Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Playing with Medium Format Film

Alice Grass

I am always happy to admit that I discovered photography when digital had already been hailed king. Analogue cameras were increasingly rare (although not yet as cool as they are now) and digital had already replaced them as the tool of the present and the future. My passion for image-making however meant I dabbled my fingers here and there in film and with a quick refresher session I can find my way round a darkroom. For quite some time I have fancied the idea of having a play with a medium format camera and when the right one came along I could not resist.

I am now a proud owner of a Bronica SQ-A which I found on eBay and which has provided me with ample entertainment. I found its waist-level viewfinder a touch confusing to start with, but every day I am getting better. I have not used it for any work yet - just everyday, personal snaps - almost like a less portable and much slower phone really. The slowness as part of the process is great - instead of snapping hundreds of pictures I take my time with each one (“too much time” my girlfriend - deficient in patience - would say). Then there is the slowness of getting results - sending the film off and then scanning it at home, getting it wrong and scanning it again. I know it has been said a million times before - but waiting for results certainly adds a sprinkle of excitement otherwise rarely felt in photography.

I have lots to learn still having only developed two rolls of film, but here are some of my favourite snaps so far.

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Olga and Cecil (scratchy)
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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas (when Charlie met Nick)

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Merry Christmas. May you have a wonderful time full of excellent food, presents and cosy evenings!

One of the best things about my work is that I meet people. And I love meeting people. I have photographed such a great diversity of sitters that it would not fit in one blog post. From cancer-survivors, to world-famous chefs. I have photographed human rights activists, celebrities and politicians. My recent sitter however beats them all. He is known all over the world and he is an undeniable legend, especially popular with the younger ones. He is an elusive guy too with rumours spreading far and wide this time of the year. Is it true he doesn’t do anything all year until Christmas? Is his business sustained by an army of illegal child labourers? Do his trusty travel companions really play Monopoly despite their hooved limbs?

Child fantasies aside, I have always felt sad thinking of Santa. After all, he visits all the children in just one night and all he gets for this hard work is a glass of sherry and a mince pie. However many glasses of sherry it does seem like a small reward for climbing down chimneys which are not just unpleasantly claustrophobic but in most cases in the UK - boarded up and unused too.

Nick is a busy man, especially at this time of the year, but he found an hour in his hectic December schedule for a quick photoshoot with me. I was eager to use the shots for my Christmas cards and ask the legendary man all the questions.

Unsurprisingly Santa was tired. He works hard all year preparing for the big night and no, there is no army of children helping. He likes sherry but cannot stomach more than a few mince pies in one night. The chimney climbing part is one of his favourites actually - you should see the faces of all the jack russells and black labs when a man armed with presents and dog biscuits appears from nowhere on their territory. We chatted and Santa lit up one of his guilty pleasures - a Cuban cigar. The reindeer don’t let him smoke and drive anymore these days.

Nick is an easy sitter - full of stories and a wonderfully expressive face. It was a pleasure to photograph him in a more personal way and with no presents or children in sight. Big thanks to him and his team of elves who organised everything so efficiently. You were legends. See you next year, hopefully!

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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Epic Moments with Samsung


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With 7 out of 10 Brits owning a smartphone it is not a surprise that advertising the newest device is a rather big deal for the manufacturers. Earlier this year I was invited to shoot stills on the set of the newest Samsung device online advertising campaign. These were to go with Samsung’s online videos advertising the newest Galaxy S5 smartphone and the GearFit watch.

I do not work with video myself (other than my keen use of hyperlapses as you may have noticed on my instagram) and this was the first time I was invited to do a series of stills to go with video material. Meaning - it was one of the first times I was on a shoot where photography was not the primary focus. This turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Firstly, the budgets and the teams on such big film sets are much bigger than your average photoshoot. This means more people, more lights, more instructions. I had an opportunity to work with incredible equipment and it was joyous how easily the lighting team created a beautiful hazy sunset on what was a dark and wet afternoon.

The tip top organisation on a set is amazing - no threads are hanging loose, no minute is wasted which means everything works like a good swiss clock with one minor challenge - there wasn’t much time for stills. So me and my assistant had to be super prepared as the film crew were only giving us a minute or two to shoot the relevant stills. Video production is all about a long, consequential processes and taking any more time to photograph would interrupt the flow of the filming. I had an almost playful relationship with the assistant director - always reminding him about the importance of stills.

There were other fun challenges too but of a more photographic nature. Releasing helium balloons and making them blow in the desired direction is not easy outdoors in any circumstances. Releasing them so that we get each balloon placed perfectly and captured on the smartphone screen in my shot makes the task even more difficult. We must have done it right though as the videos and my photo material to go with them have so far been watched over 2.8 million times and were liked on YouTube over 4000 times.

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Big thanks to Mason Zimbler for such a fascinating opportunity and to Aspect Film & Video for accommodating the stills photography needs on set.

Here are some Epic Moments with Samsung:




Wednesday, 10 December 2014

3 days of Christmas. In June. - Help for Heroes Christmas 2014

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Christmas is really all around us by now and I have a confession to make - this will be my second one this year. Photography yet again proves itself to be a great profession - I celebrated my first Christmas of the year in June at the Help for Heroes catalogue shoot.
You may recall my previous collaborations with Thirdberg Productions for Help for Heroes. They almost feel like great weekends away with fantastic locations, the beautiful outdoors and plenty of fun. All for a great cause. This time was no different. We gathered the team once more and headed for the Sussex coast to capture that cozy wintery feel in what turned out to be one of the hottest summers the UK has had in years.
Pretending it’s winter in June is easy on the photographer but it is hard not to feel for the models all wrapped up in chunky knits in 30 degree heat. And then of course there were the Christmas jumpers - H4H’s Christmas jumper collection is too good not to be included in their clothing catalogue for Autumn/Winter. This meant that we made one of the shoot days “Christmas”. We decorated the location house, lit the fire and adorned the room with tinsel and Christmas cards. We had Christmas carols playing and if it wasn’t for the fact that we were at work mulled wine would have been rather fitting. The only difference being that when we wrapped up I celebrated the end of the shoot with a swim in the sea. What better way to finish off?
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The Help for Heroes winter clothing catalogue is out now and the items can also be bought online. Beyond containing some fabulous gift ideas it is a great way to support a charity whose work changes lives for so many of our servicemen.

Thanks so much to the amazing team who worked on  the shoot:

Production: Thirdberg
Digi-tech and assistant: Phil Hardman
Make Up: Nina Sagri
Help for Heroes: Tanya, Helen and Lauren
Art Direction: Gary Bigwood
Male Model: James Lawson @ Mustard
Female Model: Alana Wallace @ BMA

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And here is just a little clip to give you an idea of what really goes on during these shoots:


Thursday, 4 December 2014

When art meets engineering - Cox Wokingham Plastics for Halo Media

A good while back Halo Media offered me a rather unusual commission - to photograph work at a plastics moulding company. It wasn't however the thermoforming that they were particularly keen for me to capture. The company, Cox Wokingham Plastics, were redesigning their promotional material and online presence and wanted to put their employee’s wealth of experience at the centre. Halo liked my Brits Abroad project and wanted a similar approach for portraits of employees as well as the processes and methods Cox Wokingham use.
If you have never been to a plastics moulding company you probably would not expect to find so many fascinating things to photograph. You may not even expect to meet people passionate about moulding plastics, but Cox Wokingham’s place in Berkshire is full of them. I was given complete access to anywhere in the factory and with my protective eyewear in place proceeded to photograph those wonderful engineers talking about the art in their work. And then there were the machines: CNC drilling machines spraying plastic and water everywhere, heaters melting plastic and then shaping it magically into airplane seats, plus plenty more to get the boyish geek in me excited. What is it about big, noisy technology that makes it so fascinating?

Thank you to Halo Media for this unusual assigmenet and Cox Wokingham Plastics for showing me a bit of a world I would otherwise never be a part of.

You can see my pictures on CWP’s new website.
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Monday, 1 December 2014

John Hamilton - Independent Saturday Magazine

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How many cookbooks have you got? I’ve always thought the collection adorning the shelves in my flat is a pretty good one. Always - that is until I met John Hamilton, the Art Director for Penguin Books.

I was asked by The Independent’s Saturday Magazine to photograph John for an article about Penguin’s new publication - 100 Cookbook Covers in One Box. John has been collecting cookbooks ever since he was in charge of designing Jamie Oliver’s first Naked Chef book. Fast forward fifteen years and John now has over a thousand cookbooks at home.

No surprise then that I was rather excited to see his amalgamation of cookery design from across the world. John welcomed me in his home in Lewes and soon we were deep in cookbook design conversation. My portrait idea was to make the most of the sheer quantity of the books and surround John with them. Being a true book lover John did not mind a bit - he and his wife were keen to help make the best shot possible. We stacked books all over the table, chairs and sideboard in their kitchen. Piles of books nearly falling over everywhere, but worth it for the shot. I then balanced myself on a ladder to capture photos of John lying on the wooden floor surrounded by his favourite hardbacks.

John is a perfect sitter - up for anything and lovely to talk to. He told me about the mad Lewes Bonfire Night traditions (thank you, I would never have gone without the recommendation) and then topped the afternoon off with feeding me a tasty lunch. An excellent treat after a few hours of being surrounded by cookery books.

Thank you to The Independent’s Saturday Magazine for a great commission and John for being such great company and model.

You can read an online version of the article with my pictures on The Independent website.

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Behind the scenes whilst photographing John Hamilton for The Independent Saturday Magazine
John Hamilton for the Independent Saturday Magazine