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Some of my prints are now available for sale worldwide on Fine Art America. I will be adding more prints over time. The website will allow you to choose the print size, medium, framing, etc. The can be shipped anywhere.

To see and purchase the works, just follow this link.

 

Many works from other artists can be found by follwing these links:

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I have recently had the honour of publishing an academic paper on the Antae Journal. Below is the abstract and a link to the page on Academia.edu where you can find the paper.

 

Portraiture - Finding the Valid Fragment

The paper deals with the concepts of fragmentation and reconstruction in the field of portraiture. Taking a portrait as a large fragment of information, we look into ways in which it can be optimised and reduced such that it remains valid but becomes more efficient. The paper commences by exploring the concept of the fragment from various facets, including historically, especially from the modernist point of view, and goes forth to investigate various techniques from practices both adjunct and outside of the field of art in order to inform the portraiture process itself on how information can be collected, optimised and presented to the viewer.

Publication Date: Jun 2014

Publication Name: Antae Journal

Research Interests:
Creative Writing, Critical Theory, Visual Studies, Photographs, Portraits, Art History, Self and Identity, Art, Romanticism, Photography, Literature, Digital Photography, Contemporary Art, Modern Art, Visual perception, Art and Science, Photography Theory, Portraiture, History of Art, Modernism (Art History), Philosophy of Photography, Modernism, History of photography, Fine Art Photography, NLP, Visual Arts, Photography (Visual Studies), Fine Arts, Identity, Memory, Visual Art, Post-modernism, Fine Art, Criminal profiling, and Fragmentation
 

 

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I have now had the EM-1 for a few months, however this is the first time I've shot a wedding with it. I found the camera to be versatile, nicely responsive and performing well in low light. The images I shot were without flash and at quite low speeds. The image stabilisation definitely works well! Overall I'm very happy with the camera's performance and will certainly keep using it for commercial work. All images may be found in the wedding collection. Some images are below.

 

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It has been a couple of months now since I've switched entirely to Micro Four-Thirds with the OM-D EM-1. I cannot say that I am disappointed in any way. It's solid, light and has amazing image quality for the sensor size. I'd say that the quality is indistinguishable to me from my work with the D700. I have never used a D800, and I am quite sure the quality on that camera is mind-blowing but I've never had the need for 36-MPix - not up to the sizes I print anyway, and the advantages in size, versatility and silent operation are certainly not to be ignored.

 

As some of you will know, my recent work has mostly centred around nature abstracts, and I have found some great advantages in the EM-1 that were hard to come by with the DSLRs. First off the live bulb function allows me to compose my images more accurately during long exposures, particularly at night with multi-second exposures. The ability to use the screen for this also allows me for more freedom of movement which makes the work even more daring, if I may use that word. I have already seen some evolution in my style using the OM-D, and I hope this will continue as I become more acquainted with this little gem.

 

Below are a few images that have until now emerged from my work with the EM-1. To view the entire Abstract galleries, see the Soul Searching and  Recomposition series.

 

OMD C140791 copy OMD C140922 copy OMD90156 NR copy

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Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,


I sincerely pass on my very best wishes for a wonderful festive season and an artful, healthy and prosperous 2014. It has been a very interesting year and I hope that the new one will be better, funner and ever more inspiring!

 

Best Wishes 2013

 


Best Wishes,
Sergio and Fleur

 

 

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It has now been a few weeks since I've put my D700 and full frame equipment on extended leave to go mirrorless. While I have not yet had the opportunity to give the camera a real-life stress-test, I am confident enough to give some detailed first impressions about what I like, and what I don't like so much about this little gem.

First off, let me say that overall I do not regret my choice. I knew there would be some compromise moving from what is possibly the best DSLR ever produced to a camera with a sensor half the size. There was a significant financial risk involved, but I can say that until now, things have worked out quite well.

I've taken the camera out a few times and shot under different conditions. I've spent hours navigating a very complex menu and flipping through a not-so-well written menu, and finally I think that I'm starting to warm up to the new system. This is definitely a camera which has been designed with the professional or semi-pro in mind, and it is reflected in the myriad blog posts out on the net from pro photographers who have dumped their heavyweights for featherweights and have not regretted it. I can almost hear backs around the world rejoicing in chorus from the weight relief, and I must say mine is one of them. But let's get down to the details.

The first fully processed image from the OM-D EM-1In terms of image quality, I have to say that although it doesn't quite match my D700, it's impressive to say the least (keeping in mind my adulation of the D700). The sharpness is astounding - sometimes I feel it could also be just a tad too sharp but that will certainly be of benefit when blowing up images to exhibition-size. In terms of ISO performance, the positive is that it is almost as good as the D700 up to ISO1600. I probably wouldn't push it over that for images which are to be heavily post-processed. Further to that, the noise is quite elegant (for lack of choice of a better word), and similar to the D700 in nature. It is quite film-like and easily controllable in ACR. The bad news is that even at base ISO there is some noise present, and I have ended up giving every image a little luminance noise reduction. However the amount needed does not really affect detail and makes the image much more "processable".

In terms of RAW images, I must say I was equally impressed. Also keeping in mind that the final ACR profile for the EM-1 has not reached production yet as of writing, what I have seen is quite awesome. The dynamic range is excellent, and recovery of both highlights and shadows are very good, with good detail retention and acceptable noise levels. I can possibly say the two cameras are head to head on this, with the EM1 possibly having an edge. In all this, one should also keep in mind that the D700, while still current, is about 4 years old. Having said this, my view is that apart from improving video functions and ISO vs Megapixel performance, little has been done in these 4 years in terms of sensor technology.

The autofocus is snappy and accurate, the camera is incredibly responsive, and coming from SLRs, sometimes shockingly so. The one thing that bothers me slightly is that I could leave my D700 on all the time without draining much battery, while the OM-D is less nifty in waking up and unless you want your battery drained, you'll have to let it turn off after a while, which could catch you off guard having to switch it off and on again. However if it's going to be and intense day of shooting, I suggest just letting it sleep without turning off. Which brings me to another point. I still can't get used to the combination EVF and back-screen. To clarify - I absolutely adore the EVF. It's impressive and easy to get used to. However, I have had to switch off the eye sensor as it wouldn't let the camera go to sleep continuously switching from one to the other as I walked with the camera around my neck. This is one thing that needs some tweaking. One other thing I miss, is the shoot-from-the-viewfinder-and-review-on-screen method from DSLRs. I've had to take down image preview to half a second, since every time I was shooting, it would show the image on the viewfinder and obstruct my next shot. It would be fantastic to be able to set it to preview images on the screen rather than the viewfinder. The D700 had this great thing that you could see a short preview of every image after a sequential burst to get an impression of what you got. I guess that's one of the little compromises, and the way of the future. I feel old already.

There's much more to say about the EM-1, however I'll pause there for now and give some more time for practical shooting and editing before I move on to more detailed analysis. Over all, until now, I can't say I regret my choice to move to featherweight at all. I said this and will say it again. This is the future. I just pity the big guys out there still clinging onto their DSLR roadmaps shooting out blanket statements such as "mirrorless is for amateurs". I don't know if they're trying to convince us or themselves, but this feels so much like the film-switch and the full-frame switch. I guess we'll have this conversation again in two or three years tops.

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The full collection of images from the "Fringe" Jazz Photography Exhibition are now uploaded. Enjoy!

Click on one of the images above to go to the exhibition collection.

 

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A few weeks ago I was in Paris. I love that place, and I'm not a big city guy. But Paris has got something special - it feels homely, accessible and doesn't overwhelm (not in the big-city-atmosphere way, at least). Paris is nonetheless large, and as many have stated previously, best seen on foot. The point here is that for almost ten days, I left the apartment in the morning, caught a tube (ahem, Metro), and spent the rest of the day out and about on foot.

For good reason, when travelling (and not only), one of my main rules is to carry as little equipment as possible. For Paris, as for many trips before it, it was one camera and one lens, plus a compact for casual events and evening drinks. I was fine with this setup photographically, but my back wasn't, after lugging around a D700 (1Kg) with a 24-120 F4 (700g). That's almost 2Kg on my shoulder (I use a sling-strap) most of the day for 10 days. By the end of it I didn't want to grab a camera again for a while. Granted I'm not getting any younger, but I am pretty sure anyone would experience this in pretty much the same way. Fact is, DSLRs are huge and heavy.

To be fair, I'm a big fan of 35mm sensors. I ditched DX when the D700 was released and have had no regrets at all. Image quality is superb, ISO sensitivity is impressive. Still, it's a 5 year old technology, and a great deal has happened since then. Back in 2008, FX was the only way to achieve the kind of image quality needed for fine art photography, particularly if shot under not-so-favourable conditions such as indoor handheld, requiring some pushing of the ISO sensitivity. The D700 did (and still does) an amazing job at it, and I have printed images up to 24"x32" without any qualms. The camera was so good that Nikon didn't replace it until last year - an unprecendented occurrance in the previously high-speed-development world of digital photography - and in reality, it wasn't even a replacement since the camera is still being produced.

While the photographic technology has advanced significantly in the past years, DSLR development has been negligible, really and truly. Megapixel count has been increased consistently, an arguable benefit in itself, but ISO sensitivities have remained quite stable, and apart from the introduction and development of DSLR video (clearly a big step for film-makers) nothing much has changed. What has happened mostly in the the past years is miniaturisation. Clearly manufacturers have realised that the ceiling has almost been reached in the development of DSLRs with current technology, and have rightly started looking in the other direction, taking the current technology and making it smaller - and as often happens with new technologies and directions, everyone did it differently (and incompatibly).

As also often happens, the big manufacturers took their sweet time to get onto the bandwagon, and messed it up completely. As a Nikon guy I waited for a while until they decided to create their mirrorless lineup, and when they did, started looking elsewhere. The fact is that there is one key point in this shrinking race - the balance between size and image quality. It also depends very much on who is being targeted, and how flexible to platform should be in terms of producing both entry level and professional grade cameras. Sony did an impressive job with fitting a huge sensor in a tiny body, and Samsung also opted for a larger sensor. The main issue with this approach is that larger sensors require larger (and more expensive) lenses, apart from being more expensive to produce in their own right. Sensor production cost is exponential to size, not linear. Nikon went the other way, opting for a very small sensor. Way too small in my view - too small to ever support a professional or art level standard. I can somewhat see their point - they wouldn't want to cannibalise on their other product lines, however I think that this is a very narrow and short-sighted point of view. Canon, on the other hand, just went nowhere but into a coma for a few years, then produced something that everyone hated. Geniuses.

Naturally, in the end it is the market that tends to dictate which formats will rule the world, and although it is still a little early to say for sure, my bet is on the two remaining ones: the Fuji X system and the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four-Thirds. Fuji has developed a great system, and went about releasing it in the best possible way, launching the X100 fixed lens camera first, winning the hearts of everyone. Simple is beautiful (if you can afford it). They followed up with a system which had the same sensor but an interchangeable lens. The main drawbacks being a limited lens lineup (which will improve with time) and a poor AF, which unfortunately has not improved much yet. It's targeted towards the nostalgic street photographer, focusing on a rangefinder look and an array of mostly prime lenses. I am confident that this platform, given some more time and work, will become the standard for street photographers and landscape artists, and with the next generation soon to be released, this might happen soon. From the little I've seen, the image quality is exceptional, although RAW support is still dodgy, and I'm not a big fan of the colour rendition (although the latter is purely a personal view, besides being something that can be adapted).

My favourite of the bunch is however the Micro Four Thirds system. It has a number of advantages which make it a clear front runner in the contest. Firstly it is based on the four-thirds system of SLR cameras, so in many ways it is an adaptation of an existing system rather than something totally new. Granted, I never thought much of the old Four Thirds system - if you're building a tank, you don't load it with a handgun. But this platform was born for mirrorless. When the first PEN systems were released, true to my gadget-loving nature, I purchased one when I had to travel with very limited luggage. The great thing about it is that the entry level E-PL1 was a steal - practically as expensive as a high end compact. This was a very young technology, and it had its drawbacks. It didn't replace my SLR, but I knew that given a few years it would mature enough to compete. Even then, the image quality was superb - good enough for fine art printing, such as this photo taken in Rome, handheld at a very low shutter speed. Unsurprisingly, there were a few things I hated about it. For starters working without a viewfinder is a pain in the back (and the external one was almost as expensive as the camera). It makes holding the camera steady much more difficult, and the display is useless in strong sunlight. Secondly the autofocus was way too slow compared to the SLR and unusable in some street situations. Finally the controls were more like a compact than an SLR so changing anything was tedious. I knew however that these drawbacks would be addressed eventually as the technology matured. I think that a couple of years down the line, we might have finally gotten to that critical turning point.

The great thing about Micro Four-Thirds is that the sensor size is large enough to provide decent image quality (as long as they don't try to cramp more pixels onto the sensor, which I think they've realised, freezing the count at 16MPix since a couple of generations) which should be good enough for any professional, and probably for any artist too (to be seen!), and small enough to be able to produce a full range of cameras based on the same platform, from entry-level to pro, meaning photographers can start from the lower levels and end up with the top-of-the-line without having to worry about making their lens investments redundant. And on the subject of lenses, M43 has several advantages. Foremost, it has the widest range of lenses of any mirrorless system, especially since multiple producers are adhering to the platform. That on its own would be enough to sway many towards it rather than wait for others to catch up, and if played well, by the time they do, M43 will already be the dominant system. Secondly there is also a slew of older 4/3rd lenses which can be used on M43 with an adaptor, and with the latest OM-D EM-1, these can now also be used with phase detect AF, making the focusing much faster. On paper, I'm quite impressed, and that doesn't happen often.

If I'm right, DSLRs will become the new medium formats, increasingly relegated to studio environments and high end work. My guess is DX might survive for a while but will soon take the mirrorless route too. Nikon and Canon will hopefully finally realise that their best option is to convert their DX users into mirrorless DX users, making the cameras smaller, cheaper and able to use the many DX lenses available with an adaptor until new ones are created specifically for the mirrorless format. Oh, right - that's what Olympus just did with Four-Thirds! I'm betting that mirrorless cameras will rule the future. The technology is maturing fast, and will very soon catch up with SLR performance. Indeed I believe it's already nearly there. I've read of a myriad of pros switching to M43, and the main reason is size and weight. Of course there will be some compromise, but the gap is closing very fast, and I personally think that I can live with the compromises to save a kilogramme of weight on my next trip to Paris. Now, I just have to try it and see for myself.

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Seeing Jazz

By Dr. Vince Briffa, Artist and Researcher

 

Fringe #6256Like his music, a fine photograph of a musician reflects his soul. I’m very interested in photography and in how the camera can capture personality…

Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)

 

The jazz photographs of Sergio Muscat aim to capture the entire physicality of a musician’s performance in one telling story. For Sergio, seeing the music (performance) is as important as hearing it. But unlike Wassily Kandinsky’s abstracted paintings of musical improvisation or Piet Mondrian’s rhythmic depictions of the sound of jazz, Sergio is not after representing the music genre through his preferred artistic medium. He is more interested in the artist’s performance as an activity that develops over time. Capturing the real soul of the jazz musician requires Sergio to become synchronous with the performer’s own movements. Snapping the picture is therefore a refined exercise in clockwork body movement and camera control.

 Fring #6242.6158This performance by the photographer is also the technique used in Muscat’s recent Soul Searching series; a body of work which also incorporates the gambled gestures of the camera in movement as a means to capture the artist’s personal memories of a place. Sergio’s recent interest in such temporal afterimages has its roots in an internal search for the very soul of the viewer-viewed relationship, a pursuit for the absolute human experience befalling the photographer and the photographed.

One therefore needs to view this body of work not as a document of the many prominent jazz musicians that have graced our shores over the many years that the Malta Jazz Festival has been organised, but rather as a collection of fragments of outstanding performances executed by a duo of artists – the jazz musician and the photographer. Like a duet, these works require the input of both performers equally and, if one were fortunate enough to have been present during one of those incredible starry nights at Ta’ Liesse, one can truly relive the magic of the moment through each one of these works.

 

See the whole collection here.

Friday, 24 May 2013 15:19

Fringe - Capturing the Malta Jazz Festival

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I have recently been invited to exhibit at the newly restored Palazzo de Piro in Mdina. It is a beautiful space and has a lot of cultural and personal history tied to it. The exhibition, entitled "Fringe" will feature work created during the past few years of the Malta International Jazz Festival, and will form part of the "Jazz on the Fringe" events in the run-up to this year's Jazz Festival. The exhibition launch event will be held on the 17th July, the day before the festival kicks off. It will also feature a performance by well known singer Nadine Axisa.

The Exhibition will run from the 17th July to the 29th Septeber. Further details may be found on the official Facebook event.

 

Fringe - Fine Art Photography Exhibition by Sergio Muscat

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Once every now and then, we meet persons we have a distinct feeling will impact our lives in some way or another. This happened four years ago, when I first met Witold Flak. I was then a very green, keen photographer with a will to do something more than photography and no idea where to start. I had just failed my second qualification attempt and understandably wasn't in the best of moods. I had almost given up in my quest, resigned to the fact that photographers are just photographers, and they will never realise what a vast and beautiful world exists beyond it. Then Witold took the stand and started showing me the kind of pictures I thought I would never see. Images that didn't care about sharpness or technique, but that only cared about emotion. Witold's images are perfect in their beautiful imperfection - they portray life as it is, not as we see it in photographs. They are those kind of images that you get lost in, not caring about the details, because details are irrelevant - emotion is relevant. Witold Flak was one of those key persons who unknowingly gave me the will to persist.

"Here I am" - Witold FlakWhen I got to know that Witold would be visiting the island once again this year, it was great news. I was curious to know how he had evolved, whether we would still see things similarly, or whether the world had changed him. What I discovered was a person that has evolved, but not changed. His work is slightly more controlled – quite probably the result of a more confident person behind the camera – but not lacking the emotion and mood that is his signature.

"L'audition" - Chiara FersiniWhat I was even more curious about was a new name that would also be visiting the seminar. I saw Chiara Fersini's work on her website, but nothing prepared me for the actual encounter. Chiara started off as a painter, but, very much like Cindy Sherman, found the process to be too long - long enough to not be true to the original mood that engulfed her when she dreamt of the image. She moved to photography because it was the ideal medium for her - it would allow her to focus on the dream, rather than the process. Very much like Cindy Sherman, she is the protagonist of the majority of her work - how can I expect a model to express genuinely the mood and emotion that I am feeling? she would say. Her work is autobiographical, and that is where she differs greatly from Sherman, who portrays characters that are invented, that are not her. Chiara's work is not invented, it is dreamt.

Creating the photograph is for her the only way to get rid of the dream. Like a true artist, every piece of art is a piece of her – and it shows, or rather, it feels. Images are ripe with emotion, often something verging on the dark and sad, a sign that she is at her best when she needs to get rid of something – a common trait amongst artists. But in the sadness, we can see hope – a focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. In every artist there is an internal battle between the true self and the ideal, and the situation is quite ironic in itself. The artist will continuously search for that unification of self, where the truth is merged with the ideal, but the moment that happens there is no more need for art, and so the artist, given the choice, must choose between art or internal peace. This internal battle is one of the recurrent themes in Chiara’s work – something she is strongly aware of; a key driver of her art.

Putting Chiara and Witold in the same room, speaking after each other in alternation was a stroke of genius. Their styles are different, their characters are different, but somehow, somewhere in the ubiquity of art, they meet, they merge and agree. In their own ways, they are both artists. For them the camera is nothing more than a tool - it just happens to be the right tool for them. For them, photography - art - is a means of escape. It is a drug that hooks you because whenever you create a photograph you get that high that keeps you going, and as soon as you stop you're back to the place you need to escape from, and the only way is to create again.

Chiara and Witold are artists, although they might not readily admit it. They are the kind of artists we rarely see, because there just aren't that many of them around. They are two persons whom I know will impact my life, because they already have.

 

This article refers to an annual free seminar organised by the Malta Institute of Professional Photography in celebration of world photography day.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012 11:33

Skywards Future Artists 2012 Finalist

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Great news! I've made it to the finals of the Skywards Future Artists competition - if I win, my image will be printed on Skywards membership cards and promotional material!

Anyone who is an Emirates Skyward member can vote. Please help b
y sharing this and voting when possible!

Link to Image: https://www.skywardsfutureartists.com/Shortlist/View/21366

Link to Vote: https://www.skywardsfutureartists.com/SkywardsMembers/View/21366?briefId=0

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"Art is the elimination of the unnecessary"
~ Pablo Picasso, painter, and sculptor (1881-1973)

A short while ago, I was invited to attend a concert at our national theatre. It was an important anniversary performance by a local band club, and they pulled off all the stops for the occasion. A full blown choir was invited to join the performance, and they had a renowned local composer write a complete work which took up the bulk of the performance.

As they say, a structure is only as strong as its weakest link, and unfortunately the musical composition was what took the whole concert down in this case. I had an inkling about what I was about to hear, but I didn't fathom the extent of its gravity. As I settled into my seat, I read the programme, and in it was the composer's statement on his musical piece. As I read, I increasingly dreaded what was to come next. The composer stated (and here I paraphrase) that there are few pieces of intense musical complexity written purely for brass bands, ones which do not require a special arrangement or adaptation. This statement shocked me in numerous ways. I am no musical expert by any means, however I very much enjoy classical music, and particularly scores from films. Over the years I have heard a few pieces which although performed by orchestras, were written essentially for the brass sections of such. This point aside, the main statement which concerned me was the apparent belief that grandiosity is proven through complexity.

I believe this statement not only to be wrong, but also an insult to creativity. Over the years, I have come to fervently believe that the most difficult thing to achieve within any creative field is simplicity - be it a product, a piece of music or a work of visual art. Picasso said that the most difficult thing for an artist is to become a child once again. Children have no concept of complexity - they have nothing to prove to the world and to themselves, and that gives them the freedom to be nonconformists, to colour outside of the boundaries, if you will. It is when we start forcing them to stick to the boundaries society has created, that  we kill creativity. This pressure to conform persists throughout our adult life, making it ever more difficult to think and act outside of the box which society has built around us. One of the sides of this box says that we need to continually prove ourselves, and written under it in bold is a rule that states that in order to do this, we need to show others that we are capable of doing things they can't, with as much fanfare as possible. This means that if you're good enough, you need to make stuff that is complex; and in order for others to see how good you are, you need to make sure it feels, tastes, smells, sounds and appears complex. In reality, it is this mentality that is completely destroying not only contemporary art, in all it's shapes and forms, but also society itself. Our need to prove ourselves and do great things, together with the need to shine in the eyes of our peers is driving us towards a world where complexity is king - where no one is really able to understand what anyone else does, because the message is buried under countless cryptic layers. The fact is that we are all missing the point - big time. Really and truly, the great people who will forever be remembered in history are those who were able to do exactly the opposite - genius is when one is able to hide unimaginable complexity under a veil of sheer simplicity.

One of the persons who has managed to do this in recent history is Steve Jobs. He has reinvented products which nobody had been able to make successful before him, just because he believed in simplicity. The simplicity of his products does not make them any less complex than the labyrinths that are his rivals' - if anything, one would usually need to add more underlying complexity to make the surface simpler - it just makes them better, easier to use, intuitive and, at the bottom line, best sellers; because everyone understands them.  In one of his interviews, he said, "we make progress by eliminating things; by removing the superfluous." This process of elimination was a fixation for him. He would spend hours, days, months, mulling over each detail of each project, trying to make things simpler. The extent to which he achieved this was such that in one occasion, an illiterate child in the midst of a rural farm in Colombia was able to use one of the most recent and more complex products within seconds of getting hold of it, and with no instruction at all. That is nirvana.

This whole concept just hit home while I was sitting in the audience, listening to what sounded very much like the hour long agony of a dying cat. I felt for the poor performers, who did their utmost to make the best out of what sounded like a bunch of randomly dissonant and completely unintuitive notes. It was incredibly difficult to perform, but the fact is that the bravura of the band and choir had already been proven before the disaster began. In fact, prior to this, the John Powell piece "Hymn to the Fallen" was performed. It is a fantastically beautiful piece, ripe with emotion, very easily delivering the message it was designed to carry. Listening to this piece carefully, one will notice the intense complexity of the music, however once you take a step back and take it in as a whole, it just merges together seamlessly - and as happens with everything that is great, it 'just works'.

Experiencing the contrast between something into which a great effort has been placed to "remove the superfluous" and present something which achieves its goal in the simplest fashion, and something else which is rough, unpolished and intentionally complex was an eye opener for me. I have always been an advocate of simplicity, but this just put everything into perspective. It made me realise just to what extent the approach we take affects the results we produce and the repercussions it has on the consumers of our creations.

This approach strongly applies also to the visual arts, and particularly photography. The distinguishing fact of photography compared to other visual arts is that the medium, in this case the camera, is undiscriminating in what it captures. It will not distinguish between strong and weak compositional elements. With most other artistic media, the artist has full control from the onset as to what to include in to the artwork - it is a bottom up approach - start with nothing and build from there. Photography is the exact opposite. Photographers start with everything - their entire surroundings - and have to eliminate from there. This obviously requires a particular skill, not to mention the fact that the photograph is usually seen, composed and captured within a very short period of time.

While this might appear as being a problem, or at least a nuisance, I realised that as photographers we might even be at a slight advantage over artists using other media. Most people who create things, be it consumer products or art, admittedly go through a specific cyclic process of creation whereby something is first built from the ground up and then revisited multiple times to remove the superfluous and simplify until the final product has reached the required simplicity. Photography allows us to very quickly reach (depending on the type of photography being undertaken) a good point within the final stage. Our surroundings immediately offer us the maximum complexity, and as such we do not need to do anything to build that. The first stage is all around us, and as photographers all we need to do is simplify from that point onwards. Granted, this next stage is also the most difficult part, and of course, it is also the part which most tend to overlook or ignore.

Simplification begins in our mind, or maybe our subconscious. We all perceive our surroundings in different ways. Good photographers have a natural tendency to isolate the important from the irrelevant - to capture that part of reality which on its own consists of a lean slice of context; enough to be complete on its own but without any excess which would create superfluous distractions, diminishing the overall experience of the pure image in its most perfect form. Of course, all this talent would be useless without the necessary technical knowledge needed to translate vision to capture. Technique is important but should never take precedence over the photographer's eye. Too much focus on technique tends to create cold, lifeless images - not to mention the fact that it makes the process of photographic capture cumbersome and long; often long enough to lose the all important "decisive moment". Technique should eventually become an instinctive part of photography - because way too often does technique tend to take over the creation of a photograph, when it should rather become a slave to creativity; a tool merely used to translate vision to capture.

I am a firm believer that the end justifies the means within the creative process. We have a myriad of tools at our disposal, starting with a variety of cameras and lenses, all the way to advanced post processing tools and printing material. All these form part of the creative process, and all are in their own way tools for simplification. Sometimes it is not possible to eliminate all the superfluous within the camera. We should never put limits on ourselves and on the lengths to go in order to create the best possible result from our creative vision. After all, who created the rules saying "we should not do this", or "we should not remove that"? Such rules are not only artificial, but also limiting, and thus damaging to our creative potential. This damage commences very early in our lives, when as children we are riddled with rules such as "colour within the lines". Society has got a particular obsession with conformity - from birth we are constantly being forced into boxes, conforming to the standards of society. We are cut down to size to fit into a social standard, and what’s left on the cutting floor is creativity and potential.

Picasso was a leading figure of 20th century art. Most of the modern art movements span off from his work. He had a strong belief that great artists need to get rid of the baggage accumulated through years of conformity and rediscover their childish freedom and naïveté. His exact words were, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” This journey of self discovery is one which every artist needs to go through. It is not only long but sometimes also painful. We need to open ourselves to our environment and surroundings in order to rediscover ourselves in depth. This means shedding the defenses built over the years and making ourselves vulnerable. It is a necessary step to connect our inner selves to the world, because only then can we completely experience our surroundings. By creating this connection between our inner self and the rest of the world, we can better understand and experience the beauty of it all, and translate that to what eventually will become our art. Some artists tend to skip this important step, usually resulting in cold, mechanical and often complex work. Their work does not connect us to the emotional intensity which one should experience when in the presence of art, because most likely they fail to experience it themselves. We need to realise that in order to transfer the beauty and simplicity of anything, first and foremost we need to connect with it ourselves, experiencing the same emotions we are trying to convey. We cannot keep ourselves closed and protected, because those who live in glass houses might enjoy the view but will never smell the fresh air.

 

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The dead and the living. The ever-the-same and the ever-changing. The static and the dynamic. Most battles are fought to fend off intruders, invaders into what is thought to be someone else's space. It has always been so, and this battle is no different. This time, it's not man against man, but man against earth. Because this place is not ours. It belongs to itself, and mankind has used it and abused it since the day some bright spark lit the first fire. I will not go into the controversy of what we've done wrong or right - that is not my intention. My focus is on the fact that this conflict does exist, and in which ways we can look at it.

The premise is this - it is a battle we're never going to win. If we look at what man "creates", we see the static, the dead. I see a building today - same building tomorrow. By comparison, I see a blade of grass today - it's a flower tomorrow. Nature is alive, dynamic and ever-changing. It is self-sustaining and self-healing, and this is it's greatest weapon. We might not realise it, but we are just a speck in the history of the universe. A little bit like a flu or an itch we might have throughout our lifetime.

This thought fascinates me. From our point of view, nature's healing process is irritating. We build, it destroys, we create, it disintegrates. If we look at it from the opposing point of view, however, it very much resembles the actions of parasites and antibodies. We destroy, it heals. As they say, it's all a matter of relativity. What we see and what we believe depends entirely on our point of view. What we see as decomposition from our point of view is recomposition from nature's point of view.

I have always felt close to nature, and decay has always fascinated me. It has a visceral attractiveness - a stunning elegance under a veil of harshness. Since the day I grabbed a camera in hand I found myself photographing things that are falling apart. I find it interesting to observe and beautiful to look at.

The "Recomposition" series is an ongoing effort to document and interpret the beauty of decay in all its shapes and forms. As with all of my work, it is a collaborative effort - I will not stop at documentation, but rather use what I see as my starting point, building on it until I have uncovered the beauty I see in it for everyone else to enjoy.

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The observer effect in photography

The “observer effect” is a well known term used in several fields of study, including most notably physics and psychology. The basic concept refers to changes that the act of observation will trigger on the phenomenon being observed. In order to observe a subject, some form of interaction has to occur, and that interaction, even if minimal, will affect the state of the observed in some form or another.

My view is that within the field of photography, this effect is ever present in various forms, and can be explored at various levels. The most common examples include the change in attitude within people upon the realisation that a camera is being pointed towards them. Roland Barthes refers to it as the “act of posing” in Camera Lucida - the process where the subjects transform themselves into an image of themselves in advance of being photographed.

Throughout history, photographers have been trying to exploit this effect from one end, and eliminating it from another. This is clearly visible just by analysing the two styles of street photography - some photographers will use short lenses to become part of the action and clearly make their presence noted, while others will use longer lenses in order to avoid as much as possible any interference with the event being photographed.

 A Step Further

The concept becomes even more interesting when analysed from different points of view, in different situations, and through the entire photographic process. Ansel Adams mentioned that there are three entities in each photograph - the subject, the photographer and the viewer. Each of these entities may be affected in one way or another by the act of photography. The subject may be affected by the consciousness of being photographed, or possibly even by the sheer presence of the photographer (a theory certainly worth exploring). The photographer is affected by the voyeuristic act, as is the viewer.

Any photographer will state that their attitude towards a subject changes dramatically during the act of photography. In fact, the entire perception of reality takes a different shape during that split second. Something is triggered, maybe it is the that primitive hunting instinct that is re-awakened. All the photographer cares about, at the moment reality becomes that restricted bounding box that is the viewfinder, is to capture the prey and lock them forever into the box. Or as Cartier-Bresson put it, "I'm not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren't cooks." 

This duality between photography and its primitive counterpart is all too evident even through the most basic of photographic terms - aim, shoot, capture... Photographers are on a hunt for images, and as a hunter are purely focussed on the final goal, on the best timing and placement of the shot. The observation of a potential subject - and indeed reality in its entirety - is a totally different matter when seen through the camera's viewfinder. Some photographers will state that after a while, the "shooting mode" will also start permeating into "real life" and photographers will start looking at their surroundings as though there was a camera permanently attached to their eye. "One doesn't stop seeing. One doesn't stop framing. It doesn't turn off and turn on. It's on all the time," says Annie Leibovitz. In reality the change is still marked, although it becomes foggier with time. The fact remains that the photographer, the interpretation of the subject and reality itself change through the act of observation through a viewfinder. 

 

The Other Side

When looking into the process of photographing conscious subjects, namely humans for the sake of this argument, the entire play of observation, self-consciousness and interaction - or the lack of it - provides a myriad of possibilities for analysis. We can compare different portraiture styles, for example, ranging from 'life captures', to carefully engineered portraits, and all the grey areas in between. It is interesting to compare, within each variety, the effect the photographer has on the subject, and eventually on the final photograph. For example, in Richard Avedon's 'the family' - a series of portraits of the rich and powerful in America - the photographer had no verbal contact with his subjects; only a very strong visual communication and the resulting enhancement of the subject's self-consciousness. The result is a total destruction of the subjects' confidence and power for those few minutes in the photographer's studio, which can be clearly observed in the final product.

After the Act

One further point of view to be considered is how the subject of a photograph changes through a viewer's observation of the photograph. The act of photography has already changed the subject through decontextualisation, however this change is only complete when interpreted by the viewer.

Viewers observing a photograph will merge the 'truth' - if there ever was one - with their limited point of view, their baggage of experience, emotions, opinions and biases - together with a knowledge of the context within which the photograph was taken and the temporal difference - into their own interpretation of the image. What a viewer sees when observing a photograph inevitably differs somewhat from what the photographer saw at the time the image was captured, and is most certainly not a reflection of the truth. Observation brings interpretation, which in turn brings change.

In the end, individuals will manipulate reality in whichever way suits them best - both consciously and unconsciously. Photographers have the luxury of manipulating the image permanently. They will inevitably add a piece of themselves to the image, capture it and present the result to viewers, who will manipulate the image transitorily and personally, through the addition of a part of their own self into the mix.

The bottom line is that the entire photographic process is affected by observation, consciousness and self-consciousness. In the end, it is difficult to understand whether there is any truth left - although that is also dependent on one's definition of absolute truth, and whether such thing exists at all. 

 

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