The figurative ‘journey’ is a clichéd formula we fall for time and again when watching films, reading books, or listening to a speaker tell their tale of great success. But it is effective because it is universal, relatable and usually has at least a grain of truth. Life is a journey, like it or not.
Any photographer, whatever their speciality, is likely to go through phases. Cardiff street photography offered a rich learning curve for me and it’s a type of photography I still enjoy. My sub-phases of street photography and urban photography included puddle photography, gutters and low perspectives, and Cardiff car park photography.
Even if you feel you’ve reached a certain level of consistency in the quality of images you produce, photography is always a journey. There are always evolving technologies, always slightly better cameras, smarter processing software, always new ways of manipulating light and creating effects, always clever people doing things slightly differently.
There might be an argument that says: if you want to keep progressing and keep developing yourself (no pun intended, analogue fans), you have to stay hungry to learn about all these new things, as far as possible. Although it’s not a cheap business to keep on top of everything.
I was recently lured back into being a Cardiff street photographer.
A spell of gloomy weather left us without a chink of sunlight for days. It can be difficult to stop this from affecting you, your moods and inspiration, or lack of it.
There is a guilty dumbness about how easily our mental landscape can be influenced by the appearance (or not) of that big bright disc in the sky. We should not be so sensitive but we are, some of us. One evening on what felt like the 47th but was probably only the third consecutive blustery rainy grey day, I found myself in town with a little time to kill.
I forced myself to walk through sweeping wind and rain, camera in hand, to a recently reopened bridge over a railway track, a short distance from the city centre.
It had been a while since I’d tried this sort of photography and that was precisely the appeal. As a photographer there is always always this relentless urge to produce, to create something new, different and interesting to you. Rather than just churning the same sort of thing out. You can never settle and think you’re done and if you do, you are failing. Or you think you are.
Long exposure photography has grown in popularity, or so it seems from my various feeds. Done well, it can look bold, striking and stylish. It can be creatively composed and reward patience in capturing and processing. Everyone has seen those images on Victoria Bridge in London with Big Ben in the background. Iconic and stylish architecture help a lot with urban long exposures.
In Cardiff we don’t have a whole lot of this. During the recent protests against US President Donald Trump, it struck me while attempting to shoot, and while comparing images from different UK cities, that Cardiff looks a bit rubbish. At least compared to cities like London and Edinburgh. In Cardiff, under the statuesque gaze of iconic NHS founder Aneurin Bevan, where protesters assembled, the light is horrible, the buildings blocky and uninspiring. There’s not much you can do about it.
[View the Composed piece: Street Photography in Oxford]
But this bridge offered something new. It was under reconstruction for what felt like around 18 months, bottlenecking traffic even more around the city centre. Since reopening, I’d been attracted to its sleek modern wavy lines, thinking it could make a nice long exposure if mirrored with wavy headlights. This shot was semi-stabilised on a barrier amidst the blanketing rain and wind. The white is a little too glaring and a bolder sweep of red rear light would have been nice, but it’s probably my pick.
A few days later I was back on the city centre streets, this time shooting more conventional street photography in the form of the St David’s Day parade.
Having captured a number of these parades over the years, many of the faces are now familiar and it can be a challenge to get something truly unusual. Again, the architecture of the city doesn’t help. It was better when the parade reached further down into the Hayes and passed The Duke of Wellington pub, an old red brick building which has some sense of age and originality about it. A few years ago a shot from this position made it to the pages of the Independent newspaper, now sadly all online.
It now tends to stop a little earlier for the national anthem. As it was, I centred on those regular characters in traditional dress.
On my return cycle journey from the parade, (my first insanely punishing cycle in several months as the car was in the garage for its MOT), I passed through Pontcanna Fields. The changing room building here now has a set of brilliant murals featuring Welsh sportspeople.
Its effect was doubled by broad coverage of puddles in the car park and I couldn’t resist stopping to grab a few frames. I even asked one motorist, sitting in a car with the engine running, if he wouldn’t mind moving a little. He happily did, but before I could draw a camera out another car arrived in the car park and took its place. Luckily, that driver too was friendly enough, and willing to give me thirty seconds.
We go through phases with photography depending partly on what is around us to photograph, what we must photograph because we’re being paid to, and where our interest lies. Sometimes it can feel a little forced, but the rewards are there.
Over time you gain a different perspective. You wonder how you might have adopted different techniques for certain subjects, how you could have honed different skills. But streets are always there to photograph, always available for you to apply new skills, to play and to experiment.
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