when you deactivate your social media?
Exploring the inner rings of a tree, during a walk round Clumber Park.
Living under lockdown
The term ‘unprecedented times’ has become more than a little hackneyed recently. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken away many of the freedoms we take for granted.
Lockdown has tested the mental resilience of us all. On the one hand, social media has helped us to keep in touch with each other and combat isolation. Yet, on the other, the way our social media channels serve to amplify much of the existing hysteria can also have a damaging and unhelpful impact.