Fil's interview with Voyage Houston

I had the opportunity to describe my work to Voyage Houston, and the article was published today.

I used it as an excuse to show off some of my vintage camera collection, get the story out that I take epic city-scapes as well as portraits, and self-indulgently feed my own ego. It has not been fed in a while.

Voyage seem to be exhaustively cataloging all of Houston’s artists and entrepreneurs. Even though their almost un-edited style can make for a difficult read sometimes, it is nice to have a site full of local creatives sharing their stories.

Thanks for reading!

A first look at Biccari

The Road to Biccari

When it comes to travel photography, the first day at a location can be overwhelming. It takes time to dig beneath the postcard pictures and cliches to reveal a unique perspective through the camera. I think the best images come with an extended stay or repeat visits. 

This summer I planned a brief trip to Italy to see the sights of Rome and drive to spend a day in my dad's hometown of Biccari, near the city of Foggia. It is a nested hill-town in Puglia surrounded by open fields and ruins of ancient fortifications. 

Unwisely, due to the time restraints of the trip, my wife and I only spent one day there. It was brief, but we were blessed by a series of wonderful events. I carried some photographs of my dad from when he was a boy to help locate one of the houses he grew up in. In my other had was a Leica M3 loaded with HP5 so I could add new memories to the collection.

Halfway down the first street we explored, we stumbled into what looked like the house in the picture. Formerly a dwelling and blacksmith's shop, the building is now a butcher's run by Onofrio Moccia with his wife.

The Moccias made us feel at home. Onofrio took us under his wing to show us around town and find the locations I had only seen in the photographs I was holding. A war memorial, the cathedral in the center of the town, the convent and cemetery on the hill, the lake in the forest beyond the town.

We met people who knew my dad's family and told stories about my grandparents who I'd never met because they died before I was born. While we had coffee in a shop, every person who dropped in spent time looking at the old images and were able to recall memories of the people and places they saw.

So this brings me back to the photographs I took. Overwhelmed by a new place and the excitement of sharing stories with new people, the new photographs barely scratch the surface of how beautiful the town is, or give a sense of the emotions of the visit. I'm eager to return and soak up the character of Biccari. One day isn't enough, even for a picturesque small town. 


Revisiting old photographs for Instagram

As a recent Instagram convert, I quickly realized I needed more photographs to post than just those in my portfolio. In fact, there aren't enough second-tier photos to post an image every other day for a sustained period. 

This gave me two thoughts:

  1. I need to take more photos!
  2. I need to go through my archive and find some forgotten gems.

I wrote recently about giving new life to old photographs through editing. With my start on Instagram, I made a point of really digging even deeper though my archive and finding photos that were at least half-way to good and have the potential to be better.

How I prepare images for Instagram

  • Interesting images get marked with a red colour flag in Lightroom.
  • The selected images are cropped to a square format.
  • I play with the crop to get the most interesting composition, especially in photos that were originally taken without the intent for publishing.
  • All of my older work is in colour and digital, so I decide if a black and white conversion is beneficial.
  • I use a Lightroom export preset that reduces my images to 1000 pixels along their length, and save them to a dedicated Instagram folder.
  • The folder gets sync'd to my iPhone so I can post the images away from my computer.
  • Used images get moved to an 'Instagram_used' folder.

This gave me a little buffer of images I can use for now, but it is clear I need to get out and shoot more on a daily basis. 

The best picture in my world

Group of men in Biccari Italy in the 1960s

There is a picture in my shoe box of prints of my dad from when he was a lad. He is with a bunch of friends on a street somewhere in Italy. It might be in Biccari, where he grew up, but its possibly somewhere else because you are more likely to take pictures on vacation. Looks like they are getting ready for a wedding. 

The photographer was either scrambling for an acceptable exposure, or a creative genius - the men are a bit under exposed and the street and sky are completely blown out. You can barely make out the buildings they are standing next to because they are so bright. Perhaps the contrast was also a function of the printing process. 

I completely love everything about this picture. I'll be trying to replicate the style of this picture in a future portrait. 

New York on black and white film

There must be a million photos taken in New York city every day, but there seems to always be room for more. I spent a weekend walking around Manhattan with a Pen FT and a Stereo Realist loaded with Ilford HP5. I think that, when taking photos in a new city, it is nice to warm up by taking the famous and perhaps cliched shots you've seen before, and then dig a little deeper to get shots with your own experience dissolved in. 

The trip was centered around art and architecture. The MET had an exhibit on David Hockney who is an artist who grew up near my hometown in Yorkshire and spent most of his life in California (where I spent some of my favorite years, too). He manages to capture the vibrancy of California in his paintings, and his double portraits are full of the metaphor and symbolism you'd expect from a renaissance master. 

The buildings of New York, new and old, are engraved in our brains whether we have visited the city or not. One of the newer constructions is the Oculus - a subway hub that seems, to me, to invoke both life and death. Depending on your perspective or even mood, it may look like a rising phoenix or the white-washed rib cage of a giant being. It was the surprise highlight of my trip. 

I made sure to point my camera at some of the more cliched sites, too - the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo, some subway stations, the high line, street portraits of some guys smoking pipes. But you have seen all those before. I can't wait to be there again.