The 8th Digital Lightroom Competition – People

50px SpacerToday the Digital Lightroom is launching its 8th competition and the theme this time is ‘People’.

There are no restrictions on how you interpret this theme.  It’s a broad one and covers everything from street photography to portraiture.  As long as there are people or a person in your photograph, it fits the theme.  The closing date for entries is the 1st of September so you have the whole summer to come up with that special shot.

Once again we have the entire Topaz Labs collection, all 14 plugins, worth around $400 as a prize.

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We are very pleased to welcome as guest judge, David Penprase, who has agreed to not only judge the competition but provide a professional critique of all the shortlisted entries.  This is a unique opportunity to get your photographs seen and appraised by a Fellow of both the Royal Photographic Society and the Royal Society of Arts.  David is one of the top professionals in his field and we’re very honoured to have him here at the Digital Lightroom.

To celebrate the launch, and by way of an introduction,  I conducted an exclusive interview with David.  I began by asking him what age he was when he first picked up a camera..

I was a really late starter. I bought a camera from a relative when I was forty and as soon as I discovered black and white printing I was hooked. I spent every available hour in the darkroom. Luckily for me Jan, my partner, was as interested in imagery as I was.  For some years she had been my model and make up artist. In more recent times she has acted as my assistant although she has no interest in learning lighting which is a bit of a bummer! But on the plus side, she understands where we want to take the image and contributes heavily in the props etc. she is also a second pair of eyes watching for anything that may be wrong. I know I get all of the credit but there is no doubt that my work has benefited hugely from her involvement in the production of the work.

Jan and DavidJan and David Penprase

What drew you to the medium of photography?

Initially just the camera, it was then I realised how little I knew and it intrigued me. I’d always loved imagery so it led from there.

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When did you decide to make photography your career and when and how did you start working in photography?

I was running my clothing shop which I’d had for around 20 years. Jan joined me and within a week we realised that there couldn’t be two bosses ! It came at a time when we had moved to the country with a barn which I’d converted into a studio so we decided I’d move out to develop my photography, and Jan would take over the Shop.  It proved to be a great move for both of us!

Who were your role models?

At that point no question it would have to be David Bailey , and still is one of my favourites. There are countless others I admire, Albert Watson is superb. Jan Saudek is wonderful.  We corresponded for years and were due to meet in Prague when I was over there doing some work but for personal reasons, he couldn’t make it, which was a shame.  The list is endless, we all glean and sometimes I am about to click the shutter when I realise the image I’m liking is one I’ve seen elsewhere! So we must try to obtain our own “signature” within our work.

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Given the very artistic nature of your photography David, I wonder, do you consider yourself an artist or a photographer? Was art something you excelled at when in school?

Interestingly I have often referred to myself as a frustrated artist. At school I was not academic and the only GCE I got was Art, which I took a year early, and perhaps I could have developed that.  I was due to go to Falmouth Art College but my father died and I took the opportunity to leave school, get a day job and pursue my role as a singer with a local band.  We eventually “emigrated” to Sheffield and did the clubs there , made two records and did the Hamburg club scene etc. A good life, learning skills but we made no money! Going back to art, I was OK, it wasn’t what I would call a natural talent. Getting back to the question, I consider myself a photographer.

When does photography transition to art? Is this a line easily drawn?

I’m not sure it exists.  For me they are two different mediums. I have a an artist friend who always disagrees with me, but to me painting, and by that I suppose I am referring to the painters of yesteryear, is so much harder. I like some modern art but often it leaves me cold. So I’m not certain the line exists. But to defend modern art, providing they can draw in the accepted sense I do understand why many strive for a different form of expressionism, it’s just I don’t always “get it”.

One of my favourite photographs of yours David is Owl. Can you tell me a bit about how you go about getting a shot like that. I imagine today something like this would come about in Photoshop?

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I received a call from a guy in USA that wanted to use this, and other pictures, to include in a compilation book. Your reference to the image reminded me, anyway, we were talking for the best part of an hour on the phone, when for some reason I asked as to the title of the book but although I cannot now remember it in full, importantly it had the word ‘digital’ in it. At this point I informed him I was a darkroom worker! Nice conversation though!

This image does get a lot of interest especially as to how I “dropped in” the Owl. But it was in fact a pretty straight shot, the only addition is the moon and clouds. I plan my shots to go the easiest route possible. With this one I’d built a passageway in the studio, there was only one way the owl could get from one handler to the other. Timing was the most difficult, as the flight was so quiet and quick. Hard to deal with in a studio set up. I think I took three rolls of medium format (27 shots) which is a lot for me, and from that I had three useable frames. It was also a little frustrating as the model had just split with the boy friend who had driven her to us and was waiting in the studio.  She also thought the bird handler was offish and indifferent to her, and she had a bad back.  I was just wanted my pic but we got through it! She’s a nice girl, she modelled for me often, it was just one of those days! The image was used for an album cover by American Goth/rock band Second Skin.

How many magazine covers have you had and what was your first. How did that come about?

Not that many, maybe 20 or 30 but I have done dozens of book covers and quite a few albums.  I initially started sending my work to Camera Mags and I clearly remember my first two pics in MODEL OF THE MONTH in ‘Practical Photography’. I was over the moon. However, I soon realised that these magazines fed on our desire to see our work in print so I made absolutely certain they wanted it, would use it and when, and most importantly, how much they would pay me. I was a working photographer at the end of the day and I had to put food on the table. If there was any hesitancy I used to say ”send my work back, call me if you need it” I was not trying to be awkward. I think that the bottom line in any job is that we should be treated with respect. It always amazes me how we pay plumbers , electricians and for that matter artists without hesitation, but photographers, it’s “Do I owe you anything for the print mate?!

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How would you define a ‘Professional Photographer’ and how do you see that role changing in the digital age?

”Professional” is not a word I use in relation to myself, I’m a “Working Photographer” and still learning. I had a good friend, Phil Mitchell in Falmouth (he recently passed away).  When I talked about him to others I would often say “Phil knows more about photography than most of us ever will”.  Crazy thing is, he left his local photography club because of politics.  They didn’t realise or value how much he could have contributed!

You worked exclusively in film, I’m interested to know how much work went on in the dark room, printing your photographs. In the digital age, with tools like Photoshop and plugins like the ones from Topaz Labs, creating endless possibilities, you will often hear the statement ‘I don’t agree with post-processing’ as if this is something new and to be frowned upon. How do you feel about that?

Let me say right away, I really do not care how an image is produced.  More so, is it a great image and does it move me, affect me emotionally in any way? Not saying I’m not interested in the process, I am, and that applies to both film and digital. I think with any medium it’s knowing when to stop. Overuse is often the death of a great deal of imagery and the treatments are more available with digital.  The treatments will not necessarily turn a poor image into a great one: first and foremost there has to be CONTENT ! I spend a great deal on producing a print, perhaps not as long as I used to but interpreting the negative is for me a huge part of the process. I have a large dustbin! I remember Bob Moore, a well respected photographer friend of mine saying years ago, that it was the most important item in the darkroom, and he’s so right!

When was your first experience with a digital camera and how did you find it?

I borrowed a Canon 5D to do my son’s wedding in Jamaica two years ago. I have to say it was amazingly easy and brilliant for that. Taken in Raw , everything was there, good experience but hey I have a fridge full of film to use up!

You’re now learning Photoshop. Are you enjoying it?

Gosh! My friend Geoff Squibb is teaching me but it’s finding the time, I haven’t been down to see him for weeks. I’ve only had, I think, four lessons. I did enjoy them (to a degree!) , its interesting how one can apply similar techniques as in the darkroom but at this rate by the time I learn enough, something else will have reared it’s head! But it’s enlightening to learn how things are achieved digitally.

You’re retired now but you don’t seem to be slowing down. You devote a huge amount of time and effort in working with the Royal Photographic Society, helping photographers like myself develop and grow, promoting photography wherever you can. Tell me a little bit about what motivates you. How did you become involved with the Royal Society?

I was originally on the Printing Panel with Tim (Rudman), a panel assessing print submissions for Royal Photographic Society distinctions.  I earned a bit of a reputation from entering numerous International Salons and was regarded as a “bit of a printer” so it was great to be asked. I’d been a member for many years previous. I think some photographers out there do have the concept that you can buy a camera today and teach tomorrow. It goes the same with models, they sign a contract and are “Professional Models” I don’t think so, we all have to learn our craft. Recently someone who’d just gained their Licentiateship (the first level distinction with the RPS) asked me who to contact at the RPS as he wanted to offer his “services as a Lecturer” I was dumfounded. I could never push myself forward in that way, I’ve never been that presumptuous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m confident about my work but I’m not going to tell you! I just hope others see it, I’m also happy for them not to like it, I realise my work has a minority audience, so long has it registers in some way that’s fine.

You mentioned to me David that you are an avid collector of books.  As a matter of interest, how difficult is it to get a book of photography published these days? How many books have you had published?

My first book was UNTITLED, a soft back, and was published by Creative Monochrome as was the second, BEYOND THE EDGE, a hard back duotone, both sold out and are now unavailable. After I became ill and lost a lung to cancer, Jan and I decided to self publish a full colour book showing all the various toning techniques. Although I am exclusively monochrome, I often tone or use various toners for effect or longevity. For this book, PASSION PLEASURE & PAIN, we spent a lot of time with ‘Signs of Life’, a fantastic small design company in Norfolk, in putting together a well designed book. Coming through that period of illness changes everything and much as I appreciated CM for publishing the first two, we were prepared to go that extra mile and ensure that the reproduction was spot on and to have a book that encompassed my previous 25 or so years with all our favourite work. We did in fact sit with the printers for over a week overseeing every page.

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How difficult was it to get published?

 At that time, and it still applies today, getting work published in book form, unless it is focused on tutorial or technique, was extremely difficult, hence the rise of Blurb etc. To be honest, our sole reason was to ensure there was a record and an accurate one, (in terms of rendition) of my work in existence, it wasn’t about anything other than that.  Our main concern was to print a quality hard back, so the costings were heavy as we changed paper types, interleaves and cut outs etc., however, the feedback we had regarding its production was tremendous and made it all worthwhile. At the time, marketing did not come into the equation, however of course it’s important, but something we knew nothing about and still don’t.  Despite this, we sold extremely well to people who knew of my work and by word of mouth and we have shipped to around thirty countries. I sent one to Canada only yesterday. Often people will see a selection of my images in compilation books on nudes and contact me (I’ve had portfolios featured in, I think, seven other international books on the nude).

Not quite the same style as the first three mentioned but we also did two books of portraits (HARBOUR TO HARBOUR and HARBOUR 2 HARBOUR) of the people living in our village, Porthleven, which have so far raised over £56,000 for Children’s Hospice and Cornwall Hospice Care.  There is a strong possibility for another book in Cornwall but we are only at the negotiating stage at the moment.

Your most famous and iconic pieces of work David feature people. People is the theme of the competition that you have kindly agreed to judge for us. What advice would you give to photographers tackling this subject?

To be fair very little is original so it is an uphill task, but I think even in a head and shoulder portrait, if that certain something is there, we all (or most, hopefully) recognise it. We all go about our work in different ways, how really doesn’t matter, it’s the end results that count. Don’t get hung up on equipment or technique.  Find a path that suits you.

You’ve judged many competitions I imagine, what are the common pitfalls?

PLAGIARISM, UNORIGINALITY, LACK OF MOOD OR DRAMA

Thank you once again David for agreeing to judge this competition and giving such an insightful interview. I’m really looking forward to the competition and to seeing the entries.

As a special bonus to visitors to the Digital Lightroom, David’s Iconic Book “Passion Pleasure and Pain” is being made available at the trade price of £25 (RRP £60) plus £5 P&P (UK).  For other countries please contact David through D&J Publishing Flagstaff House, Institute Hill, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9DZ. Alternatively you can email David directly at david@davidpenprase.co.uk

Please review the submission guidelines carefully before submitting your entries to the competition. The submission guidelines can be found here.

Adrian Theze for the Digital Lightroom

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