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Photography is Simple

‘Photography is Simple’ is a notoriously difficult assignment in OCA Photography course Expressing Your Vision. It’s controversial (especially the older version which gave you the option to submit just one word for your assignment notes). The work coming in has been variable and it’s really tripped some people up, including some of our most confident students. So I decided to give it a run through myself. To do my ‘simple’ shots I gave my camera to a seven-year-old kid – I knew the assignment was far too difficult to complete myself. I gave my young photographer an old film camera – a Pentax Spotmatic with a Takumar lens. A silver, everyday Spotty, not one of the rarer black ones or a cool Honeywell such as John Lennon used. But the question isn’t really why a Spot but why a Tak? Why Takumar? I can’t really say why, except that it’s got something to do with the quality. Interesting isn’t it, that you can get a lens that is commonly compared to a Carl Zeiss for about forty pounds on Ebay? Those of a certain period are radioactive, mine contains thorium – a rare earth. Am I proud of that? Yes I am. I definitely prefer the radioactive ones. You can find videos on Youtube of people testing them with Geiger counters (assesment criterion ‘risk’ – check*). What I like even more is that the lens was named after the brother of the founder of the Asahi Optical Company (as Pentax was then called) – the artist Takuma Kajiwara. I love that, I love the values expressed by that decision: his brother who was an artist. Seriously, my Takumar Super-Multi-Coated 55mm 1.8 is my favourite lens ever. I have three Taks and I’d happily give up all my Nikons for a few more. The only other lens I have that I really love is the Biogon 38mm on my Hasselblad Superwide, which is also of a 1970s vintage. Can you put them on digital cameras? Yes, I believe you can. You need an M42 (that’s the 42mm screwthread mount) converter to whichever camera system you’re using.

The Spotmatic was loaded with Provia 100 slide film which was processed at Peak Imaging in Sheffield, UK. Uncut of course, I never let a lab cut a roll of film (horror), and that’s probably how I’d present it for the assignment: as a roll of film. Provia 100 is a fantastic film, the level of technology reached in professional films generally, in terms of sharpness (acuity), colour and grain, was incredible, then they pulled the films. They’re still making Provia 100, just. I don’t love Provia like I love Taks though, it’s a workhorse. The only transparency film I really love is Velvia 50 but you need proper sunlight, it doesn’t work in soft light so well, which is a polite way of describing the weather up north where I live. But Velvia 50 is a film of terrific personality. I think personality is a reasonable criterion for photography. It should really be on our assessment taxonomy‘…design, composition, personality.’ This is an example of Velvia 50 shot on a Hasselblad kit lens: 

While we’re on criteria, I have another criterion that I regularly use for my own work, it’s called ‘could it be better lad?’ It’s simple almost to the point of foolishness but I’ve been using it for my own editing for about ten years now and I really think it holds up. Of course, some shots pass the edit although they could be better. The focus might be slightly off, the exposure not quite perfect. Some of them get through because whatever happened was extraordinary and, sorry, that’s just the level of your skill, accept it. You accept your shortcomings, but you still want to work, to show. Here’s such a shot made with a Tak recently of the artist Alexia Clorinda. I couldn’t believe I missed the focus on her left eye. But it’s the only portrait shot I have of this incredible artist that comes anywhere close to capturing her radical spirit.

Other photographs are just… perfect. Nothing could be improved because they lack nothing. Of course it’s rare (rarer than Thorium) but for me, that’s beauty. Beauty is not allowed in the academy of course (that’s us), other than as a theoretical subject. That’s because, as everyone knows, beauty in the vernacular sense is in the seeing not in the object. It’s revealed, you can’t construct it or deconstruct it or conceptualise it. It’s revealed in a moment of sensitivity – bam! – did you see that? People who are very sensitive, they’re close to the source you might say. I’m infinitely attracted to those people, there’s nothing better for me. They are the elite. Sure, I’m also attracted to great thinkers, to the genuine intellectual, but they are like a wise counsellor; sensitivity is the queen of the scene. And to be sensitive is, could I suggest, to be simple? 

So ‘Simple’ – should we change the assignment? Because I really think it’s probably the hardest brief in the whole world.

*This is meant humorously, I’m not actually suggesting you buy a radioactive lens. Risk in the assessment criteria refers strictly to creative risk, not risk to health and safety.

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Posted by author: Robert Bloomfield
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6 thoughts on “Photography is Simple

  • I really enjoyed this post, thank you for writing it Robert. I quite enjoyed that assignment – mine was based around black and white Polaroids of Lacock Abbey. I do like a wide open brief though, and I could drive a coach and horses through that one. It was the stepping stone for much subsequent work too, some of which is still ongoing two courses later.
    I have a Spotty too… mine is the SP2 and has an f2 55mm Takumar lens. The silver body’s been blinged up with electric blue leather, and resulted in a slightly tipsy stranger telling me that he loved me at a studio event. I’m glad I’m not the only person besotted with the Spotmatics. Between that and my OM-1 I’m spoilt really.

  • I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog Robert. Assignment 5 is just where I am now! It was also interesting to read about your Spotmatic and the Takumar lens,the Spotmatic was something I always yearned for but could never afford in my youth. Howevere, when our first child was born my father kindly bought me a Pentax MX, which is a fully manual camera TTL but with LEDs rather than needle for metering with red, orange and green indication of 1 stop or more over, 0.5 stop over and OK. The camera replaced my cumbersome Zenith E. I loved that camera and took many great pictures with it. I now use digital, but since being with the OCA I have fallen in love again (slightly obsessively) with film. i use a couple of Bonicas, a Canon and of course I still have the Pentax and now do a bit of B&W home developing. I haven’t posted much using film as I am still finding my way a bit but if you are interested some of my film explorations are here. https://jonathankeyv.wordpress.com/category/learning-log/film-photography/

    • Thanks for the comment and link Jonathan. I guess that a real comparison between film and digital would have to be between the analogue prints (or slides) and the digital screen image though wouldn’t it? Of course we can’t share that experiment on the web. I actually use a slide copier attached to the front of my Nikon DSLR for my 35mm films – it’s very quick and the results are pretty good.

  • A very interesting and informative blog Robert, that really stretches my thinking. I am now wondering what the digital equivalent of submitting a roll of film might be!

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