The thought of artistic inheritance goes way back in our family. My great-grandfather Thomas Fitzpatrick ran and illustrated a publication called "The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly". For the publication of the book "Thomas Fitzpatrick and 'The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly', 1905–1915" the authors asked Dad and I to get involved. For this, Dad wrote the introduction and I illustrated my own take on the original cover from 1905.
Looking at the history of 1905, the possible political and historical motivations behind Thomas' illustration, it is surprising how little has changed. Ireland is still recovering from financial catastrophe, almost as if nothing had happened, merrily led gently down the stream by crooked politicians, all under the watchful eye of the European Parlament and Angela Merkel.
Being a student again is awesome. It's been ten fast years since completing my design degree @ulsteruni. Now I'm doing my best to make it through a masters. MFA Photography, also at Ulster University is a world apart from previous experiences. As an artist in film I worked creatively on components of another's vision. As a designer, being part of a team, solving a problem an creative outcomes. Photography has been a note taking experience, punctuated by commercial and diaristic endeavours. The MFA (Masters in Fine Art) doesn't fit with my previous work, it has to be individual, intellectually sound, artist centred work.
While the overall concept of my project work is still emerging it has moved along sufficiently to share some of the sub-concept, spin-out projects, which are been part of the journey.
Myself and the kids spend a disproportionate amount of time on the road, traveling back and forward from home to home, generating a curiosity around what is on the other side of the hedge. The following images were based on a premise. Take two lefts and take a photograph in the general direction of the motorway.
So what's the point? Are there images that can be made while using a systematic approach to location? In creating a formula I wasn't expecting so many farm gates. As an artist I can't get away from the designer's desire to work within a system.
The first and last images in this post are two of my favourite photographs. Had I not created a system I would never have even been in these locations, let alone thought of taking photographs like these. Being pushed to think differently is a pleasure.
I love black and white but some images just work better in colour. In this case I still like the black and white enough to keep it here.
'Americans': The Book That Changed Photography
Note 32min. Listen again on day for night/night for day photography
Images are best viewed on the original website where their full texture and depth can be viewed in a higher resolution.
The flattened, graphic nature of the images definitely resinates with my aesthetic, years of working and lecturing as a designer have certainly had an impact on how I see and graphic shapes and textures always turn my head or cause me to position the camera square to the subject before when making a picture.
Not quite as dramatic as an amazon fulfilment centre or Kuwaiti stock exchange but the same textural and graphic impulses satisfied by Gursky, fuel my desire to make more simplistic compositions.
Images of Randalstown bridge, off the M2
Studio window series triptych
Further information on these images can be found here in the post Studio window series
As a graphic, this one really appeals to me. On the other hand it is 25 minutes of my life I will never get back. Well more like 6, but still.
Sketchbooks and notebooks are one and the same when you are an artist. Sketches are notes and notes illustrations of moments of inspiration and enquiry. The most important part of any system is to stay out of the way of creativity and spark that lights our fire. Pages of drawings can be free conventions unless deserving of categorization.
Notebooks will have pages numbered before starting so as to allow for greater flexibility. This way, any page can be used day to day.
Each page should be dated, have a heading and list attendees where applicable.
Index may be a useful addition if it doesn't waste pages. Index could be a list of projects and relative page numbers listed in a row.
Notebook is a perfect place for daily list management and lists should be rewritten at the end of each day. TO-DO items can be generated organically or come from another system. Daily goals, targets and to-dos should be achievable in the time available, with new items being added organically throughout the day.
Lists and notes from the day should be reviewed and reorganized into a new daily list for the next day. Items rolling over should be assessed and or transferred into another system.
Projects can be fleshed out and ideated in a notebook but should ultimately live in a more robust system where they can be managed and assigned effectively.
Notes are blocks of text without actions and can be of any length and can end in a page number at a later time to expand on an idea. p 22
Lists start with a bullet "•". List items are assumed tasks that can be assigned or escalated to a project on another page. Events are denoted with an "o" URGENT items "" should be handled immediately or placed in a system/page better equipped to get it done.
• item one
• item two
> assigned - Fred
< escalated to project p3
O Meeting with Bobby
 URGENT to priority page or other system
✓ completed tasks get a tick
X cancelled tasks get an x
- waiting for others tasks to complete
List capture should be organic and free flowing with items being reprocessed, reconstructed or cancelled on the fly. As with a sketch it is vital that thoughts be able to flow rather than seeking perfection in either tone, structure or clarity.
Post-its, napkins and other scraps of paper are an inevitable and valuable part of any functioning system and should be included in the daily sweep where the can become more permanent in nature and part of the broader system.
Original Post from 2011
When working with new teams it should be assumed that participants have little or no experience with project management and task delegation within a team environment. A brief introduction to agile and scrum systems is beneficial.
Each of the new teams takes time to familiarise themselves with their final concept and the brief to which it must fulfil. A detailed work plan is developed, breaking down every element that can be identified: timescales for delivery, priorities and dependencies. These project lists and their assignment need to be agreed by the team before being put into action.
Facilitators need to oversee this process to ensure that the aims are realistic and can be achieved within the scope of the programme.
After note: Fiver years on.
One of the difficulties in moving this model of work into a degree type programme is the lack of facilitation time. Therefore, planning demonstration becomes a lecture and leave model instead of a more granular approach, where students and staff sit and break down a project together. The lack of time is a product of the problem and the problem is a product of management and process. It can also be a product of design.
In a perfect world, hours could be spent between small teams and facilitators, in the development of an adequate methodology and understanding of the planning of each project. However in the hierarchy of desirable inputs and outputs, how to manage comes with the burden of what to manage, who is for, when is it for and most often forgotten by all involved, what is the point.
Trouble spots: Facebook
There are a huge number of free and powerful tools for managing projects, Asana, Trello, Todoist or Wunderlist are popular. Each of which come with a very small learning curve in order to get the most out of them. However these products have the same millennial problem as email. If it is off the habit trail it will require repetition and routine to acquire sufficient mastery to extract value.
Therefor students like to communicate in dedicated Facebook groups sharing thoughts, images, questions and feedback. Unfamiliar with projects of a larger scope, this process leads initial feelings of gratification through population closely followed by unbelievable levels of stress. Posts get lost in the waterfall, comments lose their context and nobody can find what they are looking for efficiently. The pervasive and invasive nature of Facebook leaves students unable to focus due to constant interruptions, distracting each teammate from the work at hand and giving them a greater sense of falling behind, being overwhelmed and increasingly insecure. This insecurity is compounded by an induced inability to make simple decisions, deferring the simplest of choices to the team in-turn, increasing the team's communication traffic and cognitive load.
Pretty soon this spiral leads to a breaking point
Scenario One: Someone snaps. The team feeling a great sense of empathy and responsibility jumps in to fill the gap. Not working within an appropriate project management system leaves the team at a loss as to what exactly the person was working on or what was actually done.
Scenario Two: Tensions within the team lead to infighting and a breakdown of communication begins. Visions separate and egos get trampled. Team members may begin to feel disenfranchised and work away from the team. Missing meetings and vital communications around technical issues where their input may be critical. As this progresses, grievances escalate eventually requiring intervention.
Scenario Three: Passive team members are unable to keep up with the constant stream of communication. And/Or has had a communication or comment ignored. Shoulders shrug, frustration leads perhaps to a feeling of why bother or just a sense of being ignored or left out. "Well someone knows what's going on... I'll just sit here and wait until someone tells me what to do".
When things appear hard or get difficult familiarity beats advantage every time. It is only after experiencing the pain of failure will a group of students adopt a new management process. This runs contrary to technical skills where students display a high level of adaptability and perseverance is abundantly evident. The management of the project is not initially seen as a valuable component on a par with the technique, design or narrative. Funnily enough, similarities with this approach is also evident when it comes drawing. Planning, perspective, form structure are often skipped in favour of shading or colour, leading to adequate results which are difficult to redirect.
As we graduate our first final year, the teams that have adopted the most structured models for project management have by far the most creative, ambitious and successful outcomes. Cracks appear because of process more often than artistic or technical ability. Some are unavoidable results of personal feelings about work hours and availability or maturity but almost all problems that impact a project or staff time are a direct result of ineffective planning.
Plan - Produce - Update Plan - Repeat
Inspire, Conceptualise, Refine, Evaluate, Plan & Produce. They are the original six steps for the design thinking model I've been working with for quite a few years now. A huge part of the problem in developing an understanding of design thinking or creative problem solving or whatever we want to call it, is the realisation that it is a five step model in execution and a six step model in explanation. Planning and production are intertwined in a never ending dance of compromise and promise.
Over the past few months I've been using film again, after about fifteen years of being solely digital in most of my image making. A few months ago I was reunited with the Nikon FM that I learned on and caught the film bug again. That said, I was never much of a fan of the FM as a general walk around town camera. It is a great camera and beautiful to use but not far enough removed from my Canon 6D, which I really love. The light meter in the FM is also quite good for the time, but I'm totally lazy. Even though as a kid I had learned how to think about light and create an exposure, I'm more likely to trust the dot and snap than pause and think.
A couple of months ago while trolling eBay I came across an old Leica M2 with a Leitz Summar lens for £200. Bargain of all bargains I imagined knowing it must be a bit of a wreck. Turned out it was. Shutter was full of holes, timing was off and the body was leaking light.
Repairs of this nature are beyond my novice skills, so I sent it off to Red Dot Cameras in London for an overhaul. Weeks later I got an email to let me know that this one was beyond repair. Disappointed I said thanks and that I'd try myself as this camera would be used and not put in a case like most of its generation. Hours later I got a call saying they would do their best and only charge me about 30% of the original estimate, only the work would not be guaranteed.
The Summar that was with the M2 has a beautiful dreamy quality similar to putting a bunch of vaseline on the filter. While beautiful, I can get the same effect in photoshop with a little more control. Since then, I was able to get a Summicron 50mm from about the same period in the 1950's and have been delighted with the results. I blew off a few rolls of colour film winging exposures and at times pulling out the digital camera when I was unsure. The Canon 6D is a pretty incredible light meter... even gives a stunning preview.
Previously, the closest I'd come to a rangefinder was a Contax T2 which isn't one at all but is closer than my SLR cameras. The M2 is old and the patch is dim. Focusing is work. So much so that you slow down. You find yourself thinking about the image, the light, the exposure, the composition and that light sounding click and buttery Leica wind-on which is surprisingly satisfying. Taking pictures of the kids is best done when they are exhausted, unable to move and in exceptionally good light.
Working digitally for so many years has been amazing. Not only are the rewards quick and accessible. So is the learning. There is a great sense of "got the shot", it's there on the screen. The massive resolution and tonal range of raw makes tuning all but the worst exposed images a dream. We read about 20 megapixels and wonder if that is enough.
Then you load up a roll of film like HP5 or Tri-X. The smell gives me flashbacks to being a kid, it's unmistakeable. For quite a few shots I'd look at the back of the M2 after clicking, forgetting that there was no bright full colour screen and laugh to myself. "See you in a few weeks, I guess". Better make sure I got the F'n shot? More importantly, what do I want the shot to look like? Where are my darks, lights and midpoints? What film do I have loaded?
Weeks later when the prints arrive it's quite exciting and refreshingly retro. "oOhs", "Uhs" and "Mms" followed by a slight sense of satisfaction. Passing around prints is nice, more personal than Facebook, 500px or Whatsapp and sparks a much more interesting conversation that reminds me that we now have two different types of sharing. One that is real, personal and intimate. The other is a whole other conversation, for another time.
Getting scans at the same time as processing is also great. A great reminder of how far we have come. None of that depth of tonal range or resolution found in a RAW file. It just is what it is. You either got or you didn't. Or got something unexpected that will work out just fine. Having less depth in tonal range isn't a bad thing. The whites are there, the blacks are there as are the mid tones but there is a greater degree of separation between them, making the image more graphic, stronger in composition.
Then, there is that grain. The world of digital photography obsesses about noise and loss of depth at higher ISOs. Seldom is there a discussion about the character of that noise. Tri-X and HP5 are beautiful films both with unique characters. They are tonally different. Their grain patterns are different. Like an old friend, they are surprisingly forgiving and great fun.
Will I give up digital and just use film? Hell no. I'm a geek. I love new technologies and all the opportunities they bring. My phone is an amazing camera. Using old film and cameras is like a creative savings account that pays over time.
It was a cold wet January in Ourense, Spain, but it was still absolutely beautiful. It never seems to get that cold but boy did it rain. And rain. And rain. Nonstop for days. Wandering around the town with an umbrella was nice. The rain was warm, the mood was good and the atmosphere in the city was beautiful as usual.
Over the last 20 years I've become incredibly used to bouncing around in fractions of stops to get the "right" exposure with a modern Nikon or Canon DSLR. It is easy to forget how much light doesn't change. Especially when it is overcast. Film is very forgiving, even when I know I was totally winging it, the prints looked OK. The fuji film I was using created really nice contrasty tones which converted to black and white extremely well.
The old town part of Ourense is perfect place to walk around. The buildings and streets are lined with cafe's and interesting faces and places.
Walking around with an old Leica, with no meter is much more fun than I expected.