MUSIC AND LIGHT
The Sheffield Lens has been a long time coming, and so I'm delighted to finally present a collection of photographic expeditions, assignments, and graphics projects into a single space.
Photography is endlessly fascinating to me - just as much as music, in fact. The roots of this date back to 1984 or thereabouts, when my father bought me a relatively inexpensive but effective Zenit SLR camera and a tripod. I began to read a couple of primer books on photography. One - the St Michael 1,000 Photography Hints by Barry Monk - was a Christmas present from a friend's parents; I still have it, and it's still useful.
By now, the analogue SLR photography of the 1980s inevitably seems primitive, but it was actually a great platform from which to learn the basics. Perhaps the starkest contrast with today's digital world is the fact that between pressing the shutter button and actually seeing the results, there were weeks of patient anticipation.
Next to the instant trial-and-error learning that is now possible with a digital camera, patience indeed seems to have been a major part of the lesson offered.
After graduating in the early 1990s, life strongly led me into music, and my Zenit rather sadly lived in the attic in its leather case during those years, never quite forgotten.
By the late 1990s, whilst releasing electronica records with a band called Mindfeel, I became curious about graphics software. With a basic version of Photoshop, I began to find my way around this new digital landscape. The aim at that time was to be able to produce graphics for CD releases, partly for reasons of creative control, but also to save on production costs, as we were managing our own record label. A basic EP design back then might cost £600 or more if outsourced.
Meanwhile in 1999 - before a holiday in Ireland, and perhaps for reasons of nostalgia - I dug out my old Zenit SLR. Impressed to find it still working perfectly after years of incarceration, I packed a few rolls of black and white 35mm film. Once in Ireland, and with beautiful summer weather and interesting, unfamiliar landscapes, that same feeling of excitement for photography returned.
Arriving back in the UK, I had the monochrome films developed without delay. One of the images - of glass insulators at the top of electrical pylons - caught my eye. I scanned the photograph with a basic desktop device, and then manipulated it into a CD design. Looking at it now, it is a little primitive, but it was a pivotal moment: the connection had been made between holding a camera somewhere in the real world, the abstraction of the result, and then seeing a CD with photography-based graphics come to fruition. Eureka !
Around the time of new millennium, I made the leap over to digital photography; at this point still very much in its infancy. With a 10 megapixel camera seeming impressively hi-res, and on a tight budget, I started with a compact but flexible digital camera with a zoom facility. It was interesting for a while, but I somehow preferred the look and feel I could get from my trusty old Zenit.
Before long I found the budget to upgrade to a "bridge" camera: a Leica V-Lux. The lens was substantially better, and at that point I knew I had a system where the difference between good and so-so results lay with the workman, not the tools. That's the definition of a learning curve.
From 2003, music took over once again: I was busy building my own recording studio facility, specialising in piano-based recordings, and then busier still using it. When not recording other artists, I composed and recorded film music.
Fast forward a decade to 2013. Having seen the music industry change almost beyond recognition, it was an obvious choice to adapt and amass everything I knew about audio production and photography to the new multimedia world, and to learn to make music videos. It's a complex subject; suffice to say that a musician offering interesting video with nice audio quickly gained an advantage over someone with just a well-produced CD, let alone someone with camcorder-quality video and audio.
In a rather hot-headed move, I bought three identical Sony DSLRs capable of HD recording, and had a friend over to teach me the basics of Adobe Premiere. That in itself is another journey, and currently accounts for just under half my professional work.
What slightly shocked me at that time was just how good these £300 Sony DSLRs were as cameras. Digital photography - much like digital audio - had come a long way, as had the supporting graphics programs that sought to bring some "analogue vibe" into the digital domain. I'm talking about programs like Alien Skin's Exposure, Google's Nik collection, and Adobe's Lightroom. To some analogue purists, no software will ever satisfy. I understand and respect that, but I am not so much purist as pragmatist in such matters. Actually I love digital processes and get a real buzz from working in this flexible way.
In 2017, having made just under a hundred music videos, it was time to upgrade cameras. Sony A7 was the choice. Being mirrorless, they adapt vintage lenses easily, and that is where I am at: a mixture of vintage and modern prime lenses where everything is manual. Digital technology has transformed the camera body, but there is something about those old lenses I cherish.
What I also have grown to appreciate over the years is the great outdoors. It's not only a great place to take your camera, but also a fabulous escape from the studio environment.
Here's to making more good music, and to finding interesting light, wherever it may be.
James Bacon, February 20th, 2018.