Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

Gordon Fraser has contributed a striking collection of images to Pixels At An Exhibition since we first put out a call for submissions last December. Several of his pieces were voted into the Giorgi Gallery show by the jury: a nude, one of his striking geometric abstracts, a beautiful black-and-white beach shot. In the recent OakBook gallery show, his ethereal shot of Stonehenge garnered lots of attention. His work—the figurative, the geometric, the architectural, the street shots taken in the moment—invariably demonstrates a keen eye for composition and form. His use of apps is impeccable: we barely notice them.

He recently published a book, iNOLOGY, an overview of his iPhoneographic work, which he talks about here. We thank him for both his taking the time to answer our questions and for his generous contributions to our communal gallery here at Pixels.

KB: Please tell us a little about yourself – where you live, if you hail from Earth, anything like that. Whatever you feel like sharing that isn’t covered in the questions below.

GF: I am a Scotsman, born and brought up in Glasgow but now living in the south of England, near London. My day job is in the audio visual industry where I run a small consultancy and distribution business. That job takes me all over the UK and sometimes even further which is great. I am married and my wife is a writer, and is extremely supportive of my photography. We have collaborated on a couple of projects now, she edited a book I did and I, and some photographer friends, helped her out by organising a shoot of a scene from the novel she is writing. Evidence here.

KB: How long have you been shooting pictures with your iPhone?

Nude #2

GF: My first few mobile shots were not taken with my own iPhone. I had just replaced my old phone with a shiny new Nokia N97 but I just couldn’t get used to it as a phone.  Then everything changed when a friend lent me his original 2G iPhone to try for a few days in September 2009. At that time I was still using my Canon5d as my main camera. I was in a new shopping mall in Glasgow where, on a previous trip I had been told by the security guards to stop taking photographs of mannequins (another ongoing project which has got me thrown out of various shops).  But this time, I knew the images I wanted, moved in with my iPhone, took the shots and moved on quite inconspicuously.

KB: How often do you work on your art? (i know the answer to this one for all of you!)

GF: Not as often as I would like unfortunately. In the past I was less discerning about what I would shoot and why, but nowadays I try not to take a photo unless it means something to me, or I think it shows an object or location differently than how it may have been viewed before. My work takes me all over Britain, so I am fortunate in being able to spot all manner of weird and wonderful things.  The frustration lies in the fact I get opportunities to take the shots but don’t always then have the time to sit and work out how to process them – even though I obviously do all my processing in the iPhone itself. Yesterday I took a pile of panorama shots in Wales, including a set in infrared (my new “thing”) but I am not sure I will have any time to process them for 4 or 5 days.

KB: When did you get serious about it, and what was the turning point for you?

GF: 26th Sept 2009 was the turning point. I was on a photographic day trip to London with my mates from The Monday Night Photo Club. We are an invitation-only group of photographers who meet every Monday in local pubs. We also arrange group outings/challenges to stimulate our own creative ideas and bounce things off each other. On this occasion we went to walk through London and the brief was that you had to use a compact camera, not a DSLR. I had my Canon G9 with me and my original, borrowed iPhone. Just after lunch the battery on my G9 died and I had forgotten my spare. So I pulled out the 2G iphone and continued with that. Most of my favourite images from that day were with the iphone, not my G9. I put them in a set here if anyone wants a look.  Just after this revelatory experience I took part in a photo-a-day project through October 2009 and decided to use my iPhone for it. This coincided with a trip to Paris which is always an epiphany of sorts anyway, and from that point on I have hardly used my DSLR and compact camera at all.

KB: You recently released a book of your work. Can you tell us a little about it? Where is it available?

GF: I had the idea for the book near the end of the photo-a day-project. I was taking so many pictures I really liked in diverse fields that I thought I needed to try to keep going, collecting a bigger and better portfolio of shots. I originally envisaged a series of books on different topics: Fine Art Nudes, Landscape, Abstract, Architecture.  I decided to then create a sampler product with chapters on these different ideas.  Once I had taken the shots I wanted, it took me about three weeks from start to finish to lay the book out, write the text and then edit it after feedback. All the shots in the book are taken with either a 2G or a 3Gs and all are edited totally in-phone. Nothing was done to the images outside the phone except laying them out in Blurb’s desktop publishing software.  When I got the first test print I was thrilled at the quality. Photo’s really do look better in print than on screen.  The book, iNOLOGY, seeing through an iPhone is available now from Blurb and at 188 pages it’s packed full of good stuff. You can see a preview of each chapter here.  iNOLOGY the first in the series, but the one I’m really looking forward to working on is iCANDY…..

KB: What do you like to shoot? When? How does your whole creative process work? And how has it evolved?

GF: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to shoot things that interest me. These could be funny or interesting juxtapositions in street photography, buildings, landscapes, and people.  My favourite genre to work is portraits, particularly fine art nudes. Although a lot of what I do is just taking the picture when I see something interesting. For my fine art work that is not the case. Most photography is free but when I shoot nudes I use professional models and I don’t want to waste their time or mine by not having an idea of what to do before a shoot. So for those shoots I work out a detailed plan of shots I want to come away with, how they will be lit, what features I want to try to focus on or ideas I want to get across. My most recent model shoot was a few weeks ago in an old pub in Oxford, in a private bar area. I knew that there was a large old mirror and big full-height windows. I kept thinking about the mirror, about how it showed what was around us when we looked in but that this was a distortion, reversed, colours altered. The presence of the mirror made me consider trying to do a composite, layered shot that I hoped might get across this idea that we may not always be alone, that we might just be another layer ourselves, or at least that many people wish this were so.  The end result is here.
So I suppose there has been a gradual evolution in my mobile creative process, which stems from understanding that the iPhone is so much more than just a point and shoot camera. As a photographic tool it is very powerful and if you have an idea and sit down to think about it a bit, you will hopefully be as pleasantly surprised as I have been about what’s achievable with an iPhone.

KB: Do you work in any other creative mediums, i.e., painting, music, writing, etc.?

GF: I learnt to play the violin as a child but have forgotten that completely. The only writing I do is about my work and photography and even painting a wall is a hardship for me.  But I am known internationally for my cooking.  Or at least my poached egg on toast.

KB: Do you spend time online looking at the work of other iphontographic artists?

GF: Yes, I have a breakfast regime of too much coffee and surfing pixelsatanexhibition,  Life In LoFi, Iphoneography.com and several iPhone flickr groups. It amazes me sometimes to see the breadth of work that’s out there. Some shots I find hard to believe are from an iPhone and others I just wish I knew how to achieve the effects or how to have the creative gift to see those end results before they are captured. Not that I want to copy others work but I think if you have technical knowledge you can use it for your own effect.

KB: Do you study other art forms?

GF: I am a big fan of modern art. I visited the Pompidou Centre on my first trip to Paris with my wife in 2000. I was not a big art fan at that point, as I associated it more with dark and dusty paintings from the middle ages. But then I saw an exhibit by an artist called Ben Vautier, http://bit.ly/9uyRoz. This was my first tuned-in experience of conceptual art, a record shop and all its contents, and it brought me to tears. I was astounded at the power of this pile of bric-a-brac and what it said to me, and since then I have become extremely interested in art.  Also film and TV are well worth studying. The best TV is about big ideas, and generally they are lit and shot extremely effectively. Mad Men is a classic example of wonderful lighting and colour grading, allied to superb cinematography.

KB: Have you done a lot of traditional photography? If so, are you still using your camera as well as your iPhone?

GF: I have not done a lot. I only started photograph as a hobby about four years ago after I was given a gift of an old medium format camera by a relative who was too old and ill to use it any more. I found that camera too cumbersome, but it got me interested in taking pictures, so I bought a cheap DSLR and was hooked. I rarely use my current DSLR these days. I am sure I will use it again though and I already know that by using my iPhone almost exclusively for the last 9 months I will have become a better photographer and will be able to make even better wok with the DSLR when I get back to it.

KB: Who are some artists – in any medium – you admire or have influenced you?

GF: Well I’ve mentioned Ben already. I kind of like Anthony Gormleys sculptures, Tracy Emin’s work can be pretty amazing too.  I was in Vienna for our wedding anniversary and we went to MuMok there and saw an Emin piece which was a love poem written in fluorescent light tubing. I loved it.  Music is also a very big thing for me and there are many artists who can do no wrong in my ears…Aimee Mann, Francis Dunnery, Shawn Colvin are a few but there are lots of others in many genres. Then there is photography. Needless to say, I really enjoy seeing photographic exhibitions. At Vanity Fair’s portrait exhibition in London I was struck at the quality and consistency of work by Annie Leibowitz.  Platon, the New Yorker’s staff photographer is pretty amazing and on a completely different track, I find Gregory Crewdson and his amazing cinematic large format images very compelling. On the nude stuff its impossible not to admire the work of Helmut Newton and I have a few flickr contacts whose work I always find beautiful. These guys just seem to know about light and composition and ideas. Sanders McNew, http://bit.ly/b95IAB  and Wyliedwyer http://bit.ly/ap6H4t.  I bought Sanders’ blurb book of portraits, Double Exposure and this is what set the seed in my mind that I should do a book one day. If you like portraits it is well worth the money.

KB: What is your basic app kit, or Camera Bag, as Marty Yawnick calls it. How has your use of apps evolved over time?

GF: My basic set that get used a lot are FilmLab, Coolfx, Photoforge, Autostitch. The evolution was simple….I bought Chase Charvis’s Best Camera app. Initially I loved it but quickly I realised it wouldn’t let me do what I wanted. Having been used to Lightroom and Photoshop I needed a little more control. I almost ditched Photoforge as I found it so flaky. It would save images and the levels would be way off, the clone tool would not work the way I expected, but now I have an understanding of its limitations I use its good functions quite a lot. My latest thing I’m trying out is Infra Red and for that you ideally want some fine control of colour channels. One of my friends from the aforementioned Monday Night Photo Club works in hi-end car design and 3D modelling and he suggested an app by a famous colour-grading studio. Mill Studio’s MillColour app. That’s my latest and I have to say it’s very, very cool and it’s FREE!

KB: Are there any apps you don’t like?

Yes. Autoadjust got taken off my phone almost immediately and LiveFX is, to me, pretty useless. It only stays on my phone as it has one feature I like to play with occasionally. I really feel cheated by that app having bought it after reading reviews saying it was a more powerful version of Best Camera. Perhaps it’s just that what it does is not suitable for my form of photographic art.

KB: Are there any specific improvements you would like to see made to existing apps?

GF: I would like to see the ability to save a series of layers or settings so they can be applied to a series of images like batch process. When I do a series of studio shots I tend to process one shot multiple ways to get the tone and colour and feel I want. It’s then hard to match that when you have used multiple layers on an app or two.

KB: Are there any apps you would like to see developed/invented?

GF: I think that just getting more powerful versions of Lightroom and Photoshop would be enough for me.  Not much to ask….

KB: When you feel you have reached a creative stalemate, and believe your work is not cutting it anymore, do you have any tricks for breaking out of artist’s block?

GF: Touch wood, I have not reached that point. I just like looking at stuff all the time and often that’s enough to get me going.

KB: What features would you like to see implemented at the Pixels At An Exhibition website?

GF: I really want to be able to comment on other folks work. I constantly want to tag images to tell folk how much I admire a shot and, I know from a personal point of view, getting comments like that from other like minded individuals is good motivation to keep going.

KB: Anything else you would like to say?

GF: I’d like to say a big thanks for getting out there and promoting iPhontography as an art form the way you do. Getting two gallery shows done in six months is pretty cool. Long may the power be with you and I’m really looking forward to seeing how we all progress.

KB: Thank you, Gordon. I want to apologize for the broken comments here on Pixels. By the time I realized it had happened, we were, and are, far into the development of the new site, where they will, of course, be working.