Tuesday, 21 February 2012

'Keep it authentic'; Stop the exclusion of local businesses'; 'We don't need another Carnaby Street'. Scrawled on a chalkboard standing in Soho's Berwick Street, these are just a few of the responses gathered by two architecture students who have been asking locals what they want for the future of this historic market.

Since mid-November, Sophie Ramsbotham and Alex Furunes, both students at the architectural Association School of Architecture, have been running a regular stall on the market, collecting drawings and comments from local traders and passers-by on the chalkboard and through video interviews. The project, called Positive Dialogues, comes as plans are underway to revitalise the formerly busy street, which has seen a drop in trade over the past year. 

Westminster City Council has selected a preferred bidder, but little is known about what exactly the redevelopment might involve. 'We will be consulting with local traders and residents prior to a lease being signed,' said Richard Platt, Westminster City Council's head of corporate property.

Ramsbotham and Furunes hope their own consultation will give a voice to locals' concerns. 'We are worried that yet another generic approach to design, that doesn't reflect the diversity of Berwick Street, might be seen as the answer,' says Ramsbotham. 'How can we capture the energy that exists in Soho and put it into the redevelopment of the street?'

The Positive Dialogues stall is on Berwick Street, noon to 5pm Tuesdays. 


This article originally appeared in Time Out.


Friday, 17 February 2012

Fresh from winning a BAFTA for his short film Pitch Black Heist, starring Michael Fassbender, director John Maclean shares his advice for would-be filmmakers…

How did you get into film?
My background was actually in painting. I went to art college and once I left I got involved with music – all my friends were musicians. I was very interested in doing music videos. I always wanted them to be like short films – they were no budget and slightly dodgily acted but were a bit narrative. When it came to doing my first short film I didn’t think it was a massive step from what I was doing before.

Pitch Black Heist is your second short film with Michael Fassbender – how did that relationship come about?
The videos that I made with my mates were compiled onto a DVD and a friend of mine, who is Michael’s agent, passed them onto Michael and he really liked them. We were introduced one night a few years ago and Michael said, “Do you fancy doing something?” so I said, “Yeah absolutely.” I quickly scrambled together the first short idea [Man on a Motorcycle], which was pretty much based on what I thought Michael would like and how I thought it could be filmed.

Why did you choose to film Man on a Motorcycle on a mobile phone?
I was always shooting on my mobile so I knew its capabilities. I knew it was better in black and white and what kind of light I could shoot in, I have a little steadicam for it – it was equipment that I felt confident with.

How come you stuck with black and white when making Pitch Black Heist?
It’s got a lot of noir references and I was influenced by French black and white films from the 50s. Also, because it’s set in pitch black with lights that come on, it’s very tonal so it was a bit of a no brainer making it black and white.

You’re working on a feature now – what challenges has that thrown up?
Just writing the script. I thought it would be like a short film script times ten but actually it’s like a short film script times ten cubed. I’m enjoying it but it’s a challenge to hold someone for 90 minutes – it’s not just nine times holding someone for ten minutes.

What advice do you have for young short film directors?
Work within your means so you’ve not suddenly got a new bit of equipment that you don’t use just because everyone says you have to shoot on a particular camera. If you watch short films by people like Scorsese and Polanski, their shorts are very individual and unique. Don’t think of it as a show reel - my view was that I was making mini movies rather than short films. There aren’t really any rules.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The documentary Gypsy Blood, which focuses on the lives of two bare-knuckle fighters from Irish traveller and Romany gypsy communities, met with controversy and acclaim when it aired last month on Channel 4. Its director, Leo Maguire, a photographer by trade, tells us why he switched medium…

Gypsy Blood started as a photography project.

I went to a gypsy fair where I met a born again preacher who invited me to his church. There I met another guy, who was a boxing promoter and trainer; he invited me to his gym and it went from there. That was five years ago. It took such a long time to build up trust with people – I probably would have given up but I had won a Getty grant in September 2007 so I had that hanging over me.

The first time I wanted to film something was after we’d been hare coursing for the day. All the guys went to this pub afterwards and they were drinking and singing. It’s so bizarre; these rough men all sit in a pub and sing really beautifully. They sit there listening respectfully and then cheer the next one on and then the next one sings. You can’t capture that through photos.

I had no previous experience of filmmaking. I literally just pressed the record button on the back of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and that’s how I started. I showed some rushes to a friend – at the time I thought I was possibly going to do a multimedia piece – and he suggested that the access and footage I had were so unique that I should do a film.

I made the film spending my own money. I’d run out of money and have to come back to work and earn some more money and then go back. I took a serious chunk of my life to try and understand this community, but one of the key things for me was to have no narration, so that the film was in their own words. I didn’t want it to be about my experience living with them or my opinion of their lives; it was up to them to explain and put their side across.

Learning about audio was a massive challenge. I spent a day with a top cinematographer, watching how he moved with the camera, and what he taught me was that in photography your frame makes the content but in filmmaking your content makes a frame. You might have people out of shot talking about something incredible, so you need to listen to the dialogue and frame accordingly.

As a photographer, I was used to moving around a lot and that doesn’t translate well into film; you have to learn to be still, to work out your shots. When you’re listening to conversations, you need to think about what they’re saying and pick up cutaways to make it interesting in the edit because otherwise you’re going to have a very long shot with not a huge amount happening.

When you shoot photographs you talk to people but you’re invisible. With filmmaking, although I was doing observational filming, you need to ask questions and prompt people to open up, so I had to learn not to be scared of my own voice. You do get used to it but at first I felt very self-conscious.

It took a long time to get commissioned but when I found the right production company it all happened very quickly. I was in the Alps working on assignment in the new year and I got a call from a friend who said, “I’ve been at a party and was telling this producer there about your project and she’s really interested and wants to meet you”. So I met up with her and her business partner in late January and they liked the idea, re-cut it, wrote a treatment, and it was commissioned by More4 in April.

Now I’m back with the gypsies, trying to finish the project photographically, and I’m doing quite formal stuff, mainly portraits, details and landscapes, with a view to doing gallery, book-based pieces. I see myself as a communicator – whatever’s the right medium to tell a story, that’s what I use – but filmmaking has taught me a lot as a photographer. It makes you slow down and question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I was always someone who would photograph everything, but actually I think if you apply a strategy it can be more powerful.

Leo Maguire was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Unusually for photographers, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre shoot images as a team, documenting the crumbling ruins of urban architecture in Detroit and elsewhere. The pair talk about their shared obsession with abandoned buildings and how their collaborative creative process works in practice…

We both grew up in the Paris area.

We had each been interested in photographing ruins since 2001. After we met in 2002, we started working together, making a systematic record of the changing urban landscape around Paris and then further afield in France, Belgium, England, Spain and Italy.

Before 2002 we used to work separately on the same places but it rapidly turned out to be counterproductive, as the pictures we made looked almost the same. When we began using a large format camera, at the beginning of our Detroit project, we found it was easier to work together. Generally, we share ideas in order to find and select the best point of view; we set up the equipment and then take the picture, using one camera. We think it's the fairest and most efficient way to take pictures. There are no real difficulties in the process; it all comes very naturally. Also, working as a duo helps us to carry out long projects.

Ruins fascinate us. They are evocative of our human nature and its paradoxes – our spectacular ability to create and self-destruct. To get access to some places requires authorisation; others have simply been left wide open. Of course, when you're visiting ruins you have to watch your step, but we don't feel like it's much more dangerous than crossing a busy street. And in Detroit, despite the bad reputation the city has, we’ve never had any trouble.

We work with a 4x5 large format camera and use a low contrast negative to give density to the pictures. We work mainly with a wide-angle lens – the converging lines produce a feeling of immersion – and we use perspective control, which is needed when dealing with buildings and volume, especially with architecture of a monumental scale. For some pictures, when we are shooting in a very dark place, we light the scene using a flashlight plugged into a motorcycle battery. Exposure time may last up to one hour in these situations.

Almost every visit [to a decaying building] offers something unique. Standing on the rooftop of a 40-storey abandoned tower with no elevators, looking down at the cityscape, and at the other buildings we previously visited, was a breathtaking experience; standing in apartments, schools and libraries, still full of books and furniture as though someone had just vanished from the room, gave us a really uncomfortable, apocalyptic feeling. All these moments are unforgettable for us.

Interview by Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared in IdeasMag.


Friday, 10 February 2012

The release last year of Olive – the first feature film shot entirely on a smartphone – shows the technology to make movies is already in your hands. Nick Moran, Ed Szekely and Mike Leader, of production company BytesCorp, share their tips on ensuring your smartphone videos look professional without spending a fortune on kit…

Stability, stability, stability
First things first: “The key to making your footage look professional is stability,” says Ed Szekely. “Shake compromises footage. The smaller the camera, the bigger the risk of shake.” To avoid this, Nick Moran suggests that, “Before you even think about buying anything more expensive, you should get a tripod.”
You can pick up a perfectly good one for around £20 and, for about £15, you can buy a specially designed mount for attaching a smartphone to anything with a standard tripod thread. Make sure you fix your smartphone to the tripod in landscape (not portrait) orientation, otherwise you’ll end up with a narrow image which doesn’t fully fill the screen.

Keep sound separate
“On-board mics are never a good idea,” says Nick. Poor quality sound will instantly make your film seem more amateur, so instead of recording audio on your smartphone, beg, borrow or buy (possible for under £20) a small digital voice recorder. These have an external microphone input, so you can record your audio as a separate file and synchronise it with your video footage on a computer afterwards.
When shooting a piece to camera, use a clip-on microphone (under a tenner online) attached to your actor or presenter’s clothes. With its shallow range, a clip mic can, according to Mike Leader, “really set you apart from someone whose footage has all the background sound.” If you’re filming a room scene and using a video mic, instead of forking out for a boom pole, just fashion one yourself using a broom handle and some gaffa tape.

Let there be lighting
If you’re planning to shoot at night, get your hands on a mini LED video light for under £20. This works particularly well if you’re doing interviews or vox pops at festivals or in clubs, but Nick warns, “LED lighting is harsh so it’s not suitable for realistic drama set indoors.” When filming inside, the BytesCorp folk recommend investing in a pair of softboxes – you should be able to get a decent one for £109. Ed Szekely says, “With these you can create basic two-point lighting, using one light to set the tone and another to fill in shadows or light another point of interest in the scene.”
Always remember when using two-point lighting, to place one light closer to whatever it is you’re filming, otherwise you risk lighting the scene too evenly, which looks unnatural. If you’re on a super-tight budget you could attempt to construct DIY softboxes out of house lamps and tracing paper. If going down this route, remember domestic tungsten light bulbs emit an orange glow, so you’ll need to replace them with daylight light bulbs – they don’t cost much and are widely available online.

Post-production on the cheap
“Adobe Premier and Apple Final Cut Pro packages don’t come cheap,” says Ed Szekely, “but then again, they might not be what you need.” Windows Movie Maker and iMovie do pretty much everything you require. As Nick says, “iMovie is a versatile programme, with a good import function – it can read all different file types from smartphones other than iPhones. The only thing it doesn’t do is special effects.”
Alternatively take your pick from the many open source video editing software options available, such as Avisynth, Jashaka and VideoLAN Movie Creator, which are are all free to download. When it comes to synchronising your audio and video, BytesCorp recommend DualEyes, a programme that does the job for you. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial.
Stick to these simple rules and, who knows, the next feature shot on a smartphone could be yours! After all, as Ed says: “The image quality and width of angle you get on an iPhone 4S and a Canon 5DMKII – which costs about £2,000 – are remarkably similar. It’s really quite astonishing.”

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag. 


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

For over two decades Ragnar Axelssson has been documenting the working life of Greenlandic hunters, a tradition now under threat due to climate change. Here the Icelandic photojournalist reveals how he works in freezing weather conditions and what keeps drawing him back to the Arctic…

I have been going back and forth to Greenland for 25 years.

The first time, I just went by myself; I didn’t even speak the language. I learned a few words so I could say some sentences that they understood, but it was a difficult language. I was usually with them hunting on the ice for two to three weeks at a time but they’re there for two or three months. Once I gained the hunters’ trust, I was always welcome. We’re good friends now; whenever they pass through Iceland they call me and I drive around with them and show them around.

I loved the wilderness of the Arctic. It was like going into a book one hundred years back in time – it was so spectacular. The landscape and the environment there is such a unique thing. You’re the richest person on earth – you see billions of stars at night and it’s all yours.

It was was difficult photographing in the Arctic but it’s like a state of mind – you focus your head on something and you get used to it. You have to be careful – you could lose your fingernails by opening your camera. It sometimes made me wonder what it would be like to be on the moon. You’re wearing gloves, trying to take pictures and it was hard because it’s minus 30, 35, 40 degrees sometimes, and windy, so it’s very cold. I used manual film cameras – it’s not worth using batteries when you’re on the ice because everything freezes when you’re out there.

Sometimes I really had to fight not to stop. I would promise myself I’m not going back but after being home for 10 days it was like a magnet dragging me back again. The America photographer Mary Ellen Mark, who is a good friend of mine and was my teacher many years ago, always told me one thing “don’t stop, keep on taking pictures”. One time when I was on the dog sled, it was minus 35 and I was packing my gear down, saying “I’m finished” and she popped up in my head saying “keep on taking pictures” – that kept me going.

At first I had just wanted to go to a remote place to get something special. I wasn’t thinking about anything, I was just getting good pictures, like a painter. But after 10 years I realised that something was happening, that the Inuit hunters were worried about the ice getting thinner and thinner. I go every fifth year to Qaanaaq and the ice was thick when I started 25 years ago, but last year it was thin. You could hardly go up there with the dog sled – you would fall through the ice.

It’s hard to use photography to show that change because the surface of the ice looks the same but I wanted to document the life of a 4000-year-old tradition that might be near its end.

Ragnar Axelsson was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Guy Martin was on the frontline during last year’s Arab Spring, covering historic uprisings in Egypt and Libya, until he suffered a serious injury in a bomb attack in Misrata. He talks about the challenges of foreign assignments and why great images require logistical nous and a love for your subject…

I was studying A-levels when it dawned on me that I wanted to be a documentary photographer.

I was doing sciences and physical education and wanted to be a sports injury massage person – I’m fairly active and growing up in the south-west I was mad into surfing. But for my 17th birthday my parents bought me a book about the war in Vietnam with photographs by Don McCullin and Larry Burrows. That type of photography moved me. It seemed to have value – it was something you could hold, something that had a lifespan.

I went on to study photography at Newport. The first foreign project I did was in the second year. With no support, no nothing, I got myself to northern Iraq and southeast Turkey to do a lot of small stories which were offshoots of the war – the long petrol queues, the trucks and commerce between Turkey and Iraq.
That was eye opening. I was just 21 or 22 and had to figure out early on how to operate in those countries. You need to be well-balanced and forward-thinking to work out if I’m going to take this picture then I need to be able to pay for this driver or I need to get from there to there if there’s roadblocks – you need to be logistically switched on or you simply don’t get the pictures.

All this helped prepare me to work in Egypt last year, which has been the highlight of my career so far. I was on assignment for a major North American paper, the Wall Street Journal, witnessing the overthrow of a regime and having my pictures on the front pages and online, seen by millions. The biggest challenge was not to repeat myself. I was used to working longer on slower projects that don’t have an immediate news deadline.

When you’re on assignment you have to please your clients. The papers can get images off Getty, Reuters or AP so, as an independent photographer, you have to go into those same situations as the wire photographers and come out with something different. My training and everything told me I had to stay in a situation from the beginning to the end to find out what happened. Even if I had a deadline I’d push it and stay for as long as I could and then go back to the editor with a different set of pictures.

Tahrir Square’s about the same size as Leicester Square, so when you’re standing in the middle of half a million people, you’d have to be a complete robot not to feel emotion, sadness and anger. I throw myself completely emotionally, physically, economically into my subjects and I hope that comes through in my pictures. I don’t detach myself in any way from what’s going on.

To young photojournalists, I’d say: whether it’s Tahrir Square or Tyneside, if you invest emotion, effort, money and time in your subjects, it will show in your pictures. If you’re wondering, why aren’t my pictures that good or why can’t I get that close to my subjects, I think if you don’t photograph what you love, people can pick up on it straight away and that doesn’t work as a process. But if people can see you’re passionate about their story, it will work.

It doesn’t matter if you’re somewhere exotic or dangerous or mundane, if you can translate your passion and your emotion into a photograph then you’re making big steps towards being a successful photographer.

Guy Martin was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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