Tuesday 28 August 2012

Between the lines...

Oh dear, two railway-related posts in two days?  This is no way to shift my nerdy image.  Ah well.

And so to another entry, and a cobbled-together-at-the-last-minute-project…

This was all conceived for the South Square Gallery open call “Dromolgy”, which, with the aid of a thesaurus, Wikipedia, a scientist, a language expert, and a filter provided by several pints of the excellent product of the Purple Moose Brewery of Porthmadog, was found to mean:

Basically how the speed of modern technology/our busy lives alters the perception of the world around us.

The rough ideas I had were refined over the course of an hour waiting for arrival of customers at The Day Job, and it inevitably ended up as another mad-capped project using miniatures.

I decided to shoot long-exposure pictures of a journey, but in order to keep a constant viewpoint/ point of reference in each picture, I thought of doing the journey from the cab of a train.  And being as most train drivers these days aren’t keen on random nerdy photographers climbing aboard with cameras (and northern rail would be hard-pressed to get a train travelling fast enough round here) I decided the only practical recourse was to shoot using miniatures.

To my personal relief (and Amys not inconsiderable irritation) I don’t like throwing things away; experience from previous projects has shown that the minute you throw anything away, somebody will ask you to reshoot or expand an idea.  After the irritation of having to buy three lots of stuff for the “Happygoth” fashion shoot three years on the trot, I decided to never bin anything remotely useful. 
I grew to despise the “Britannia Model Village” for what that massive project did to my sanity, bank balance, friendships and relationship with Amy during its production (turns out girls don’t really like a boyfriend who stays awake for 48 hours desperately repainting 1/32nd scale Britains figures ready for a shoot), but it did lead onto other projects, and I’ve been loathed to clear out or bin a lot of stuff from the shoot, because every now and again it comes in useful.  As in this case.

The loose idea for “Getting There” had been rolling around in my head for a while, but it would have been a daylight shoot.  So in this case things could be a bit more improvised and cruder, which was handy given the restricted timescale of the project.  One of the most important features though would be the camera rig- the only way to ensure the same viewpoint was kept, the camera movement smooth, etc.  The rig was somewhat restricted as rather than a specialist item (I have one designed and part-built for a different shoot), this one needed to be built in a hurry.  The camera was an issue- my usual choice, the Nikon D90 is a very heavy bit of kit and couldn’t balance, so I had to resort to my old Canon 350 instead, which is considerably lighter.  It’s not a bad camera by any means, but it’s on its last legs after being used excessively in all weathers for several years.  As can be seen, the rig is very quick and nasty, built around the chassis of a pair of cheapo toy train carriages, and whatever could be cobbled onto it.  The camera is kept centred with the securing boss from a broken mini-tripod which slots into the groove in the wagon.

The track was tarted up a bit from the days of the model village (for anyone interested, its Triang “Big Big Train” from the 1960’s, and probably quite the collectors item before I attacked and repainted it for the model village).  Being as I was working on a budget of Nothing Pounds and No Pence, I couldn’t afford proper model train stuff, so the ballast is simply garden gravel, which shouldn’t matter on a long-exposure picture.

Just to make sure I didn’t end up wasting a great deal of my time on idea that wasn’t going to work, I decided to cobble together a mock-up for the project, which sort of proved the idea whilst revealing some of the pitfalls to avoid in the final shoots…

Now, shooting pictures in the dark during the summer is tricky, so in order to not have to wait around until late, I decided to shoot the pictures in the darkest room in the house; with a certain Harry Potter-esque twist therefore, it meant me being exiled to the cupboard under the stairs for the evening.  I put up black backdrops, just managed to squeeze a board in there on which to arrange props, and set to work.  Buildings and such were assembled from whatever was lying around in various boxes from ex-miniatures projects such as the Steampunk series.  It still took a good couple of frustrating hours to set up though, and in fact was nearly dark outside anyway by the time I started shooting. 

Its usually round-about this time in a project I start wondering what the Normal People are doing of an evening, and also what would have happened if, like most of the rest of the students on my photography course, I’d spent my time photographing female drama students in various states of undress…

Annnnnyway, to work.  Initial pictures were disappointing, until I realised like the complete pillock I am I’d failed to switch on the torches on the rig.  Thereafter, it was a case of hastily assemble sets, photograph, and dismantle.  The problems that arose from using loose gravel became more and more apparent as the floor got covered in more and more gravel, models broke, batteries failed, and more problems arose.  Round about midnight I decided I was making too many mistakes and abandoned the project in favour of watching American Dad instead.  Set-up time 2 hours, shooting time 4 hours, dismantling time (the next morning) 4 hours.  A typical ‘quick’ shoot then for Benjy, with horrible memories of trying to shoot over-ambitious projects at college in two-hour slots in the studio being bought to mind.

 The above shot shows the basic set up- note the filing draws, in-trays, and christmas lights, which with carefu lighting and techinical jiggery-pokery becomes...

But Lo!  And the pictures were finished, and pretty much achieved what I had set out to.  This is an idea I probably wont return to, as it annoyed the hell out of me getting it done.  Having said which, its always my most complicated projects I end up doing which end up having to be constantly reworked, so hey-ho.

In t'North.

Sunday 26 August 2012


So a busy few days for Amy and myself, as we set about editing and sending the pictures from Chris and Liz’s wedding (entrusting our wares to the tender mercies of the Royal Mail).  I’ve been preparing a mad-capped last minute project for an Open Call; more on this in another Benjy-Essay-Post (which given how I write will probably turn out to be the length of one of those horribly complex politico-romantic novels set in pre-stalinist Russia).

Theres also a possible exhibition coming up, but I shan't say more until we know a bit more about the details.  So probably a bit pointless me mentioning it, except in an effort to create Suspense and Interest.  Assuming anybody feels predisposed to be interested.

In an effort to generally improve our health, and get some photos, we decided to both head out in order to get a moodily-lit (so bad weather then) shot of a steam train up on t’moors on the Settle-Carlisle railway today, with associated long walk in the bracing northern air to get to the location.  The eventual shot was alright, but I got incredibly wound up by two things which constantly seem to hamper my location photography these days:

1)      the world is full of pensioners who like to photograph trains, and seem to be able to get to little-known locations that I’ve carefully scouted weeks before, and get there before me, setting up masses of tripods, chairs, and god knows what else in order to stake-out their little corner of England.  The old cliché of Germans nicking the best seats round the poolside is equally applicable in this case, and I’ve often had raging arguments with older photographers in such situations (“Quiet young man, I’m recording video!”, “You’re ruining my shot!  Move now!”, or the old favourite “I’ve more right to stand here, as I’m Older Than You”).  I suspect because of this I’m rapidly becoming that grumpy old git myself, and positively look forward to the day that my fellow train-photographing mates and I can be the grumpy old bastards what complain at the youngsters.
2)      The world is also full of people who insist on driving their powerful cars on A-roads at 45 mph.  I know times are tight and fuel economy is an important issue, but “Derestricted” does NOT mean ‘hey I can choose my own upper speed limit, and 40 seems about right’.  Sorry, but when you’re being caught up by our 10 year old Ford Ka, it’s a sign that you need to press the pedal a little harder.  I know this might just sound like a random rant, but the amount of transport shoots/landscape sets I’ve arrived late for recently has become a bit of an issue because of this.

See?  Grumpy-old-gittness beckons.

Ahem.  Back to the photography, before I start sounding like a Daily Mail columnist.

Theres a few reshoots planned of older projects, again for open calls and the like.  Amy has become aware that most of the stuff she photographed for her Cumbrian Coast series has been demolished or further wrecked, so a possible revisit to the atomic/derelict hell that is the Cumbrian Coast has been mooted to update the project, if we can stomach it.  Living in Cumbria for three years has probably knocked a few years off my lifespan ,so a revisit shouldn’t do too much damage, and in any case exposure to radiation supposedly gives you super powers.  In my case, I’m working on a possible reshoot of “Inflate/Deflate”, a sprawling still life/abstract shoot which generally involves making whatever room I’m shooting in look like a beach shop- again, hours of setup and dismantling for a short time photographing.  We’ll properly post about these as and when we get opportunity, but Amys Day Job restarts soon, and mine will become somewhat horrific for a fortnight as we slide inexorably into the Saltaire Festival, which every year leaves me somewhat drained and insane in its hectic-ness.  So art will either take the back seat, or will become ever more important as a safety valve…

Somewhere in Keighley.
Drinking a rather nice glass of port.

Sunday 19 August 2012


For the Second Post in the blog, a Wedding!  Just a short update today, not an essay being as Ben isnt responsible for this one.

Yesterday I photographed the wedding of Chris and Elizabeth; Chris is an old mate of ours from Uni days.  Lovely ceremony, very nice reception afterwards, everybody very happy and smiley (makes the job nice and easy that way!)

All in all a very nice day out.  Congratulations to Chris and Elizabeth!


Thursday 16 August 2012

First Post...

...The Post That Hurts The Most, as the Mighty Boosh put it.  On with this social networking malarky then- the point of this blog is to continue the bombardment of information about what we're up to as photographers and artists; not content with filling our Facebook page with random info, we're now embracing the blogosphere, as this allows us to ramble about our work in even more tedious detail :)
   Basically this is a cathartic attempt to help us remember that we're photographers first and foremost and not always our day jobs, and furthermore, because even if the only people reading this are our families, a handful of our friends and a hacker in russia, it should theoretically convince us to get on with artwork and post info.  Motivation this way seems easier than employing someone to sit in our spare room banging a drum, rhythmically screaming "take pictures!" at regular intervals.  The tone of the blog will be somewhat irreverent and light hearted, as Amy and myself are paranoid about falling into the trap of taking ourselves too seriously, and using too much pretentious arty-twaddle language. 
   Of course, over time we may resort to that sort of language if we realise that being irreverent and not taking ourselves seriously is whats stopping us from being the next David Hockney, and finally achieving that swimming pool filled with gold coins I've been wanting for years.

So, here we go- a recap of what we're up to at the moment:

(or if that seems a little dull as an introduction, imagine a deep, gravelly voice like you get at the start of Battlestar or the A-Team, saying: "Previously, on Ribbon Art and Photography...")


   Amy is currently exhibiting a small selection of pictures from her Cumbrian Coast Series, as part of a mixed media show at Hand Made In Bradford/Fabric Gallery, which as the name suggests is in Bradford.  Right in the centre in fact, in the converted Zaavi/Virgin Megastore, which is now a rather splendid gallery.

   The project was a documentation of the remains of the heavy industry of western Cumbria, explored via the derelict remains of the railway lines which had once served the factories, foundries, military installations, towns, docks, and mines.  It basically involved Amy and myself wandering round the derelict buildings and radiation-drenched coastline of Cumbria, trying to dodge angry locals and paranoid security guards... it was kind of like "The Road" with slightly more cheerful weather.  It formed the main thrust of Amys third year at University, and was exhibited a few times in 2007/08 before being revived for this show.

The exhibition is "Jouneys and Migrations" and is showing until October.  Here, thanks to miracle of t'internet, is the home page for Fabric/Hand Made in Bradford: http://www.fabricculture.co.uk/


   We went to Wales last week, but it wasn't all floating around the sea on inflatables or staring out of the window at sheep on distant rain-drenched hillsides the 5 days out of the 7 it wasn't sunny.  No, whilst there we took the opportunity of starting the long-awaited reshoots of another of Amys old projects, provisionally entitled "home is...".  The project involves various people sat around in domestic situations, in an armchair, with reading lamp, cups of tea, rugs, tables, and various other domestic paraphernalia, etc, but out about in the wild and wonderful landscape of Britain.

An interesting aside of being a Grown Up is that we're suddenly a lot more aware of ourselves and how stupid we look to random passers-by doing this sort of shoot- so whereas for say Bens "Happygoth" fashion shoot in 2007 we thought nothing of standing around a public park in the middle of the day photographing a girl in a stormcoat and spiky collar having a teddy bears picnic... nowadays, being older and wiser, in order to avoid embarrassing questions from the public/getting burned in a wicker man for stealing peoples souls with the Magic Flashy Box we get up at stupid-o-clock. 
   In Wales this involved us 'hilariously' mis-timing our arrival at Trawsfynned lake with the shift-change at the power station, complete with patrols by the ever-paranoid local Fuzz, random groups of teenage girls hanging around on street corners at 6.30 in the morning (why?!) and angry dog walkers who would walk 2 miles out of their way to come glare at us, not to mention drivers who would appear down otherwise dead-end roads with nothing at the end of them just to glower at us over their steering wheels.
   Strange place, Wales.
   Still, we got some pictures done, with myself modelling.  Some rather more elaborate set-ups are planned throughout the year with other people modelling, which should raise the tone somewhat, as theres a reason I stay behind the lens.  More in a future post on this project, and if you're one of our friends whos reading this, knows we are photographers, yes, you should correctly assume you will be asked to model; start thinking of an excuse not to participate now, theres a prize for the most inventive reason.

   Whilst in Wales, I decided to continue destroying what little was left of my social credibility, and went photographing trains again.  Still, a small reproduction fee in a magazine if you get published almost makes up for coach-loads of Brummie tourists jeering at you out of the windows as they rattle past.

   Amy, to my eternal jealousy, went down to London for the Olympic Cycling Time Trials, purely to cheer on, and photograph, our sideburned hero of the games, Bradley Wiggins.  Ribbon Salutes You, Sir.

   Meanwhile I continue to waste the precious gift of life by spending time making model kits and the like, for photography with miniatures.  Attempting to work in such a dead medium I put down to two factors: my deep love for the television shows of Gerry Anderson, and also my pig-headed refusal to learn the dark art of CGI.  My Steampunk project is officially on hold, being as I deeply suspect that once again I've missed the boat somewhat with a fad, and that the genre has now well and truly Jumped The Clockwork Top-Hat Wearing Shark.  So until Steampunk rolls around again, I shall just potter away on that project.

   Beyond that, its just getting stuff ready for open calls.  The rather smashing people at Cupola Gallery, Sheffield (http://www.cupolagallery.com/) have got some more open calls coming up towards Christmas, and being as we've managed to get stuff in with them in the past (and sold work! marvellous) we may bombard them once more with stuff.
   Right, that will do for now, assuming anybody has read this far.  This post will probably remain mostly unread in any case, being the first post.  Or will remain the only post on here, as real life interrupts rudely into the artistic process, or Artists Block descends to sit on our faces like a metaphorical overweight rhino... sitting on our faces.  For some reason.  Just picture that for a moment, I am.

Ben Bucki
Somewhere in Yorkshire.
Sat in a chair.