Back to the Studio

Just finished unpacking from my Indian adventure when I was contacted by London-based artist and old friend Hannah Birkett, in need of some photographic copies of a few paintings for her website. What a relief to have a static subject for a change! And a chance to lose myself in the photographic subtleties of the task, rather than scrambling to capture moments of human movement and expression which once missed are never repeated. No dust, no noise, no grubby little fingers clutching at my camera...bliss.

Copy work is a modest technical challenge, but largely a matter of observation and patience. Hannah's paintings were framed and glazed, but the reflections off the glass were in fact fairly easily dealt with.

In the field I've got used to using zoom lenses, mainly because of the cost of high-end digital camera bodies. In the old days I carried a selection of lenses and used whichever was best for the job; film cameras were fairly tolerant of the fine dust which inevitably entered the camera when lenses were changed in the desert, and less costly to replace when it went bad. The same dust plays havoc with a digital image sensor, so I nowadays fit the best zoom I can afford and leave it in place for the whole trip. This also frees me of a good deal of baggage & keeps me light on my feet. What a joy it is though to use a prime, fixed focus lens in the studio; the superior sharpness and absence of image distortion are immediately apparent.

I enjoyed making friends with Hannah's paintings. As I worked I found that little by little they revealed themselves to me. Lighting paintings requires a lot of subjective judgement, as the texture of the paint picks up more or less light depending on the angle of illumination. Highlights and colours appear or disappear as you move the lamps around the work. I started to feel a glimpse of the involvement in the piece that the artist did when she created it.

The most important thing when photographing art is to return the work in one piece. It was with some relief that I dropped the last of the paintings back at Hannah's house on Sunday evening. Time to relax in the garden in the last of the weekend's glorious May sunshine with a well-earned, ice-cold beer.