From Five to Nine by Philip Parsons

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Wading through the rain soaked undergrowth, deeper and deeper into a gloomy, mist shrouded forest. Driving for miles along winding country lanes, the tarmac shimmering with moisture and patches of fallen leaves. Clambering through a dilapidated building, the cobwebs dancing in the breeze. Wandering city streets as the last of the amber sunlight bleeds across the rooftops. Climbing the slopes of a mountain into the belly of the clouds.

Each time we explore, we witness the world in a different way.  We have the opportunity to gain a new perspective and re-evaluate.

Photography gives us the opportunity to capture fleeting glimpses of these experiences. Personally, I particularly love mobile photography because I always have my equipment on me and am sometimes able to capture these moments. The pursuit of that unique photograph drives me, but serendipitously, it is often the search that inspires me. So, when VSCO approached me to see if I would be interested in working with The North Face on a hiking and camping expedition, I was both interested and apprehensive. I am extremely critical of my own work and am slow to display it until I am happy with each piece.  There would be no escape from the fact that this assignment would require me to produce photos of a quality I would be willing to exhibit, irrespective of the weather, lighting or the natural restrictions of shooting with a mobile phone.

I discovered that it was possible to bring along a friend, so I invited a work colleague who I knew enjoyed camping and hiking to join me. We left work slightly earlier than normal and arrived at The North Face Cardiff store just before 5pm. We signed in and went upstairs to find the hiking bags packed and ready. All that was needed from us was to transfer our own belongings to the rucksacks. Food had been provided too. The staff introduced themselves and we met The North Face athlete, Siebe Vanhee, a rock climber who would be camping with us. A bus took us to the foot of the mountain, where we met three guides who would lead us up the mountain path and on to the campsite. Situated in the Brecon Beacons, approximately thirty miles north of Cardiff, Pen Y Fan is the highest mountain in South Wales. It is owned by the National Trust and its peak is 886m above sea level.

The guides took us up the 'Granny Path' with plenty of stops along the way. Our party ranged from regular Sir-Edmund-Hillary's to complete novices (a group which included me). However, it wasn't long before we reached the top.  

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After reaching the peak, we made our way down a slightly more difficult route and on to the campsite. When we arrived a campfire was already alight and we set about pitching our tents.

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Sleeping in a tent isn't something I've done for a number of decades. I don't own a tent and it wouldn't be my first choice for a place to spend the night. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to the experience and thankfully someone noticed me making a mess attempting to pitch the tent and came over to give me some pointers. The kit provided by The North Face included a tent, a sleeping bag, pillow and a self inflating, roll up air bed. It's fair to say that the technology behind all the kit had moved forward significantly since I last even considered sleeping outdoors.

We sat around the fire enjoying a few beers and our packed dinner. Siebe entertained us with stories from his climbing expeditions. Afterwards we all went back to our tents to attempt to sleep, some more successfully than others.

At 5am we awoke, ate our breakfast, packed away our equipment and walked a few miles back to the coach.

The entire event had been exceptionally well organised and executed. If there is another one next year, would I attend? Undoubtedly. Would I encourage other people to join in? Definitely.  

As an experience, this has been a good one. I saw the world differently and hopefully got a few good photographs too.

Then it was back to work.

An Interview with Rob Pearson-Wright winner of the 2014 Terry O'Neill Photography Award Mobile Device Category by Philip Parsons

Terry O'Neill is an English fashion, style and celebrity photographer well known for a career filled with iconic works spanning from the 1960’s to the present day.  In 2011, he received The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary medal “in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography”.  In 1995, he set up the Terry O'Neill Photography Award to showcase up and coming talent. 

This year’s winner of Terry O’Neill Mobile Device Award is Rob Pearson-Wright.

Firstly, let's find out about the man behind the mobile. Rob, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in London, England. I work in my family’s architectural ironmongery firm as the office manager, but like any small business I muck in with various different aspects of the business. Once upon a time, I was married but that ended fairly badly and fortunately I didn’t have any kids to worry about. I officially got divorced on my birthday in 2013. Best birthday present ever! Anyway, now life is pretty good, I have a girlfriend, lots of new friends and loads of hobbies and interests that I’m passionate about.

What about your artistic background? Have you had any formal training?

I’ve been creative one way or another for as long as I can remember. I’ve always sketched, doodled and drawn cartoons. I’ve learnt to play various musical instruments, been in a couple of bands and produced four albums worth of tunes of my own. I’ve had no formal training apart from art or music lessons at school and that’s a while back now.

What about photography?  

I have no formal training in photography either. Two short courses specifically about iPhoneography are the extent of my training. My first memories of photography probably go back to a Polaroid that my parents had. I remember posing for shots they would take of me by myself or with various visiting relatives. Sometimes I’d get to play with it but I’m sure nothing more exciting than a blurry picture of my cat was the outcome.

Business Creche

Business Creche

What are your early memories of photography?

At college I borrowed my brother’s Canon A1 and enjoyed taking shots and sending the film off to get developed. However, he soon wanted it back and I went back to taking pictures on little disposable cameras when I needed to.

What was your first camera?

My first real camera was a little point and shoot Pentax digital camera. It shot 5MP and did the job reasonable well. I had no real expectations of it beyond taking snapshots and pictures whilst on holiday.

So when did you make the transition to mobile photography?

December 2010.

Why?  What initially sparked your interest?

I had wanted an iPhone for a while and couldn’t quite justify shelling out for one until it could replace my camera, phone and iPod. When Apple released the iPhone 4 I took the plunge albeit a few months later. I had read about the Hipstamatic app and was intrigued by the different combos of lenses and films. I quickly got gripped by it and would eagerly wait for new Paks to appear. It became my go-to camera for everything, but it wasn’t until June of 2012 that my interest in mobile photography properly peaked. When I started the first class of the iPhoneography course things opened up and the touch paper was lit beneath me.

Eskimo Kiss

Eskimo Kiss

What drives you to keep taking photographs?  

I don’t want to miss out on the next ‘decisive’ moment to capture, the next interesting character to cross my path or let the next scene of beauty slip away without documenting it. I guess I’m chasing that elusive great shot. It could be my next one or thousands of shots down the line. Besides that, I love the process of taking photos, editing them and sharing them. I’m curious to know what people think of them and in turn what they think about me as a reflection of the images. Essentially I’m documenting life as it goes on around me. I shoot because I want to and maybe a little bit because I need to. I feel compelled to for no other reason than I want to really.

What do you shoot with?

I started out with an iPhone 4 and shot with that for nearly 3 years. Now I shoot with an iPhone 5S. Personally I feel that the iPhone 4 served me better than my current model. I could just point and shoot with the 4 and nail a shot. The 5S seems to be more of a pig. I always have to tap and focus to get a vaguely non-blurry image. Maybe it’s just my iPhone but I’ve heard the same from other people I’ve connected with on the web. I can’t wait until my contract rolls over to upgrade to a 6 or whatever follows.

Tell us what winning the Mobile Device Terry O’Neill Award means to you.

Winning the Terry O’Neill award meant that the images I shot and chose to be a series were put in front of a panel of respected professionals and deemed worthy enough to sit amongst images made by professional photojournalists. That alone has been extremely encouraging to me. The quality of the shortlisted images for the award was immense and I had to kick myself that I was among those considered. It has made me want to continue to learn and improve my imagery to get to the standard of those considered in the main category of the awards.

Every little helps

Every little helps

Do you shoot with any other cameras?

Once I’d gotten the bug for taking pictures through mobile photography, I thought that I should get a ‘big’ camera and see if I could emulate my passion for mobile photography in that different arena. I got myself a good deal on a Canon 7D, a couple of good lenses and set about learning to take shots with a ‘real’ camera. It certainly is a different kettle of fish and it’s a steeper learning curve than mobile photography, but I feel that I’m getting to grips with it. Using the 7D for street photography is massively different than using my iPhone. It’s very intrusive and noisy in comparison. You can disguise your intentions and really blend into the crowd with an iPhone but not so much with a big DSLR. Essentially you’re shoving a lens in someone’s face and alerting them with a big ‘clack’ that you are taking their photograph. I’m seriously looking at a mirrorless system like the Fujifilm X series as an alternative to the Canon. You can be ninja quiet and the quality of images I’ve seen from it has been outstanding.

How you do you shoot your work?  Do you feel this is something impulsive or is the element of planning?

Any time that I am out and about is an opportunity to shoot. My eyes are constantly scanning the area for interesting characters or situations. I find that I’m able to gauge things to the point where I can anticipate a certain outcome or capture a particular reaction. I like to be more reactive when shooting and not plan too much. I enjoy the spontaneity of street photography and the thrill of catching a moment that might go unnoticed. As I predominantly take candid shots, I get worried that if I work an area for too long, people will notice me more and that I’ll lose an edge. The only planning I’ll do is which location I might go to. Consistent or predictable weather or lighting conditions isn’t something that London does well unless you like greyness. Finding nice hard light for shadows and silhouettes is a random affair at best, which is why I tend to concentrate on people rather than environment.

Her voice echoed in his mind

Her voice echoed in his mind

When you are selecting your work, what do you look for?  Are there certain elements that you feel turn a mediocre photograph into a great photograph?

I’m looking for some emotional response to an image and the sense of a story behind it. Joy, sadness, humour or something completely mundane, it doesn’t really matter as long as it captures the human experience. If I think that a picture has a strong narrative to it from an expression, a reaction to something or a feeling, I’m much more likely to select it. If you can capture a sense of drama or tension to further the storytelling behind an image, then I believe that can elevate a photograph’s status above mediocrity. I love how some shots can really capture a mood or evoke a feeling where you can almost ‘smell’ the streets.

When you look at other people's work, what excites you?  Are there forms of mobile photography that you wish you could incorporate into your work?

I’m excited by how others view the world around them and what they chose to shoot. It gives me an insight into their personalities and allows me to be a virtual tourist wherever they’ve been shooting. I’m also excited by the imagination and editing skills of many in the mobile photography community. How they choose to edit something and the directions they take to turn a photo into something more artistic through blending and collaging is fantastic and is something I’d like to make more time to do.

Communication

Communication

Who inspires you?

Matt Stuart, Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand, Robert Capa, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Joel Meyerowitz, Vladimir ‘Boogie’ Milivojevich, Vivian Maier and Helen Levitt to name but a few.

Lastly, can you list the places your work can be found on the Internet?

Website

Flickr

EyeEm

Instagram

Facebook

The Masked Mariachi

The Masked Mariachi

Is there anything else you feel we should know about you?

Last year I won ‘Best in Show’ for the second year in a row in the ‘Grunge’ category at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition Autumn show and another ‘Best in Show’ for the ‘Apptastic’ category. The other day, I found out that I am a finalist in the mobile category of the Smithsonian’s annual photography awards. Fingers crossed! In the last three years I‘ve been lucky enough to be part of many exhibitions around the world and hope that continues. Apart from that people should know that I have an unhealthy obsession with gyoza (delicious Japanese dumplings), I hate fish and I love Ultimate Frisbee. If you want to buy me a drink, a Guinness would be lovely thank you.

The Royal Wave

The Royal Wave

Mobile Masters 2014 interview by Philip Parsons

Earlier this year I had the privilege of being part of the Mobile Masters 2014 ebook.  Unfortunately, the interview that I had been asked to prepare wasn't used in the final release and so I have decided to publish it in full, here.

What are your top 3-5 favourite apps and why do you like them? 

My favourite apps change as they evolve, but there are a few that I have consistently used.

One app that I commonly begin processing with is VSCO Cam.  I am told that VSCO are well known for their digital emulation of analogue film and it seems to me that knowledge has been successfully ported over to their mobile app.  The ‘presets’ give a great base for the tones I like to achieve in my final edits.  The adjustments are fairly crude, but generally I use VSCO as my starting point.

At one time Snapseed was my initial go to app, but I use it less frequently these days.  I still use the ‘selective adjust’ feature however, as this is an incredibly simple method of making brightness, contrast and saturation adjustments in small selected areas of a photo.  It is a really great app for someone starting out in mobile photography because of its versatility and its logical interface.

Photoshop Touch is my next choice.  I have had no experience with the desktop version of Photoshop because I’m not a digital SLR user, but as I have started to experiment with PS Touch it’s an app that I’ve really grown to like.  For me, it is the selection tools in PS Touch that really stand out.  I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about this app.  There are also a lot of useful online resources for this app.

Handy Photo is an example of an app that has evolved into something really useful.  Previously I used TouchRetouch to edit out details from a shot that distracted or ruined the composition of a photograph.  TouchRetouch has been amalgamated into Handy Photo along with a few other very useful features.

Finally, I’ll mention two apps together because I use them in conjunction for a specific technique.  If an image looks flat I will open it in Noir, add some lighting (making sure the contrast is fairly low) and then open the image exported from Noir and the original photo in Image Blender.  These two images combined using a luminosity blend can add some depth to the photo.

 

Brief bio - What is your educational and/or creative background? Where do you live? What do you do professionally? 

I was born and brought up in a village outside of Plymouth in the South West of England.  I moved to South Wales to study for a Masters degree in Astrophysics at Cardiff University.  I later went on to study for another Master degree in Medical Radiation Physics at Swansea University as part of the training for my current career.  I now work as a Medical Physicist in the field of Radiotherapy at a local Cancer Hospital.   I have no formal artistic qualifications or training.  As a teenager I owned a Canon A1 35mm film SLR, but I didn’t spend a significant amount of time with it due to its size and weight.  I currently live outside Port Talbot in South Wales.  I have been happily married for well over a decade and have a five year old son.

I became interested in mobile photography through Instagram.  For a while I didn’t bother downloading it and couldn’t be bothered to find out what all the fuss was about.  When I eventually did, I was hooked.  I began playing with the standard filters, but quickly changed to sepia only edits.  I was amazed at the work that people were able to produce using only a mobile phone!  After approximately a year I started a new account and began to experiment with colour.  

I am now part of the AMPt Community leadership because I believe that there is an enormous amount to learn and be inspired by in this group.  Hopefully, I may be able to pass on something useful I have learnt too!

What other mobile artists inspire you? 

@caticolux

@vivoarch

@tomlovesyou

@B_kidwell

@impalero

@kyori

@___backwords

 

What mobile photo groups, blogs or other information would you recommend readers interested in exploring mobile photography check out?

As I am on the leadership team there, I would fully recommend you join and participate at AMPt Community - http://amptcommunity.com/

I also recommend checking out the digital magazines Mobiography and FLTR.

 

What does mobile photography mean to you and the future of photography? 

I love exploring and mobile photography has taken me from my living room and out into the world again.  I love that feeling of being able to go out and not feel that I need to take anything with me except my mobile phone (and perhaps my Olloclip and Joby GorillaPod).  I have to get up close and personal with my subjects due to the lack of an optical zoom, but this just means that I need to walk and investigate!  Of course, technically, there are other limitations when comparing to a digital SLR, but to me a mobile is just a different tool - a pallet knife compared to a brush.  I believe that mobile photography is an entirely new branch of photography and it is entirely possible to produce works of as great beauty, significance and emotion as any other art form because it is the creative individual behind the tool that is the impetus not the tool itself.

The phrase that mobile photographers throw out again and again is, that ‘it’s the camera that is always on me’.  For me, that is only half the truth of why I keep shooting with a mobile phone.  It is always on me, so if I miss a great shot it is because I chose to ignore it, but I continue to shoot with a mobile precisely because of the restrictions it imposes upon me.  It allows me to concentrate on what I feel is important in a shot - composition.  

Mobile phones have put photography into the hands of people like me who have no artistic training and are looking for an outlet for their creativity.  Is it the great democratiser of photography?  Not quite yet, I don’t think.  It is possible for more and more people to access one, but camera phones are still quite expensive and there are certainly still cheaper options available out there.  However, mobile phones put photography straight into the palms of a significant number of people who previously didn’t use a camera and gives them the opportunity to be expressive and creative at moment in during their day.  Mobile photography has made it possible to open a world of hidden moments.

Editing process for the NCRI artwork shot by Philip Parsons

Final edit

Final edit

I'm going to give a run through of the editing process I used to produce the final version of a photograph I took while at the National Cancer Research Institute - in the Angel Building in London.

Fig 1.

Fig 1.

Fig 1 shows the original, unedited photo.  It was taken with PureShot on my iPhone 5S.

Initial thoughts: I liked the contrast of smooth mannequin against the textured cement background, but there were a couple of things that I was disappointed with.

The first was the digital grain - the room was fairly dark and the shot came out at ISO 320.  This showed up as a lack of edge sharpness around the figure and in the cement texture.

The second was the angle I took the shot at.  I had held the camera at near head height and angled it downwards slightly.  This resulted in the line between the cement blocks being non-vertical.  I tried to rectified this by using the app Perspective Correct, but this elongated the mannequin to much and moved the hole at the right of the shot, which I felt added some balance, out of the picture.

Fig 2

Fig 2

Fig 2 - My first step towards the final result, was to import into VSCOcam and crop square.  I applied the preset B5, but reduced the strength to +9.  I then increased the contrast to +1 and sharpness to +1.

Fig 3.

Fig 3.

Fig 3 - I opened the VSCOcam result in Snapseed and selectively adjusted the image darkening the left hand side of the image.

Fig 4.

Fig 4.

Fig 4 - Next, I imported the Snapseed result into Mextures.  Unfortunately, I did this part of the process by experimenting and can't remember exactly what I did.  There were three layers applied in various strengths, different rotations and blending modes.  I definitely used the Painterly texture.

Fig 5.

Fig 5.

Fig 5 - I imported the Mexture edit and the VSCO edit into PhotoShop Touch.  On the VSCO edit layer, I cut out the figure (see Fig 6) and used a 100% normal blend to put it back in to create the final image.

Fig 6.

Fig 6.

Welcome by Philip Parsons

Welcome to HereInMyOwnSkin.com!  It's a pleasure start my new blog with nothing particular to say except welcome! 

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