Ascending downward into the Urban Jungle / by Mark Brierley

Welcome all,

Back with another blog, very proud to be keeping this monthly edition continuing. As promised from last month I will be basically giving you a look into my Urban landscape presentation.

So for a bit of a back story, I was asked to be part of a Landscape Inspiration Weekend last year by the totally awesome Seng Mah from Venture Photography held at Team Digital. I was to give a talk on urban landscapes as well as a photowalk. What follows is a run down of what I spoke about. I have edited out certain bits that don’t relate or make sense in the context of reading as opposed to talking. Hope that makes sense?

Imagine a world where every photo you took was different…. Imagine a world where your images were completely original, where composition and design flowed everywhere you went... Imagine a world where there were no rules to your photography, where you could create freely without objection.

 Now imagine that was on your doorstep, that it was around every corner and everywhere you looked. It was on the way home from capturing that killer landscape. It was down the alley behind the cafe you have breakfast at.

 That my friends, is Urban Landscape Photography.

On that note it is a great honour to share with you, what I know about photography…

 So… What do I know?........

 To me… The photographer comes first.  I ask the simple question, What made you pick up that camera in the first place?  I saw the camera as a way of expressing who I was, it was a way of showing the world how I perceived it. I didn’t care as to how the images turned out. Everything was new and exciting

 To break down a photograph is simple, An Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. No matter what camera you have it all comes down to these basic settings. I stumbled in the dark for a few months and then it clicked, my aha moment. Now what I saw in these settings were visions. Each photograph was personal, a snapshot in time of how I was feeling and in return the images started speaking to me. Maybe not straight away but over time an image I had captured a year ago would explain how I was feeling emotionally at that point. 

 I  began to see the world differently, I could no longer observe the world without thinking how how I would capture it, I constantly see things with camera settings and compositions, I see light in a whole different way, I see LIFE!!! In a different way. I devoted every waking hour (and still do) to photography. It became my religion. The Camera shop, my church. The great Photographers, my saints and their images sang to me like hymns.

 What made it so appealing is that I could do it all myself, I could take the photo, I could process the image, I could print it, I could put my work out there by myself. I could promote my art, I could put on an exhibition. I could do it all and no one could tell me how to express myself.

 There was no right or wrong because it was all mine, that was the reward, that was the intention. There was no thought of a career, no Hall of Fame, the reward was that I had created this image alone. I could create images that would incite a riot, start a revolution or simply, save a man’s life.

Three years ago I was lost. I had gone through a series of events that had forced me to look at how I viewed the world. I had to be honest with myself again. I had to find my place, So I took myself away and spent 6 weeks over the course of a year in Karijini National Park, I sought solitude, I couldn't be around people, I explored the gorges, I walked through ancient rock, capturing nature’s beauty, in the down time I would write and reflect on who I was, what I wanted, I wrote about my downfalls, I wrote about some of the deepest darkest secrets in my life, there are pages that are barely decipherable because of the anger, rage and tears that overwhelmed me at the time. 

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This image shows to me a man who is hurting a bleeding, broken heart. I didn’t know that at the time but looking back now I can feel the pain that drew me to photograph this in the first place. Now I highly doubt those journals will ever see the light of day and even I’m not willing to read over them again. They served a purpose and that was to help me heal. Why? Because the photographer comes first. 

And that is when I heard the six words that changed my life for ever “Have you heard of Urban Landscapes?”

 March 2016 and here I am at the Golden Shopping Trolley Awards in this very room by the way, watching the live judging of the Top 40 images. I entered purely so I could get a ticket to the event. My images sucked trust me. To listen to Tony Hewitt and Christian Fletcher talk about the images, to see them read an image blew me away, it was the first time I had seen images critiqued by two professional artists. Something hit home with me that night and I was hooked, the next morning I went out and captured my very first Urban Landscape.

My Very first Urban Landscape

My Very first Urban Landscape

Again I saw the world differently, there were so many more opportunities to capture. I immersed myself in the study of the urban environment. Saturday morning became my day of worship, I would head out early and pick an area to explore, I had no idea what I would capture, I just let things jump out at me. It didn’t matter what I captured because it was all mine. I think this is what appeals to me the most and to paraphrase Forrest Gump’s Mum, Urban Landscapes are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get…. Sometimes I would come home after driving around for hours with nothing, other times it all just flowed like a river. As photographers I think we all know that feeling. I would pick an area like Osbourne Park and just drive slowly up and down every street, scanning the surroundings for anything. I would drive through the same area weeks later on the same roads and find new things to photograph, like how did I not notice that before, the possibilities were endless.

 Fast forward a year to March and the 2017 Golden Shopping Trolley awards. I was armed to the teeth, I was ready to fire. I had 100 plus images to choose from and I ended up entering 12 with the hope of one making the top 40. Never in my wildest dreams did I think 8 would make the Top 40, I went on to have 4 in the top 15, I won the Minimalist Category and was named the Overall winner.

Overall Winner Golden Shopping Trolley Awards 2017

Overall Winner Golden Shopping Trolley Awards 2017

Are you kidding me? 

So with Urban Landscapes, I was converted, I was no longer one of them, I was one of us. This was the first day of the rest of my life. 

  This opened the door to other possibilities, Architectural photography became an interest, I kept entering awards, I was named runner up for Capture Magazines 2017 Top emerging architectual photographer of the year, I won the Urban Category of the Focus Awards 2017. 2018 and I won the Architectural Emerging category for capture magazine and now here I stand two and a half years after that little spark fanned into a flame talking about my journey, with my own exhibition on the walls of the very place that started it all. 

 I had found my voice…….

So what other  advice can I give to you?

 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s when you figure out who you are, you look at what you captured and you’re like… don’t like that, I’m never gonna do that again. But this I really like and move on with that. So don’t be afraid.

 A lot of people are hesitant when it comes the creating something because they want perfection straight away and that’s not the way art works. I’m just as guilty as the next person and have had to train myself to learn from my mistakes. Because art is beautiful no matter what, so don’t be afraid to get it a little bit right and fail a little bit. Because then, you know what to do next time and it’ll be completely different and most importantly it will be you, It will be your voice …..We all have those we admire and wish we could photograph like and we try to emulate them which is fine at first but this can hold you back because everything you start at first might feel like somebody else but once you get past that, you’re gonna find your vision and that’s how you get the real images that matter.

 I’ve been around long enough that my first camera was 35mm film. I loved that little camera, a little polaroid automatic thing costing like $80, I didn’t care, I was 13, I could take photos, I owned the camera, I could take the roll of film to be developed and wait a few days to get the prints back. For those of us in the room old enough, remember that feeling? You took 24 or 36 exposures and you looked at all of them and you laughed and reminisced over what you had photographed. There was an innocent simple pleasure to photography instead of chasing likes on social media.

 So with that I have four words for you. “What do you like?”

 Is it honest?, is it real?, is it pure? Is it a guilty pleasure? Well fuck guilty pleasure and how about just…. Pleasure?.

 Remember that first time you captured an image you were truly proud of?

 Remember learning a new technique? Remember being at a new location and everything simply falls into place? Remember when there was no right or wrong? You will always be that person at the core, Remember the vision you had, well remember the photographer comes first..

 It’s your voice, challenge it, respect it, cherish it, nurture it, stretch it, scream at it until it’s fucking gone. Because we are all blessed with at least that… and who know’s how long it will last.

 My whole life I have spent trying to find my place, the urban landscape has given that to me. So when you do find what drives you, what makes you pick up a camera, be restless about it. Train yourself in every aspect of it, organise your life around it, don’t take no for an answer, follow your dreams and speak from the heart. Because that’s when you truly become an artist. 

 My pursuit in the art of urban landscapes is fairly new I’ll admit, only in the last couple of years have I been photographing in this style, the natural landscape was originally why I wanted to pick up a camera and for coming on ten years, I have been doing just that. I still love being out in nature and traveling to far off destinations all in the name of getting that one image. I guess some how the urban environment found me and when it did, I ran with it.

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I have an unhealthy obsession with Geometry, Symmetry and Colour.  This image is a prime example. There are shapes and forms that create the geometry, there is symmetry without it being symmetrical and even though there may not be colour, this is not a black and white image. This also represents a time where my anxiety was starting to get out of control, I knew there was only one path I had to follow, but I couldn’t for the life of me see it with all the distractions that modern society has given us. I would overthink everything to the point that there was only the negative to think about and that would paralyze me and stop me from moving forward. Thankfully I sort measures to heal myself once again and am doing just fine now.

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Another more obvious example for a geometric graphic. The complimentary colours and the patterns work while there is composition as the lines lead the viewer around the image in an almost panoramic version of the golden ratio.

Why do I take the shot I take? 

 I hate to disappoint, but I simply photograph what I see and nothing more, I see a colour or a series of lines and think “hey that’s cool” I see a wall with some interesting objects and think “that’d make a cool image”. Now I say this because unconsciously I feel that the scene in front of me speaks on a whole different level at the time of capture but only later do I fully understand the why of the image. This I will admit I struggle with and I continue to learn and identify when this is happening on a daily basis. 

Life has a way of intruding to the point of not caring, so I make certain of forgetting how that feels. When you stop caring is when you truly find your voice.

This won the minimalist category of GSTA 2017

This won the minimalist category of GSTA 2017

There is no intention with this image, I was driving around Kewdale on a wet Saturday morning and I found this, I jumped out of the 4x4 and shot it handheld 3 or 4 images, got back in the car and headed off. Now just before that I had spent nearly an hour photographing another image that never made the Top 40.

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To me this image is awesome, it just never translated into the judges eyes. Which is fine, because it was mine I had created this image, I knew the story behind it, and who the fuck cares what anyone else thinks. So when I look back at these images now and think about where I was in my life, I can see there was a sense of being confined and restricted in the life I had chosen, I had hit the proverbial brick wall so to speak a void of nothingness.

I’d like to talk about this image now given the feedback I have had. This is another example of shooting first and thinking later.

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To give you a bit of a back story, I was in the southwest shooting with the Hassleblad X1D, thanks to Team Digital, this was on my fifth day sleeping in a tent and I was in Albany coming down with the flu. It was warm, the sun was out but I was in long pants, hoodie and a beanie on I just couldn’t get warm, I could barely concentrate as I walked around the streets looking for things to catch my eye, I couldn’t see compositions, I had lost my way of seeing the world.  I shot this image with 1 capture and walked off. These are the RAW files on the card for that morning, one single shot yet it’s the only image that I have worked on. 

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Many of the comments I have from this image is the 3d effect, now I

never saw it until it was pointed out to me, I guess since I had been looking at the image for so long and knew the shot, The detail and texture is why I love the image but the 3D effect has taken it to a whole new level. So how did I achieve the effect, firstly with a kick arse camera and secondly by pure luck and I’m not just talking about the luck of right time right place or simply capturing that one raw file, but the luck that choosing to print it that big and placing it on that particular panel because I feel the 3D effect has been achieved due to the temp and angle of the light that is directed on the print. The shadows surrounding the print are the same creating the illusion of the 3D. I printed this at home to see if I could achieve the same effect on a smaller scale and under proper viewing lights but it simply doesn’t. What I have learnt from this image though is to never hesitate when thinking about whether to capture an image, because you never know what you’re gonna get, also It has given me a lot to think about in future exhibitions when it comes to lighting the display. I’d like to leave you now with a quick story. I showed my nephews an old Pentax film camera a while back, y’know just a little point and shoot thing, they were 6 and 4 at the time, they had never seen a camera like it. So I got a roll of film and showed them how to load it and I took a photo of them, The look on their faces when they couldn’t see the image straight away was priceless. I explained to them how it worked and my eldest nephew loved it, he took the camera to school fired off the remaining 23 shots and when he was done I took the roll out and had it developed, I made him wait a few days as well before I got the film back, y’know to really give him the experience of how it was. We sat down together and looked through the photographs, not a bad job for a 6 year old, in focus, no heads cut off.

 It occurred to me at that point that I was an inspiration to him, yet he was also having that same effect on me, we were connected.

 I hope that someday my nephews find their voice, their passion and realise that they too can do whatever it is themselves, that they cherish it, nurture it, scream at it, that they be creative and that there is no right or wrong because it is their voice. That they can start a revolution, incite a riot or simply, save someone’s life. Because the artist comes first.

 But then what do I know?

Well I hope you all enjoyed that. I did leave out the photoshop part as I plan to show some videos of me working on images.

For now though, keep smiling and and I’ll see you all next month.