Updated: Dec 7, 2020
v1.2 updated 07.12.2020 This image appears on the very first roll of film that I shot. I took it in 1973.
Recently, I was tidying out some old records and I came across a folder of negs and prints.
Those of you that know me will know that I file everything, and have difficulty throwing things away. This began when I started "collecting" when I was around 10. Stashed amongst my childhood letters and Blue Peter badges, I realised that the folder was in fact the first roll of film that I put through a camera. The image above is one of the 8 images on the roll.
Since becoming a professional photographer every shot that I take is considered. I'm sure that most of you, who are interested in photography, will be the same. We all aspire to having or, improving our "eye", and I am no different. Sculpture was a good discipline to study for this. It's a slow process, and you have no choice but to slow your mind and consider form as you work. With photography, taking those few precious seconds to consider and compose, before clicking the shutter has always been one of the great disciplines. Digital had an overwhelming influence on this for all of us when it was introduced. You no longer had an associated cost to each frame and there was no film processing or print costs either. Of course, this is all true and the cost benefits are clear, but at what cost? The temptation to keep clicking can become a bad habit and, like many others, I have been trying to slow my process since. Studying the history of art was also invaluable for me, and I am glad that I did this before coming to pro-photography. Understanding composition is an essential component to better photography.
"Rossi's Delicious Ices"
With this in mind I reviewed the composition of the images on the "Genesis" roll. The composition of the "Rossi's Delicious Ices" shot isn't half bad... I checked it using a golden spiral overlay. The group of children are centred on the spiral and it envelops the top right of van and clips both the driver's and serving windows as it returns on the left... I did have to smile when I realised this.
Call it luck if you will, but bitter experience informs me that, uncropped, a well composed "snap" is very unlikely.
Then where does the composition come from? I put this down to being born into a household where good composition was a given. I don't mean we talked about golden section and the rule of thirds to make the winter nights fly by. I was too busy avoiding physics homework, watching the Wacky Races and The Tomorrow People. I was simply too busy to discuss composition. It was simply part of the family DNA. My mother is a dressmaker and my father was a printer's compositor (that's type, not images). Both had an eye for design and layout. Understanding the 3D construction of garments requires great skill and spatial thinking. Laying out typefaces that are "backwards" requires great attention, training and "minding your Ps & Qs". With the advent of desktop publishing, this is a now a long forgotten skill.
Having studied classical composition in art and architecture one develops an eye for it, and it becomes easier to spot both a well composed shot, as well as, let's say, a less considered shot. At the time I composed this image I certainly didn't have Titian's Venus of Urbino as a point of reference, however, when overlaid Venus will be driving the van. The all important curtain will be in line with the serving window, the column and mulberry bush, both important allegorical symbols used in the painting, will also be in the serving window, both also in line with the server's head. The housemistress' shoulder caresses the van corner. The children all line up along the chaise longue... Loraine Ishmael's shoulder is perfectly aligned with Venus's "hand of modesty". What can I say? The subject matter may be of the vernacular and prosaic, but it's classically composed... Even if one dismisses the platonic metaphors to take a thoroughly modern view of the work, the composition is there for all to see.
Don't believe me? When referenced by Manet's Olympia, that itself is referenced by Titian's Venus of Urbino, that in turn is referenced by Giorgione's Sleeping Venus... (possibly finished by Titian) How can it be denied? ...And as a bonus, my picture has an ice cream van in it! None of the others do ;) And by the way, check out the price of a family block of Ice Cream. 20p... Outrageous!
Pixel Peeper Notes: What camera was used to shoot "Rossi's Delicious Ices"
The camera was English. Made by Kodak in Harrow, England, the Model D had a clear meniscus f/11 100mm with portrait lens, working single blade shutter and a grained imitation leather covered metal body. The Model D was produced from 1953. It has a horizontally striped front faceplate, two brilliant finders, two pin flash contacts, triangular spring back catch, plastic wind knob and release button.
I've only just realised that the first roll of film I shot was "Ideal Format" (6x7)
Note that the film was processed at Grunwick. Those of you of a certain age may remember the bitter industrial dispute that ran for 2 years 1976-78. There were several precursors to that dispute that go back to 1973, the time when this film was processed. This was arguably the beginning of the end of the power of the unions in the UK... but that's another story.
Finally, I should thank my mum for buying the camera... and the film... and paying for the processing... where would I be without her? Thanks mum.
I hope you like the image C P.S. Since writing this blog I remember that my younger brother, Paul and I used to have a board game called Masterpiece. This was rich in art imagery and good composition. It was a game of auctions and investments in the art world. Whilst the money aspect of the game was clearly lost on me. The love of the images remains. Maybe it helped me?.