Michael Collins – Critical Reflection.

On Tuesday 7th May, Michael Collins visited in order to discuss his work an introduce us to the 5×4 camera.

– An artist, a photographer, writes about photography, painter/decorator.

– Worked for 25 years, always been interested in looking at pictures.

– “Photography is a bit like literature…” can mean so many things to so many different people.

– One photograph found in an old camera shop in Tenby, a poor photocopy of a group photo on the wall in the shop. Taken locally on coronation day, 1953. Not much of a picture, poor composition but the group portrait was a perfect present for a friend. Taken on a plate camera, Michael uses these. The owner offered to lend the glass film in order for Michael to print himself. Released when he looked at it closely it was a photograph taken 60 years ago of a load of people who had turned up together to have their image taken on a day which was special to them. All dressed up, a collection of individual portraits. Presenting themselves to the film. This is what photograph does.

– “Suspended celebration of life”.

– Looking closer at different parts of the photograph, you can see how it has registered each persons life at that time on film. “A terrific thing”.

– No matter how good a painter was, you would never capture the beauty of a photograph – this is still magical today.

– Heart of photography is family photography. Pictures of families, for families, where people recognise each other. A true engagement between the person taking the picture and the people in it. Trust, understanding.

– 1960s/70s: open hearted, genuine photographs. Not trying to prove something – doing what photography does, open the lens and take a picture of what is there.

– “Impossible not to think about these people and their lives”. Some people in the image remind him of his own family.

– “One’s interpretation of the picture” We can only make our own suggestions, we can never fully understand how they were feeling at the time the photo was taken.

– Photography is so subtle and so profound if you spend time with it and engage with it.

– People say looking a painting and looking at a photograph are completely different things. A painting, marks made by the artist. Photograph, marks made on surfaces or in spaces, marks on the world. Need to spend longer looking at a painting rather than a photograph however Michael disagrees. We can all engage in photography.

– Photography is about looking, feeling and thinking. In that order. There is no way to know how to look at something.

– “Photography is such a fantastic medium” a photograph will do many things, show you more detail than you oculd have known at the time you took the picture – so thorough, long look at a subject.

– Michael uses a plate camera to get the most possible detail.

– London. Complete mass of stone, concrete, water, steel and wood – accumulated over centuries of how we live. Can see different layouts in street development. 4ft x 5ft. Want to be able to see all the little details, as well as to step back and see the bigger picture. Notice more every time you see it – this applies in portraits too.

SW from Barbican 2009

– Loves how photography can take something and show you so much more detail than you could have ever imagined.

– Battersea power station. Access in 2006, interested in old industrial structures. Photographs were cheaper, quicker and more accurate.

– Commission to photograph in Birmingham. Looked for what interested him rather than what he wanted to photograph.

– Hockley. Habitat for some workers as they spent more time there than at home. Liked the idea of a ‘grown up’ den. Photography shows contemporary archaeology. Long exposure, no lights on. Faithful. Asking a question and patiently waiting for the full answer to come back.

Hockley Factory No.1 2005_0

– Wants pictures that aren’t sensational, more like ‘Wednesday afternoon, slightly dull’ when photographing factories.

– Rover. Shipping things off to China, heritage being taken away. Bad feeling behind car workers and Chinese shippers. Exploited labour. Taken on a step ladder, camera 12ft off the ground to remove the foreground. Like the aftermath, the traces that remain afterwards. In a place like this, it’s always ‘Wednesday afternoon’.

Rover. Powertrain, Longbridge. 2006_0

– Jaguar factory. Full of robots. Amazingly quiet. Needed a long exposure and asked to stop the production line. Came back on a Friday where all the workers were off and the machinery was not being used. “Cannot erase the handprint of mankind”. Cannot completely turn our environment into a machine, demonstrated by things such as the blue plastic bag in the left hand corner showing human presence.

Jaguar No.1 2006_2

– Potteries, Stoke-on-trent. Director’s office of Burleigh pottery. Spent ages composing the picture, looked “dull as hell”. Michael finds things that he didn’t expect are the most interesting. Loves how it is pragmatically English. Quiet. Focused on the lampshade rather than the wall, making more depth in the picture.

Burleigh Pottery (interior) 2007

– Brickworks. Everything made from local clay. Michael wants dull, flat, grey light when photographing in order to get rid of shadows and so the colours don’t look too saturated. No wind, suitable for long exposures. Shoots in winter so there are no leaves on the trees to obscure the view and green is a hard colour in photography. Often quite misty due to lakes nearby. Never made to be an item of beauty, but the colours and shades make it beautiful. Michael likes the ‘everyday’.

Brickyard triptych (left) 2008

Brickyard triptych (middle) 2008

Brickyard triptych (right) 2008

– Learnt not to go looking for pictures, but to find what fascinates him.

Having not heard of Michael Collins before, it was important to for me to take a look at his work before his talk. We were given an abstract to read before the lecture and this was really helpful in getting a flavour in how Michael felt about photography and the approaches he takes. After reading this, and looking at a few galleries on his website, I was looking forward to the lecture itself. Michael had brought along a selection of images which were really helpful in being able to relate what he was saying to something. It kept the audience engaged and each different image had an interesting story. The images had to be presented through a projector, therefore changing each slide became quite repetitive and time consuming so I think some attention could have been lost there however this interchange could not be avoided. Despite this, I really liked the method of presentation because you were able to  really see and engage in the detail which Michael was explaining. It is clear that Michael is very passionate about his work, and I found what he had to say inspiring. Michael doesn’t just aim to produce exceptional photos, but ones which you can go back to and discover so much more every time. He produces images of things he finds interesting, rather than following others making his photos unique, such as the time he photographed at Jaguar where he was offered the opportunity to photograph one of the cars but he turned this down. I really like that despite they thought he was mad to turn down such an offer, he stayed true to himself and his interests. Through this, we see he is genuine and true and everything he spoke about was real. I particularly liked his work with cityscapes, such as the one in London. He had the image printed at the original size of 4ft x 5ft in order for the viewers to see all the little details and I think this works really effectively. The image is bursting with so much detail you don’t know where to begin however rather than it being overwhelming, you can admire it as a whole image as well as being able to dive into certain areas and explore the detail closer. Something myself and I’m sure many of my colleagues took away from his lecture was how ‘photography is about looking, feeling and thinking’ in that order. Something I may not have taken into consideration before but has now made me visualise photography in a different way. I feel it’s really important to take upon what other photographers think, and Michael Collins has been particularly influential.



~ by victoriasimkissphotography on May 10, 2013.

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