Five in 5 – Moira Rae Carter – Artist

Moira Rae Carter - Five in 5

Click on image above to enlarge full screen; you can then further zoom; to return to the article press the back button on your browser

Five in 5 is a personal photography project to capture the essence of working professionals. 5 people, 5 photographs. Simple. Or is it? In the age of digital cameras, it is easy to click away on auto-setting, without truly thinking what, why or who you’re photographing, in the hope that ‘one’ image may come out right. My project aim is, therefore, for me to go back to the basic principles of photography from where I first started as a boy, reading ‘The Puffin Book of Photography’ – subject – light – situation – environment – moment. 5 elements of photography. 5 in Five.

As soon as I approached Moira’s Rae Carter’s house in Chester, blue picket fence drawn at the front, Morris Minor tucked on the drive, I knew I was going to have a colourful and eclectic day.

The interior of Moira’s house was not a studio – it was a living gallery. Wall to wall framed illustrations; litho and lino prints of frogs, swans, butterflies and tea pots; a corner filled with reference books and an unmissable hand-painted wall-mural of bright red, purple and pink tulips, masking an enigmatic secret door frame, altogether greeted me. And builder’s tea.

Straight to business with a few hand-held shots at ‘1.4 – 35mm in the vivid yellow kitchen with yet another window-softbox and Moira’s story began to unravel. Too good to be an art teacher eh? Should have been a seamstress by all accounts? Moira’s tales of her starting up, determined to be an art student, illustrating plants for Kew were conjoined by delicate hand illustrations that explained the intricacies of using her favourite artist pen, lino cutters and the real tools of her then new trade – her hands; today was going to be about hands. Her story was so interesting and the hands so mesmerising, I kept forgetting to press the shutter.

I was keen to light up the wallflowers, such was their presence and as Moira patiently posed for me while I tried different lighting positions, her story continued. As we repositioned by the bookshelves, the ‘Moths of the British Isles’ book became the first showcase textbook, then a book on plant illustrations with eloquent, wet-ink hand-notations, as we then stood by the front room window, softly lit by natural light. Then, upstairs to the studio room for more textbooks; ‘Lino Cuts by Claude Flight’, ‘Art in Nature’ – a particular favourite – each with their unique story and another peg in Moira’s journey as a fine illustration artist. Today was also about books – reference for the use of; inspiration for the taking from.

Moira had given up her ‘formal studio’ a while ago and settled for a neat office-studio upstairs with desk, bookcase and classical radio in the air. The true studio, though, was the house, was the gallery. I so wanted to capture every ornament, pin-cushion, butterfly and bee that surrounded me at every turn. How was I going to choose only 5 images today from this cornucopia of illustrations? My brain’s graphics card was using all it’s RAM today!

Focussed on getting the definitive wall-flowers in their best light, it was downstairs for a re-take; with so many frames on the wall, it was hard to avoid reflections of the softboxes, needing a fair bit of compromise and lens choice. 14mm just a bit too angular and difficult to light uniformly, 70mm a tad too close, so the 35mm 1.4G became yet again the workhorse of the day, allowing a tighter crop, this time at 1/125th and F8. Manual – so refreshing yet so unforgiving with TTL metering and 2 softboxes. Once again, while Moira posed, we just chatted about art, photography, textbooks, techniques; we could have stayed there all day.

My final selection – Five in 5

I knew from the moment I walked into the house it had to be Moira with the tulips as the key image. Vivid, graceful strokes from hands that not only know art, but know flora expertly. I took a fair few images of this wall; natural light making the wall too dark and the white background tinted by the yellow wash from the kitchen; flash light difficult to fill uniformly and a tendency to blend Moira into the 2-dimensions of the wall. I was learning my trade today, that’s for sure. The image I selected, I felt reflected Moira’s persona, her hands pointing to the tulips, stating to the World: ‘this is who I am and these are my tools’. Her manu propria tulipa.

I could have chosen dozens more images to capture Moira’s essence; sat, relaxed and confident in the natural light of the bright yellow kitchen, hands around the mug as if protecting her work-tools by keeping them warm; stood either by a window or bookshelf pointing at the reference illustrations; gesticulating and explaining the various techniques used to craft a specific print. How to distil these into only 4 more images? In my final analysis there were 2 themes jumping out at me.

The 2 images with books reflected the reference illustrations that were so key to Moira’s link with the past and the validation of her journey; one image from the hand-annotated book on plants from the soft window light, the other of Moira’s hands lovingly stroking the page from ‘Art in Nature’, the old friend.

The final 2 were close-ups of the hardened tools of Moira’s trade; balletic, illustrative, explanatory. What else but to depict an illustrator?

I forgot to ask what was behind the secret door whose frame hid between the tulip petals. Only the little door-keeper bee and Moira know. Still.

Five in 5 – it was indeed a privilege to have a private tour of the Moira Rae Carter living gallery.

 

Five in 5 – Jo Jenkins – Contemporary Artist

Jo Jenkins - Five in 5Click on image above to enlarge full screen; you can then further zoom; to return to the article press the back button on your browser

Five in 5 is a personal photography project to capture the essence of working professionals. 5 people, 5 photographs. Simple. Or is it? In the age of digital cameras, it is easy to click away on auto-setting, without truly thinking what, why or who you’re photographing, in the hope that ‘one’ image may come out right. My project aim is, therefore, for me to go back to the basic principles of photography from where I first started as a boy, reading ‘The Puffin Book of Photography’ – subject – light – situation – environment – moment. 5 elements of photography. 5 in Five.

Jo Jenkins – Behind the 5 Images

Jo Jenkins is a contemporary artist based in Chester. I met her through the Cheshire Artist Network. As I walked across the threshold of her home, her art greeted me in every corner of the house; beautiful large canvasses and prints with patterns, shades, abstracts that defined her artistic style convincingly.

As a photographer, I look at clarity; solidity; form. What surprised me was how Jo sees the world. As I observed one of her large paintings on the stairs wall, she described how there was an horizon of a hill, with the sky above and land below – where at first I only saw abstract shades, large colour patterns. Then, slowly, surely, as she described it more I began to see the hills and visualize the horizon as the image began to take 3 dimensions. So, Monsieur Photographe, light has shape even if abstract.

Jo’s studio is upstairs, with a natural softbox from the large window of the south-facing room that overlooked the Welsh hills. There will be no need for flash today, or so I thought. All around were in-progress canvasses on easels, with a noticeable array of mixed oil-paint swirls on upturned plastic container lids.

Jo showed me her ‘ideas board’. Her colour inspiration comes from her travels on walking holidays, from the Himalayas to Italy; photographs of far flung scenes adorned the pin-board. As I attached the 35mm 1.4G lens and held the viewfinder to my eye to take a basic headshot of Jo, I casually reviewed the bokeh of the ideas board on the camera screen – and then it all became clear to me – in the wide aperture blur, the colours of the post-cards matched her paintings – swatches of pastel colours, light and dark; shapes, horizons, troughs. Note to self – get me my own ideas board and start thinking shades not shapes.

In the corner by the window was an array of the usual paint tubes and brushes that you would expect to be there in an art studio; curiously, though, amongst them was an orderly line of labelled audiocassettes and a paint-splattered cassette player. Jo needs music to paint to. Cassettes have an eminently practical superiority over CDs to a painter, apparently – you can’t smudge an audiocassette ribbon as easily as paint-covered fingers can a CD. Would her auditory mix-tape match the oil-swatches, I thought?

And so to the task – Five in 5. The afternoon Spring sun bathed the room with natural light; it soon became apparent that I needed a fill-flash softbox to balance the contrasty shadows at the back of the room from the natural-light version. Using the 14-24mm at widest angle allowed me to capture Jo in her natural environment, at home in the middle of her canvasses, comfortable in her ‘painting slippers’. This lens can have unforgiving distortion at the slightest tilt, so I was careful to keep an eye on the electronic levels in-camera. Using live-view helped me hold the camera at waist level to give a uniform perspective, plus, it also helped me interact with Jo more easily without my face being hidden from the large square block of the D800.

As I experimented with angles, close-ups, standing-by-the-canvas-‘cos-she’s-a-painter-shots, I realized that Jo needed some space. Her paintings after all are of large abstract landscapes and vistas, so boxing her in didn’t feel right. She and they needed room to breathe, so 14mm was a good choice.

Before we knew it, our time was up and a cup of tea was kindly offered downstairs. We talked about portraiture, Jo showed me a classic book of portraits and we realised together how artists and photographers have a similar mission – to tell a story through our eyes in a standing image. The methodology may be different, but the need is identical.

Which Five in 5?

It’s often quite a task to sift through the loupe viewer to select one’s chosen images; with Jo it was easy – space, swatches, ideas, music.

My key image of Jo is a wide angle shot of her standing in the middle of her art, relaxed, satisfied. This image needed to fill the width of the final image block to give her the necessary space and presence with her paintings. Using the letterbox format I think accentuates this for the viewer; the controlled edge distortion of the left framed painting adds to this dimension.

The second is a key portrait of Jo’s face – showing how the natural light bathes the room, but deliberately in the background an anchor point of where it all starts – the bokeh’d ideas board.

For the remaining images I chose 2 images of the oil swatches; the first because I just liked the composition of the 2 round lids together; the second as it signified the journey from the table of swirls up and into the canvas painting.

The final image was of course the symbolic, audiocassette soldiers at attention, Jo’s indestructible muse.

Five in 5 – thank you Jo.