Robert Frank - The Americans

'Americans': The Book That Changed Photography




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".

Process development

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. 





Playing with some HP5 and Tri-X

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.

Siesta in Orense, Spain.

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.

Ireland's Eye

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. 

The Kid

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.

Paper tiger. Sutton. Dublin.

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?  

Belfast School of Art

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. 

Orifice, Orpheus

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. 

Dad and his island. Sutton, Dublin. 

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. 

Enjoying Film.

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. 

Ourense, Spain.

It was only a couple of weeks since my M2 returned from Red Dot Camera and I was just trying to get used to it and had zero confidence in my ability to get any results at all. Armed with my trusty light meter app for android I wandered around snapping nervously.

Framer. Ourense, Spain.

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.

Fabric & Crafts. Ourense Spain

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. 

Chestnut Roaster. Ourense, Spain

Walking around with an old Leica, with no meter is much more fun than I expected. 

Old town. Ourense Spain.

Orense, Spain

Heading home

After a much needed break from work and life back at home it was time to go home. While giving Estrella some time to say Adios to her Familia, I took another opportunity to wander around the train station and get a few more pix. 

Just back from a few amazing days in Orense, Spain. 

Kids & the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM EX lens

Seven. For me this is about the time you want to let your kids know that they have complete control over how they look in photos. They can always feel awkward, shy, uncomfortable, But they can make it look they way they want. Confidence is an illusion. 

On another point purely technical and photographic. I have a love/hate relationship with this Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM EX lens. There are times when I take photos and I hate how horribly out of focus it is. It front focuses by more than my canon 6D can correct for and the results are terrible. That said if I do the right thing and take my time. I can't imagine a better lens for taking portraits. Switch to manual focus, rock back and forward a few centimetres, until the eye highlights are in focus and it's perfect in every way. At F/1.4 there is lots of colour shift but the results are completely pleasing. 

© Conánn FitzPatrick 1971-2016