The Beautiful People

**Focusing on the ‘everyday' has always been one of my most favourite meditation practices, especially in photography. In a world in which 'the sensational' makes the headlines, the everyday, the simple, clean, non-extravagant tends to be left in the shadow - but I am determined to change that, at least in my part of the world. 

With my new documentary photo project, I want to take pictures of people of all ages and physical abilities who train outdoors, run, jog, cycle, do yoga, - talk to them about their motivation for this journey, and simple document all this with as little intervention as possible.

I think it is important to see more and more that beyond the ‘perfect’ lives (and bodies) that social media promote, there are millions of beautiful people who can be even more inspiring and more authentic in many ways.

I personally feel a crisis of the real in photography - with manipulations, filters and effects distorting not just the way in which we record our realities but our entire perception of WHO WE ARE and who we want to be; a camera is always at hand but not always put to great use; and it affects us so much that we gradually get sick, in our attempts at trying to fit into the standard frames or shapes that the media bombards us with. We cannot pretend there is no connection between these pressures and the alarming increase in the number of people diagnosed with depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia etc (especially very young ones).

There are people who do not fall for this, or who have the courage to stand against it, so I want to meet them all, and see them in action, doing the right thing for themselves, despite mainstream labelling and toxicity; and, hopefully, feeling inspired.

Everybody is welcomed to become my subject, I will come and photograph you, wherever you are! 

**The first to answer my invitation was Emma, a lovely young woman with a sparkling personality and beautiful smile. We took a few pictures at Fog Lane Park in Manchester, speaking a lot about mental health, the challenges and benefits of outdoor running, and the importance of self-love.

Here is the result of our encounter! Thank you, Emma! 

“"I’m Emma and I’m 25 years old. I have a background in teaching and set to start as a Learning Support Assistant in Manchester in autumn. I have depression and anxiety and run my own organisation to help those like me – this can be with local events, 1-to-1 chats or through our online blog www.ecbcmanchester.com. "

“I started running after Christmas when I was feeling low and wanted to start exercising but hated the idea of going to a gym."

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“Running in nature has changed the way I look at exercise and has developed my confidence and helped with my depression."

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“I would recommend to anyone to try and keep fit with mental health recovery, it can seem daunting but there are local organisations that run together or you can stick with your own goals and set out a plan each week."

It was a lovely morning, and Emma’s smile was such a delight to capture on camera. 

More about Emma and her work at: https://ecbcmanchester.com

 

The Puzzle Maker

The city is a puzzle and we are its constantly moving pieces; new and old buildings compete with each other for shadows on the pavement, and we let ourselves being caught in this, forgetting to lift our eyes up - where the magic happens.  

But the sky is still out there as well as the human spirit which rides the bikes and honks the horns, and listens to loud music on the earphones - beautified and brutalised, our spirit wanders and learns, carried around by inner mechanisms we are yet to fully discover. 

We want nothing.

We follow the light.

In fact, the light follows us; we are seduced by the way in which it plays with our senses, how it invites and lingers, how it allows us to be ourselves, to shine, to squint, to move slowly, to reveal. 

We have no impatience.

The bridge, the steps, the dust, the length of the embarkment, the walls, the windows, the arcade, the bins, the statue, the metallic facade.

Large groups of school pupils visiting the Imperial War Museum, covering with their happy voices the sound of machine guns. 

Inside is not safe. Security checks. Property. 

So I bend and kneel, and let her rule the city. She is my goddess, I say, but in truth, She is the Puzzle Maker, the missing piece that helps me put everything together in the madness and beauty that the city is.

She punctuates the rapid movement of clouds and cuts up the time. 

When She is sure the fire burns between the worlds, She stands over the city, raises Her arms over it, and fills it with light. 

Look out through my eyes, look out at the things you've made. All things shining.

 

__________________________________

Model: Georgia Owen (https://teandtwosugars.blogspot.com)

Cover-up and Reveal

Does the camera influence us in representing our true emotions - or, on the contrary, is it an instrument that is able to see beyond human facades? Is it true that the more we try to hide, the more things are revealed?  

What if the subject is an actor, with experience in creating emotions, and what if he wears make-up which enhances certain expressions? Is the true self still visible despite our attempts at concealing it?

Is there a (safe) detachment between the true self and the ‘role’ we assume in front of a camera?

And, ultimately, are we actually building dreams from memory - and to what degree does that help us in understanding what is real and what is not? 

I tried to answer these questions photographically on a short project with Ben Strang, emerging actor and model, and Amy Lonsdale, experienced film and fashion make-up artist, incorporating ‘everyday' elements as much as possible in the shot, and allowing both of them to express naturally, after a short brief with an incredibly good communication between us.

In order to ‘dis-place’ ourselves from contemporaneity, I would have wanted a slightly classic, vintage, 90’s-inspired outfit (still actual though), and Ben was absolutely brilliant in finding it! Amy was truly fabulous in understanding exactly the kind of make-up I imagined, and she found the perfect way to balance it with the outfit and the model’s facial features. 

I struggled with the crazy sun, and then embraced it. The deepest shadows revealed the light.

Sony World Photography Awards 2018 - First 10 Nomination

**I’m delighted to share that I’ve been shortlisted for the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, Open Competition, among the 10 best in the “Landscape and Nature” category, with my night photo of stormy waves at Porthcawl.

 

All the shortlisted photographers will be exhibited as part of the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House in London from April 20th to May 6th, and will go on to compete to become category winners.

 

I’m really chuffed and grateful, considering that this year registered the highest ever number of entries to date and a 140% increase on 2017 Awards. :)   

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Only One Lens

After reading this article on Mastin Labs about reducing the gear to a minimum of one lens, specifically the so much loved 50 mm, I have to admit I reacted very unconvinced: I like to feel ‘covered’ for any photographic opportunity that might arise on my trips, and that is why I carry as much gear as my back can handle.

  Just wanted to ‘breathe in’ the surroundings. I think that the lack of focus on the technical aspects of the photographic process (‘Oh, what lens should I use now? Wouldn’t it be better to change to wider one?” etc.) allowed me to resonate with the autumn landscape more, and to ‘play’ with the frames, almost childishly, rather than seriously and technically construct them. 

Just wanted to ‘breathe in’ the surroundings. I think that the lack of focus on the technical aspects of the photographic process (‘Oh, what lens should I use now? Wouldn’t it be better to change to wider one?” etc.) allowed me to resonate with the autumn landscape more, and to ‘play’ with the frames, almost childishly, rather than seriously and technically construct them. 

The author of the article praised the fact that the limitation to one lens is, after all, an invitation to creativity - and this is one idea that I had to agree with. As a result, I decided to put it to test on a very dull day in which I felt not very inspired and not very well physically but, somehow, I believed it all worked just fine.

I had a walk around the Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton. There is a good footpath around the water which makes use of the Witton Weavers Way on the eastern side. It was a lovely path with waterside and woodland sections to enjoy. There are also great views of the surrounding countryside and the impressive Entwistle viaduct.

Without any ‘obvious’ attractions and with many people around enjoying the beautiful day, the whole place had a different dynamics. On the quieter paths, it seemed to be different; I walked there engulfed in stillness and beauty.

  A very short appearance of sun through the leaves and branches, projected on these lovely trees. I knew I had to frame vertically to emphasise the geometry of the path. The fact that it happened to have a human in the landscape never bothers me, on the contrary.

A very short appearance of sun through the leaves and branches, projected on these lovely trees. I knew I had to frame vertically to emphasise the geometry of the path. The fact that it happened to have a human in the landscape never bothers me, on the contrary.

The viaduct was waiting but I knew the image will not be very impressive without a bit of sun illuminating it. So I didn’t hurry, as it was a bit of a walk to reach it from the other side to take a frontal shot.

  I wouldn’t normally take a picture with so many distracting elements in the foreground. But this is autumn, the branches are empty now, and it seemed natural to try this frame for the sake of the record. Or was it perhaps the magic 50mm inviting me to ‘risk it’? :) 

I wouldn’t normally take a picture with so many distracting elements in the foreground. But this is autumn, the branches are empty now, and it seemed natural to try this frame for the sake of the record. Or was it perhaps the magic 50mm inviting me to ‘risk it’? :) 

  I think the 50mm somehow helps when the light is very dull because it inspires a particular ‘feel’ and adds interestingness .

I think the 50mm somehow helps when the light is very dull because it inspires a particular ‘feel’ and adds interestingness.

Would I give up all my other lenses and use only 50mm? No. Never.

I sometimes might find myself in a place where I have the intention to photograph the landscape (so I need a wider lens) but I also discover on the spot that I want to photograph a bird there. That is why I need a bit more coverage. 

I will continue to train in the gym to be able to carry heavy equipment on my back. As for missing moments, well, probably that’s valid for weddings and certain events: nature works with different rules, and invites to be discovered, researched, and befriended. No need to be quick or extremely efficient. Unless, of course, you’re climbing a mountain by rope or photographing birds in flight. 

Here are a few more pics from the day taken with 50mm: 

 

  Entwistle viaduct, embraced by autumn colours. 

Entwistle viaduct, embraced by autumn colours. 

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

I wouldn’t normally be the one who is the first in line to try crossing boundaries - but I think at one point things really change in people’s outlook in life, and their work practice as well - and that usually means new opportunities and experiments. 

The most common photographic fear (probably after missing focus) is raising the ISO setting on a camera, mainly because that will result in noise (chroma noise on digital cameras and grain on film). The recent improvements in camera technology make it possible now to shoot at ISO 1600, 3200 and even 6400 without an issue - with many of the newer DSLRs, micro four thirds and mirrorless cameras. But people are still afraid of it.

Don’t want to delve into the technical side of night photography; yes, a tripod would be great, yes, lights and flashes work if you know what you’re doing but, at the end of the day, I believe it is about the photo and not the technicality side of it. There will always be situations when none of those things will work. And what will you do?

I personally prefer to have the photo, even if it is grainy, rather than not having it at all. 

On my recent trip to Porthcawl (Wales), once the darkness covered everything, the tide came in bringing big, breathtaking waves: we were all surprised, people were screaming with amazement and joy. “WOW, look at that one!” It was then that I took the photo below that is probably one of the biggest waves I managed to record that weekend: 

But it soon got darker and darker.

And the fury of the sea even more uncontrollable and, in a way, beautiful. Small balls of sea foam were flying everywhere. We could hardly see what was going on, and only the bigger waves could be seen, under the lights from the shore. 

Photos were a bit messy. I knew this without checking the back screen. ‘What am I going to do with that artificial red light reflected on these waves in the foreground, close to the shore? It doesn’t look right at all!’.

But I had fun and no intention to stop.

In time, all the people who ever photographed alongside me (and even my models) have noticed my stubbornness in photographing something, continuously, obsessively, as if I want to extract the very soul out of it. I don’t praise this method: it results in massive storage and selection issues. I admire photographers who know exactly what they want, and they go for it, focused and intentional, with no time to waste on “sideways" events. 

But at the same time I love what’s going on on the ‘sideways’ or in the background. Where reactions happen. Where another layer of the story develops.

I started my photography practice with street photography - a continuously inspiring “place” where you learn how to “look” and where to find interesting things in a sea of mundane. And that habit - of looking and searching inside what is apparently uninteresting - stayed with me as well as my favourite teacher’s words: ‘Always turn around and see things from a different perspective.’  It is a bit literal but I went behind this pier. Darkness was so deep and dangerous that I didn’t even see where I put my foot, something not quite safe on that wet promenade. It was disappointing and a bit insane to shoot into the darkness at ISO 10.000 but I am glad I did it, and, today, a few weeks after that night, I cherish these pictures, and their imperfection (after completely dismissing them at first).

There is a light that never goes out, I think, and that is my obsession for this unique setting; the light of the lighthouse and the light of my camera met somewhere in the middle, and danced this crazy late evening dance.

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Of course, I agree that we should strive to reach what can be called a technical and compositional perfection, a harmonious, aesthetically pleasant presentation of reality or of our imagination.

But on the way there, in order to help ourselves develop, we shouldn’t forget about our instincts and our desire to play or discover things. 

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I love how this image functions now as a perfect memory, and nothing else, and that it is taken after everybody packed, and left home. I love the fact that it is so imperfect, and it shows limitations but at the same time, madness. My “madness", in perfect tune with the sea and the tide, and with that stoic, hypnotic red light of the lighthouse. I love how one might think it is snowing when seeing those sea foam flurries flying everywhere that messed up the focus. And I love how you can only guess the town’s lights in the distance. 

 iPhone photo, no flash, a bit of light from the promenade down onto the shore in Porthcawl

iPhone photo, no flash, a bit of light from the promenade down onto the shore in Porthcawl

Even on A4 (21 x 27 cm) noise is hardly visible, let alone at 500k Internet page pics. So why should one be afraid? Imperfection is beautiful and inspiring!

 Last shot of the night. 

Last shot of the night. 

Making mistakes or imperfect/incomplete photos show us what we can at a certain moment in time, in certain conditions, and it teaches us beautifully about what should we do if we want to improve. In any case, it’s a ‘win-win’ situation. 

Fairytale Gone Bad @Turnpike Gallery Leigh

Poet Joseph Coelho, National Poetry Day Ambassador, created magic today at The Turnpike in an enchanting performance for young and old alike, unravelling familiar fairy tales and creating fresh, ‘thrillingly grisly, darkly funny’ contemporary classics.