Monday, 19 January 2015

When in (Camera) phone....

When I first started studying photography, mobile phone technology was still relatively primitive. Digital photography was still in its infancy (I learnt on a second hand 35mm film Nikon and dark room processing). Digital cameras were the golden grail of its time, the extra legroom supplement of technology - expensive but you didn't really get that much more for your money.

To think of our lives without digital photography, or indeed, smart phones, is akin to imagining us existing without air.  Digital imaging and mobile technology has become an integral part of how we live - a repercussion of the internet emerging as the centre of modern life.

Smart phones, or rather, camera phones have changed photography as a medium. It has changed the way we take photographs, obviously, but it has changed the way we share our images, the way the media use and publish images, and perhaps most interestingly, the way we even experience our lives.

The first camera phone I ever owned was so poor in quality, it hardly seemed worth taking a picture. The camera phone seemed like a gimmick - a very grainy and small sized pixelated white elephant. The speed in which the technology advanced and progressed was rapid, and moved from flimsy rather anaemic imaging, to serious megapixel business. 

The evolution of the iphone and subsequent smart phones revolutionised mobile technology, and the camera phone was part of this. Suddenly pictures were better quality.  Suddenly these better quality images could be shared via messaging, emails, and uploaded onto the internet quickly and with ease. Suddenly people were carrying cameras on them - at all times. 

I was used to lugging my camera around with me at all times. When I could finally afford my first DSLR, I used to drag the heavy lump around with me all and every day - too scared that I would miss a photo opportunity on my walks to and form work, or out shopping or rambling around. The pain in which I would feel if I saw an abandoned sock, a funny graffitied sign, or any other such random urban decayed bit of delicious weird beauty, and I did NOT have my camera was akin to a form of guilt ridden grief. 
These snippets of random life I stumbled upon were snapshots of seconds that might never be repeated - it was my duty to capture them. If I didn't have my camera, these could be lost forever. But it wasn't doing my shoulders much good, and even I couldn't carry it everywhere.

Suddenly I had a camera on my phone; but a camera that could actually take proper photos. Now I literally had an nonintrusive camera on me always that wouldn't break my back. I now had one lying on the sofa or sat in a doctors waiting room, or stood in the queue at Sainsburys (not that I would use it but still). If I had taken a lot of photographs before, I now developed what I like to call photography tourette's. My image output exploded. It meant I was able to take more random images, in more parts of my life - and this was being repeated for all of us, not just the photography obsessed like myself. 

Camera phones have enabled us to share images instantly, across the internet, across the world in increased levels never seen before. Media publications and broadcasting even display or use images captured on phones in reports on world events. Everyone becomes a reporter, everyone becomes a photographer. 

This all has, in my opinion, helped to change the photographic medium and altered its role in our own existence. Photography is as big as part of our lives than ever before - the ease and accessibility of the camera to us all has resulted in us living our lives more through the lens than actually in it. Such is our obsession with capturing these moments, we become too preoccupied with the process rather than thing itself. It is like being so intent and absorbed with photographing a sunset, we have no recollection of the colours on the real life canvas in front of us itself. Or spending so much time and effort trying to photograph your baby niece's 2nd birthday party, you suddenly realise you were so cut off from the event you may as well have not been there. 

You are behind the lens. You are behind the camera. You are not 'in' the moment. Nothing is more evident with this than the phenomenon of the 'selfie'. I am guilty of this just as much as anyone. Many times I have scolded myself at taking a selfie when I should be watching the sporting match, or concert, or listening to mother (I jest, but the point is there). 

The selfie seems an odd contradiction of purpose. It essentially is inherently a disconnection to the world, and yet you are carrying out something which is attempting to do the very opposite - connect and share an image that shows you being part of something. Look at me! I'm doing this! Although actually you're also not really.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that camera phones are exciting and wonderful things. But we do, and I do especially, need to remember they can also hinder how we engage with things, with moments, with people. Enjoy taking your photos, enjoy sharing them with your family and friends - because this is precisely what it is for. But do not forget to saviour those special moments with your own eyes - let those landscapes seep into your pores and give you a good cleanse; rather than juggling with filters or retaking the shot because your face looks fat. Like the old adage says - everything in moderation. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Happy new

New year. New outlook.

Usually new(ish) reflections; reviewing the past 12 months can be cathartic, it can also be for some of us painful.

At new year, I always feel reflective, its the very nature of the time - the dark evenings and harsh weather turn me into something of a clam shell. I want to hibernate and ponder; I feel myself morph into something I don't always recognise.

It's also a time when I see so many people pour scorn on the year that has just passed. A quick glance across social media sites result in a textual cornucopia of  similar statements: 'good riddance to this year!', and 'this has been a terrible year, can't wait for the new one' etc. etc.
My immediate response always seems in agreement: "How true! X year has been appalling, let it die a nasty horrible death and bring on the great hope of placebo new year!"

I suddenly stopped myself. Why did I think 2014 had been particularly bad? What evidence was there to support this? I decided to investigate the previous 12 months with my analytical Columbo hat on before I got carried away in cries of doom, and list everything that had happened to me; where I had been, where I had gone, how much I had grown, how much I had regressed. If 2014 had been so terrible, I would easily be able to deduce this from the list of memory suspects.

2014 saw me visit many new places, new countries even, I had never been to before. Edinburgh, Oxford, Fuerteventura, Budapest - the latter surviving Ryan Air (it really wasn't that bad and because of this I was almost disappointed - I had braced myself for an onslaught of apocalyptic awfulness and subsequently was dismayed...that essentially I had nothing to tweet about). I enjoyed all these trips immensely.

The wonderful Spas of Budapest

The year saw me returning to France; this time for a week skiing in Val D'isere - it was simply stunning; I met new friends, breathed in crystal blue skies of wonder and sampled the beautiful snowy mountains that made me feel alive.

Beautiful Val D'isere

I climbed Snowdon for the first time, picking the worst weekend weather in March to do it; terrible snow, ice and general weather conditions made the climb hugely challenging. On the way up, many experienced climbers were returning having failed to make the summit.

It was simply one of the best days of my life. We sampled snow, rain, hail, wind, sun, thunder and lightning; scrambling up rocks in the freezing temperatures. I had to crawl to the summit on hands and knees because the wind was so strong - I could barely physically stand. It was both awful and utterly wonderful in a way only climbing can be. We saw nothing at the top, nothing but mist and snow. It was treacherous but I was bewitched.  I fell in love with Snowdon that day and I vowed to return.


In 2014, I became an aunt again. A whole new life, a blank new canvas that was introduced into mine.

As the year progressed I climbed more mountains; Pen Y Fan, Abergavenny three peaks (the latter for the first times); I grew hungry for more hikes and insatiable for mountains. I loved being outside, I loved the views, I loved the changeable weather and moods and landscapes. I swam in the sea. I took photos of Puffins on Skomer Island. I climbed Pen Y Fan at sunset - again something I had never done before.

The fabulous Black Mountains of Brecon

As the summer approached, I went on a yoga retreat weekend - again, learning all new things and meeting new people. I learnt the importance of space - distance away from (ironically) technology in particular.

2014 seemed awash with exploits, as if someone was continuously dipping me into an ocean of adventures:

I went on a zipwire down a disused quarry in North wales.

The North Wales zipwire

I ran a 13 mile PB in one hour 30.

I flew a plane - achieving finally a lifelong dream.

Flying the plane over Cardiff - full album here

I saw Kate Bush play live - something I never once EVER believed would ever happen. And it was one of the best nights of my life.

I made many new wonderful friends, and enjoyed special times with my old ones - day trips to Bath; a weekend in London, national trust visits, and numerous tea sampling. We took photos at the disused underground station at Aldwych; explored a derelict building on an urban explore in South wales, and the abandoned ghost village of Imber. I had a wonderful day as I took part in a charity 10 mile walk across Barry with Derek the Weather raising money for Velindre. I saw my own photographs published in my Dad's wonderful book (ok, I am biased, but we were all incredibly proud) - Call Them To Remembrance, on the 13 Welsh internationals that died during the First World War. I took part in the Software Testing World Cup. My photos were part of a worldwide Flickr film.

The disused Aldwych Underground

The abandoned ghost village of Imber

How could this possibly be a bad year?

Disaster. I got injured. A running injury - a stress fracture.

To all those who do not understand - running is everything to me. Running is my rock. Running can be, and has been, often the only reason I have gotten out of bed.

The injury began to destroy me. It was by far, the darkest weeks of the year. It shrouded my existence, and plunged me into deep melancholy. Physically it was difficult - suddenly I felt marooned, unable to drive, on crutches, unable to run, unable to explore, unable to even make my own cups of tea. Mentally it was a catastrophe, and I imploded. To others, this may seem ridiculous, and as melodramatic as it sounds I genuinely felt as if I would never run properly again. Everything hurt, everything felt so very wrong. Painkillers didn't work. I didn't sleep for weeks. I could never feel comfortable. I was always in pain. All I could think about was injuries. I lost enthusiasm to be alive.

In my eagerness to return, I started running too soon - determined to run the Cardiff 10k I finished the race in agony...and in the St John's Ambulance first aid section. A further 4 weeks out, returns to hospital hell and despair. But I managed to get through it, and in November, I ran my 13 mile PB and on Christmas day ran 15 miles. If that was not the main positive of the 12 months after such injury setback, I don't know what is - proof that we get hit, but we can come back stronger.

2014 has been quite a year for me in many ways. It is a curious way that our minds will focus on the negative and let this shadow an overwhelming majority of positives. When a government wins a landslide general election, they don't concede defeat just because they lose one seat.

The puffins on Skomer island

My evidence proved I had had a really fun year, full of many new achievements. So why did I feel so strange, so existential?

As the autumn crept along and winter arrived, and despite my various injuries recovering I felt increasingly dispondent. Perhaps the short days and cold weather engulfed my mood, draping it in a cling film of depression. And because of this I have felt 2014 ended with much of a damp squib.

What this exercise proved, was that like most years of previous, 2014 had been a mixture of good and bad; and mostly good. What it also proved was that I knew what areas I was happy with and what areas I was not. By identifying these, I know where and what I need to develop, to modify, to morph. I yearn more creative outlets, a ravenous hunger to write more (something I promised to nourish myself with in 2014, and ultimately failed). I have grown wary of the familiar, and pig-headedly blind to it's merits -and now need to remedy this.


2015 will see change. I can predict that the next 12 months will be a mixture of good and bad, just like all the others - the key is to focus on the good. I will go to new places and enjoy new adventures. I will travel to Japan and achieve my dream. I will run more miles. I will climb more mountains. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will find new obsessions. I will meet new people. I will say goodbye to others.

But there will be change, of which, some may be quite mammoth. Even if this means a reinvention, a reincarnation of that old familiar, or system upgrade of the very self. For change is what keeps us alive, keeps us on our toes, and what encourages the very blood to travel through our veins.

See all the photos of my good bad year.