Choices, choices, choices

choices_KaieteurIf you find it easy to choose photographs for display, exhibition or publication, then you’re likely not approaching it the right way; unless you’ve had many years experience in critically eliminating pieces, I doubt it would ever be easy.

We all have some emotional attachments to the photographs we take, and we have favourites for periods of time, then those favourites change as we add new pieces to our collection, or our styles of photography evolves.

When I started uploading photos online to show family and friends, it was always the pretty photos, this was what photography was for me at the time, all about getting as many pretty photos that others might appreciate, after all, why else would I take photos, right?

As I continued learning about Photography as Art and the Art of Photography, my ideas of what I wanted included in the photograph changed, and the photos changed along the way.  As I keep learning, I am sure the photos will continue to evolve (whether they get better or worse is up in the air at this point).


In late 2011, local journalist Neil Marks convinced the board of the National Art Gallery at Castellani House to host an exhibition of photographs by Nikhil Ramkarran and myself; this was, at the time, the most important decision making we would have to do photographically, deciding what to exhibit.  After consultations with Ms Bissember, the curator at the time, we decided on a common theme that would not have us showing any and everything, but still allow for some latitude to accommodate the diverse style and subject matter of two photographers; titled “Coastal Wanderings”, it allowed us to use imagery taken along the coastal regions of Guyana (although a few non-coastal images did sneak in)

Looking back, I can see my inexperience at the decision making process clearer, but it had a combination of the pretty pictures as well as some that had a bit more depth artistically.  Georgetown and the East Coast of Demerara featured heavily, as that is where most of my photography is done.

Collectively, I think my photos were incoherent, there was no thread that really connected them together well unless you really stretched your imagination.  It was a first showing of the photographs that my friends and family knew me for, with images ranging from Mashramani, to buildings, to flora and fauna, to landscapes; styles ranging from colour to black and white, standard single shot images to multi-exposure High Dynamic Range images, to a multi-image stitched panorama; in short, everything but the kitchen sink.

I don’t regret my choices, it allowed me to learn, especially from the comments made by all, from regular folk just visiting the exhibition to artists giving their own insight into what they saw.


In 2012, there was a return to the arts for the Government as they jump-started the once-abandoned Visual Arts Competition, and this time Photography was included as a category; this was big!  Other than small scale self-serving photography competitions hosted by companies or organisations that were often geared solely to acquiring images for their use, there had never been a proper photography competition that treated the works as art.

The problem of choosing three images from all that I had taken in the last 5 years was immense.   What would the judges be looking for?  What were their ideas concerning photography?  Would they approach it as most people do and look for the pretty pictures, did they want more abstract type images, what type of subject matter may most impress them?  At the time, it was impossible to decide, so I pretty much played it safe.  I submitted the ever beautiful Kaieteur, this was the obvious “pretty picture”, the other two were different, one was “Shooting the Breeze”, a semi-silhouette styled image taken on the sea-wall, and the third was a black and white titled “Final Entrance Opening” that was a personal favourite at the time, this eventually went on to be awarded the Bronze medal.

So, what did I learn this time?  For one, these judges were not looking at the photographs as photographs, they were looking at them as works of art, and that they were not interested in something that is just a pretty picture; sunsets and sunrises, flowers and bright colours were not as effective because they lacked the compositional elements and execution that would have made them better works of art, and not just a pretty picture.


The first competition to focus solely on Photography was hosted by the government in 2014, it was done as part of the Republic Celebrations, and called “Capture Guyana”; this time the tables had been turned on me, and I was asked to be a part of the judges’ panel; I thought that this time, since it is not my photographs, it should be easier to decide, after all, I can look at them without having had any emotional attachment to any of the images.   This was not the case.  Being part of the Guyana Photographers’ group exposed me to the works of many talented individuals, and as we all mostly share our best works, when the submissions were in, I found that I had previously seen the majority of entries.

Having another photographer, formally trained in the genre, and an artist who was not a photographer on the panel made the decision easier; discussions ranged from photographic techniques used, to composition, to the effective use of colour or black-and-white, and many other aspects of the images themselves.

How did we, as judges, choose the best?  I had learnt some things from the 2012 GVACE, so we approached it as “art”, even taking into consideration the photographic techniques used, the primary consideration was “art”;  composition, use of colour, subject matter, lighting, and the other usual suspects.

Whenever there were photographs that I had deeper knowledge of than I thought appropriate, I deferred decision to the other judges, while I think I can be impartial, it was better to be safe and not let my opinions have more weight than they should.


Also in 2014, there was the next iteration of the GVACE, having gone through the choice process for the 2012 GVACE, as well as being involved in the judging process for Capture Guyana, I felt I had a better handle on choosing my images.   Of course, that pesky emotional attachment is almost impossible to over-ride.

I had recently started my first photography project, something I called Oniabo, something that not many people knew I was doing, since I was not sure where I was going with it myself.

I chose one image from the Oniabo core collection titled “Elemental – 5549”, and one from the extended collection titled “Trident’s Wrath”, both monochrome or black and white images as that is part of the Oniabo theme, and the third image was a pretty picture, one that was sure to garner some attention, a diya and pointer broom, a very Guyanese image I think, titled “Diwali”

As you can tell, I also tried to play it safe as this was sure to be a different panel of judges than the one two years prior, and maybe, just maybe, a pretty photo might be what they’re looking for, I was wrong again.  Although I thought that Trident’s Wrath was more impacting, I knew deep down that the best of the three was “Elemental”; which earned a spot in the short-list of finalists.


Here’s the thing, you can’t predict what a panel of judges may like, unless you know beforehand exactly who they are, and their personal preferences when it comes to art.  The judges from the GVACE 2012 and the judges from the GVACE 2014 chose distinctly different winners, in content and in the type of image executed by the photographers.

Do I know what I may enter this year? Frankly, no.  I think I have one in mind, but three? not yet.

Chose wisely when composing, chose wisely when executing the photo, choose wisely when processing, choose wisely when printing and framing; any photograph that you consider entering is a totality of these things.  Personally, once I have the first three covered, I’m happy, but the final product is something that you are presenting, so the printing and framing are important, you do after all want someone to look at it and say “I’d like to hang that on my wall!”



Click on the images to see them in the collection.

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2013 Deck – Week 09

I had never been into the Indian Monument Gardens before, and it seems that the one time I did venture in was when they were doing some new construction on a stage to the western end and had not done any recent cleaning near the monument itself, yet I still think I got a few usable photographs (if you ignore the weeds on growing near the monument and the stains on the base itself)

The monument itself commemorates the arrival of the East Indians to Guyana as indentured labourers, the first arrival being on May 5th, 1838, the first ship being the SS Whitby (symbolically represented in the monument).  The monument was erected in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of their arrival, a portion of the Merriman’s Mall was appropriated for the Monument Gardens.  (the area bordered by Church Street, Camp Street, North Road and Alexander Street.)

I found very little information in my short research, but it appears that a nationwide competition was held for the design, and after choosing the winning entry the design was made real by an “Builder” from India, the Gardens itself was laid out by two architects, one from India and one from Guyana (Albert Rodrigues).

I chose this angle because it shows some of the supporting structure of the Ship itself.


As always, click on the image to see it in the Gallery.


Tourist in Jamaica

The last week here in Jamaica was very uneventful, except for the many drives down the hill and back up the hill, the amazing meals we had each and every day, and the comfort and kindness of our Jamaican family!  The last full day saw us heading downtown for some shopping (obviously I wasn’t shopping), and we were the tourists, seeing the place, and taking photos  🙂

Jamaica is famous for its Reggae music and for the legendary Bob Marley, so we stopped to see the statue erected in his honour.

And its a good thing that the only erection involved in the Emancipation monument / statues was the act of putting up the statues:

Downtown I saw an old abandoned building with a painted sign that reminded me so much of home  🙂

Another building had two coconuts lying on the steps

On the way back up to Gordon Town, we stopped for a photo at what was once a Lookout Point but is now a Lookout Community 🙂

And finally, a self-portrait; thinking about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the things I’ve done; and wondering about the next brief stop on my trip 🙂

2011 Deck – Week 46

Monuments.  That is basically what a tombstone or tomb-marker is, whether it’s a simple slab with a name on it or an obelisk, it’s a monument to the person interred, a reminder to the living of a person now dead.

These markers fade with time, and people forget, generations pass and the dead are lost to the living.  Some are forgotten entirely, some are just names on a family tree.  Do we all want to fade from memory like dawn fades to day, once there, once unique, never to be seen again, never to be remembered and referred to?

Most of us will do just that, but the few who are exceptional will live on as legends and icons of History.  Whether we are remembered as tyrants or dictators, philanthropists or inventors, pioneers or adventurers, famous artists or infamous criminals depends on the decisions we make daily.

At times like this, when my thoughts stray to these realms, I remember two phrases from my early High School days.  I attended St. Stanislaus College, it was a Catholic School before the government took everything over under early PNC rule in Guyana.  Some things had remained as part of the teaching and tradition of the school.

The two phrases I remember were from different sources.

One was given to us as four letters to be written at the top of every page, I believe it was handed down from the Jesuits who taught at the school when it was a Catholic School; the letters were AMDG, a shortened form for Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, which meant “For the Greater Glory of God”, it was meant to encourage you to try to make everything you do, everything you say be geared towards that goal.

The second phrase was the school’s motto, Aeterna non Caduca, literally translated to “eternal non perishable”, but we were told that the motto translated to “Not for this Life, but for Eternity”.  Whatever we do should not be just to have an effect now, in our lifetime, but for eternity.

Taken together they can be a driving force for a truly spectacular life, a life of meaning, unfortunately, not many would adhere to such a strict code.

Many people who happen to drop in to read my blog-posts are fellow aspiring photographers (in one way or another), we may never be an Ansel Adams or a Nick Brandt, a Frank Horvat or Mario Testino, an Irving Penn or a Steve McCurry, a Joe Rosenthal or a Don McCullin, an Henri Cartier Bresson or a Vivian Maier, but what we can do is aspire to show to anyone who will look, how we see the world through our eyes, our view-finders, our lenses, make them feel what we feel through visual stimulation (and if necessary a few words) 🙂

Can I do that? Can we do that? I don’t know, but I am sure going to give it a try!

Monument
Monument

This was taken during a photo-walk arranged by the Guyana Photographers Facebook group, lots of people thought it strange to arrange a walk in a cemetery  🙂

Click on the photo to see it larger in the Gallery.

2011 Deck – Week 15

I had a set of photos from Sunday that I had placed confidence in to choose a Deck photo from, I had already “decided” what the post would look like and that the image would be in colour…  then I went to accompany Nikhil on a photo-walk yesterday and came away with a photograph I just couldn’t put aside.

At the time that I took it, I was not wholly satisfied, I saw too many things in the scene that I thought would be distracting or intrusive in the shot, but then I downloaded them all and started sorting through them, and although I probably gave Nikhil the idea that I wasn’t getting what I felt I should from the scene (which at the time was true), I think I got what the scene offered rather than what I wanted.

There are still elements in the photograph that annoy me (but only if I look at it very large, if I ever have to print it large I may have to “edit” further.)

Click on the image to see it in the Gallery.

This is a view of a portion of the Seven Ponds monument in the Botanical Gardens, as seen from the Mausoleum.  Laziness played a large part in the choice of lens, I had the “kit lens” on the camera at the time, 18-55mm Canon lens, which most “professionals” would shudder at the thought of using, but I was too lazy to dive into the bag and use anything else 🙂