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An evolving eye

March 07, 2012

I recently had cause to open up some old boxes of prints, dating back fifteen or sixteen years to when I first started taking photographs. The themes were predictable enough, considering my art school context: mental hospitals, ambulances, the kitsch desperation of Lourdes.

What I found particularly interesting about these images, spread across the sitting room floor, was how differently I’d remembered them. I’d got it into my head that they were some of my better work, that my eye had dulled over the years.

A few things stood out:

- It turns out I’ve become a bit more subtle in my choice of subject as the years have rolled on. A relief for all!

- Technically I’m much better. Some of those old prints are filthy from dust-marked negatives, and I wonder now how I ever considered them acceptable.

- My work feels a little more substantial nowadays – I try to think a bit more about what I’m doing, consider whether images might gather into groups, think about context and underlying themes and I try not to work in so much of a vacuum.

It’s an interesting moment to be reflecting, as it seems that things are moving on for me photographically in a way they hadn’t in years. I think I’m a slow developer (if you’ll pardon the pun). I’ve recently started a business, and was surprised by how many people assumed it would have a photographic bent. It doesn’t, as it happens, as I seem to remain as resolutely noncommercial in my focus as ever, choosing instead to hunt down those still, quiet moments half-hidden from view.

Sometimes it takes a backward glance to be able to move forwards. I wonder what I might say in another fifteen or sixteen years – I’ll be fifty by then so it’s as good a milestone as any.

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An exhibition in Huddersfield

February 20, 2012

Exhibition ahoy! I’ll be showing work from the ‘Forgotten Triumphs‘ series at Time Circa 2010 Coffee Shop off King Street in Huddersfield between Fri 24th Feb and Fri 27th April. Time Circa 2010 is open between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, and 10am to 5pm on Saturday, serving hot and cold food and particularly good cake.

It’s great to be showing this work in public for the first time – I’m busy sorting out prints at the moment and seeing the work that bit bigger is always a treat. Funny to be finally exhibiting in Huddersfield after living there for so long and hiding my photography under that proverbial bushel, mind…

There’s an article about the exhibition from the Huddersfield Examiner here: Huddersfield Coffee Shop hosts Clare Danek’s Photographs

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Reflections and resolutions

December 31, 2011

I’m busy packing for a new year trip today, heading up to the Lake District for a night of camping and carousing, and as I’m rummaging for the right film to capture my evening I thought I’d share some thoughts about the year just gone and the year to come.

It’s been possibly my biggest year so far, photographically speaking -  I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to explore new subject areas and disciplines, notably portraiture; one result of this was the ‘On Silence‘ work I did with Tor Bruce back in February, which I exhibited as part of the Look2011 photography festival in Liverpool, then again in London for Photomonth 2011.

I’ve also learnt a lot about what I might be capable of in the darkroom, but a house move late in the year means that my darkroom equipment is currently packed away so my explorations have been paused.

Plans for 2012?

  • Get the darkroom up and running again!
  • Explore the wetplate collodion process – John Brewer is a master at this and he runs workshops…
  • Explore cyanotype methods.
  • Improve my quality control in processing – this can always get better!
  • Take a bookbinding course – Deborah Parkin, who does a lot of wetplate work, has been talking photobooks a lot on her blog and I’m inspired and intrigued by this format.
  • More exploration of the ‘silence’ theme that I started to investigate in 2011.

I’ve got an exhibition lined up in Huddersfield for the end of February, showing some work from the ‘Forgotten Triumphs‘ series, but I think the rest of the year will be dedicated to developing new work and new skills.

Happy photographing in 2012!

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A London show, and more thoughts on silence

October 11, 2011

Long time, no blog – life outside photography has been taking some curious twists and turns, and as a consequence my capacity for critical thought and analysis isn’t quite what it could be.

No matter, though, because the Control exhibition, ready-prepared from its Liverpool outing, has gone to London to show as part of the Photomonth photography festival taking place across East London. We’re showing at Oxford House, a mixed-use art space in Bethnal Green, and it’s great to see the work against white walls after the more gritty backdrop to the Liverpool show.

Thursday night was private view night – it went really well, sweetened for me by the presence of Tor Bruce, the subject of my On Silence series. He was ‘in silence’ for much of his time at the event, which proved surprisingly challenging for some people, who weren’t sure whether they could talk to him – I found it interesting that a voluntary silence could be perceived as a barrier by others.

The show runs between Monday 3rd Oct and Saturday 29 Oct (opening times and details here). My fellow group member Petra Stridfeldt has featured some images from the show and the private view on her blog.

* * * * * * * * * *

I’m starting to explore other silent people and communities, and have spent some time with local Quaker groups looking at their shared silences. I’m also trying to track down a Buddhist monk who undertook a four year vow of silence, but unfortunately it turns out he enjoyed it so much he’s gone back out to a remote Scottish island for another four year block.

Some of the changes happening in my own life at the moment should mean more space for contemplation, and progression of this investigation – and more space for photography!

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Back in the game

June 07, 2011

It turns out that seeing people appreciate your creative output is what it’s all about, after all.

Control was a show I collaborated on with nine other photographers from the North of England. It ran for three weeks as part of the Look2011 photography festival in Liverpool, which runs until the end of June 2011.

My day job involves some event management and exhibition organisation for artists, but in that role I’m very much just the facilitator: I do all the work to make it happen and then I fade into the background. This time, though, it’s been about the whole team pulling together to deliver the project, and the whole team taking the praise.

Hearing about the trials and tribulations of some of the other groups working under the Redeye Lightbox scheme, it quickly became apparent that our group were working very well together – the occasional cooler email was as far as we fell out during the eight months leading up to the show.

One feeling that everyone seemed to share was that because sorting out our venue (a found space near the NOVAS centre) took so long, the process became much more about exhibition management than about our individual projects and how they worked together. The photography felt, at points, like an afterthought.

We’ll be taking the show, in a slightly stripped-down form, to London for PhotoMonth this autumn, which means the work gets more exposure as part of a more well-established event, so we’re starting the preparations for that, and in the mean time I plan to spend more time exploring my theme of silence as a form of control.

It feels as if I’ve taken that first step, and found the path to be less the quicksand that I’d convinced myself of, and more firm ground. I feel like a contender again.

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Emerging, blinking, into the light

January 22, 2011

Long time no blog… i think I knew that  it was always going to be the way though. In addition to photography, I write, and I have a full-time job that’s feeling rather more like time-and-a-half at the moment. I’m involved in a group exhibition as part of the Look2011 photography festival, taking place in Liverpool later this year.

I’ve made a start on gathering images for the exhibition, which is hugely exciting but a massive step outside my comfort zone – I’m working on a series of portraits, which historically has been an area that I’ve been very shy of pursuing. Pushing past the shyness is proving to be a challenge – even if, as it turns out, it’s also a liberation.
Talking about portrait projects with people has led to some new opportunities emerging, both for subjects and for exhibition potential. In short, things are moving in the right direction.

However, I think I’m about to miss a group meeting and what’s surprised me most about the process is a need I’ve found in myself for feedback from the group, which is combining with a terror not felt since art school crits. I’ve been photographing for fifteen years or so, but a lot of that time has been spent in solitude, with my only feedback mechanism the inevitable platitudes of Flickr contacts.

I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to fling one’s work at the world with casual assurance. It hasn’t escaped me that a little less thinking and a little more doing might not go amiss…

And, needless to say, I’ll be updating the website to reflect new work and new directions – probably over the next month or so.

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Thinking about silence

November 28, 2010

I’m thinking about silence in relation to control. Specifically, about vows of silence.

There are two reasons for my thoughts: firstly, it seems obvious that an easy way to control a person is to remove their voice. If your voice can’t be heard, whether literally or metaphorically, then it’s very hard to assert your rights. Many of us have been in situations where we’ve been ignored so we know how frustrating this is: a meeting where someone has refused to listen, a barperson missing us and serving others, a political petition diligently gathered but coming to nothing.
But what about people who choose silence? Those who choose to remove their own voice from the world, perhaps to keep a secret, to still the chatter of everyday life, because of political pressure, or in search of a higher religious experience? We fill our lives with noise, creating it and surrounding ourselves with it – what sort of self-control is required for a person to elect not to add to it?

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about the photographs I take, and about silence within images. My pictures, though often black and white, that classic territory of muteness, are noisy. They’re often of objects rather than peoplle or action, but still the noise and busy-ness jumps out. I’m interested in trying to quieten my images. I’ve been reading about Gerry Badger’s thoughts on ‘quiet photographs’, and I’m not thinking of quietness in the way he describes, of authorial neutrality; rather, I’m aiming to create a sort of calmness within the image. I’m struggling to articulate exactly what it is that I’m looking for but, as the saying goes, I’ll know it when I see it.

I’m keen to use this project as a vehicle for developing some portraits, and for my subject matter, I’ve started looking at who out there might have taken a vow of silence. It seems a little contrary to say I’ve got some phonecalls to make…

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Travelling along unfamiliar paths

November 11, 2010

It’s funny, isn’t it? You wander along a particular route regularly enough and it doesn’t take long for things to become familiar. You find yourself able to daydream and know that you won’t lose your way. You might even take a quick detour, knowing that it’s likely to bring you out at the same spot.

It’s a long time since I’ve tried a different route altogether and I’m finding that whilst the uncertainty holds a certain charm, it’s also a daunting way to travel.

I’m working on a collaborative project as part of a group stemming from the Redeye Lightbox project. We’re looking at the very broad theme of ‘control’, which is, as a theme, something that’s interested me since art school days. Perhaps, though, because I’ve been away from an academic life for so long, I’m finding myself thrashing around, making false starts, nervous of making mistakes. The harder I try, the harder things seem to get. I seem to be veering anywhere but the right direction. Startled memories of crits back in art school are nagging at me and I’m trying to brush them away.

I suppose the easy answer is to go back to what I know, but I keep reminding myself of all those trite aphorisms about how if you don’t try new things, you don’t know what you’ll discover. I felt like this about avocados once.

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Sticking and unsticking

September 30, 2010

My route into photography didn’t involve much in the way of formal training – I got myself a camera, was let loose in darkrooms, and made it up as I went along, bundling it into an art school education. So far, so good.

The course I went on recently was the first time in years that I’d given myself some proper time to reflect on where I’ve got to and where I want to go next. All good, you might think, but my most startling revelation has been my desire to retrace my steps, repack my rucksack and head off in a slightly different direction. I’ve spent years catching photos in the air, grabbing them as they skate past, scooping them from the water with a large net, but now I find myself chasing something altogether different, less tangible. At the moment I’m stalking what feel like shadows, and am spending more time making notes about my thoughts about photographs than in taking the photographs themselves. I’m putting aside the trusty old film SLR’s omnipresent 50mm f1.4 lens, strapping on a 135mm lens and focusing on portions of scenes; veering back towards TLRs; trying out old DSLRs. Forcing myself to think about my technical choices, rather than simply seeking out the little red dot that says I know what I’m going to get. Thrashing around and hoping that something will catch.

I haven’t had to, or even tried to, start again in so long. Maybe I haven’t tried because I knew it would be this perplexing. I’ve just sent off a film full of experiments. I’m nervous about what might come back, but mindful that shaking things up means, inevitably, a bit of disruption.

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On being a shy photographer

September 12, 2010

You’d think that someone who’d been wielding a camera for fifteen years wouldn’t be shy about it.

You’d think they’d be comfortable with involving people in their pictures, whether through talking to people about objects and spaces in order to photograph them, or, even better, photographing people themselves. You might believe that oft-used line about how a person can hide behind a camera, use it as a mask or a shield to separate him or herself from the subject.

I still find it daunting. I still think people will glare at me and tell me how much they hate having their photograph taken. I still think they might move away or try to hide from the lens. That they might hear my proposal, look at my antiquated equipment and laugh before saying no. Part of me wonders whether I should get the shot anyway; another part of me thinks yes, but how would I feel? Empathy can be a real achilles heel at times

As a result, I miss a lot of shots. The ones I get are invariably stolen, and is thievery really something to be proud of?

Time to start forming portraits defined by negative space – or perhaps just time to start being brave.

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