Never a still moment

Dancer Flora 1 by Cody Choi

Dancer Flora 1 by Cody Choi

Capturing the essence of movement through the stillness of photography is no easy feat. Choreographer and teacher Cody Choi has a deep understanding of the way the human body’s capabilities, and has made it his goal to portray this dynamism through the split-second click of a camera’s shutter.

Dancer_Gama 2 by Cody Choi

Dancer Gama 2 by Cody Choi

Step one of gaining this knowledge was becoming a dancer himself. After graduating in Modern Dance from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (where he twice received the Jackie Chan Scholarship), he received a full scholarship to join the Transitions Dance Company in London, and has since danced with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, English National Opera, Royal National Theatre, and more, including being a feature dancer in the films 47 Ronin and Walking on Sunshine!

Above The Clouds 3 by Cody Choi

Above The Clouds 3 by Cody Choi

Yet, his early goals as a youngster were to be a pop star.

“I learnt my dance moves from music videos and I began to dream of becoming a dancer,” he admits. “I went to a full time performing arts school when I was 17.”

Self portrait in Riga, Latvia by Cody Choi

Self portrait in Riga, Latvia by Cody Choi

Cody began to experiment with dance photography when he was doing a three-year world tour with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, “And loving every minute of it!”

Swan lake self portrait by Cody Choi

Swan lake self portrait by Cody Choi

He says: “There were many places I felt I would only get the chance to go to once, so I bought a Nikon D50 to capture different places and start to take dance photos of my colleagues. Years later I started doing exhibitions and art fairs.”

The 3rd Day 16 by Cody Choi

The 3rd Day 16 by Cody Choi

Cody’s aims are self-evident in the sizzling vitality of his work.

“I love energy, I love moving, I love jumping,” he says. “I always like to capture the highest point of a jump – the max point of any movement.”

Dancer Flora 13 by Cody Choi

Dancer Flora 13 by Cody Choi

At present, Cody manages to balance his time between dancing, choreography, teaching, modelling and dance photography, saying blithely that he devotes himself to: “Whatever comes. The things I love most about life are the freedom to seek inspiration and to grow.”

You can see more of Cody’s photography, and find out where he will be dancing next, at  www.codysmovinggroup.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Lessons in storytelling

The Trip #9 (2015) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

The Trip #9 © Matt Henry, Short Stories

They say an image is worth 1,000 words, and that the camera never lies. In Matt Henry‘s new photographic book, Short Stories, these hypotheses are tested to the limit.

Each of the scenes displayed in this beautiful and unsettling book offers countless possible narratives. Cast in vivid sun-drenched technicolour, they sing shrilly of a far earlier era, and yet each was snapped sometime between 2007 and 2015. Even more unexpected, the majority were staged on UK soil with a cast of actors and friends playing the characters apparently caught while going about their everyday lives. Powerfully, it suggests, the American Dream really is an illusion.

Alice (2013) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

Alice (2013) © Matt Henry, Short Stories

“Everything was to play for in this era,” says Henry of 1960s and 70s USA. “Culture and politics fused like no other time. The tension between burgeoning liberal ideas and the stubborn conservatism of rural America is fascinating for me, and provides the most fantastic backdrop for storytelling.”

Phone Call (2012) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

Phone Call (2012) © Matt Henry, Short Stories

There’s so much happening in each of the scenes – even empty rooms ripple with a sense of anticipation. Paranoia and hope sizzle with equal emphasis, suggesting that drama awaits at the every corner – and the direction each life will take could rest in the spin of a nickel. Any writer who can imbue their work with such palpable tension will be a master of their art.

Short Stories Matt Henry cover

Short Stories by Matt Henry is published by Kehrer Verlag and is available to buy from www.artbooksheidelberg.com or from www.matthenryphoto.com.

Experience the Pink Hour with Tom Vooght

Sky fire cr Tom Vooght

Sky fire © Tom Vooght

I visited Tom Vooght’s ‘Wild Wonders of Norway’ exhibition when he brought it to the Centrespace Gallery, Bristol, in May. Tom’s been on my periphery for many years – our dads both studied Theology at Oxford, and while my dad went on to become a social worker as Tom’s dad ascended through the church, they’ve remained close friend. Our mums are creative forces in their own rights, and, along with our dads, have instilled in each of us a passion for the world’s wild places.

I was blown away by the splendour of Tom’s Norway photographs, collected over a series of years. But before asking about these, I wanted to know what got him started along the route to becoming a photographer.

Wasp cr Tom Vooght

Wasp © Tom Vooght

“When I was a child, both my parents worked full time, so I used to get farmed out to one of three older ladies, who looked after me,” Tom says. “All three, Dawsie, Jummy (Jilly Jennings) and Beatrice, have had a significant influence upon my life’s passions. Dawsie (Mrs Dawson) introduced me to photography, wildlife, and cooking. I used to love going to her house, as I would always learn something new. She’d lived in Kenya for most of her life, and had the most amazing pictures, and photographs, of African fauna. I learnt a lot.”

He adds: “Beatrice was 6ft tall, with short hair, and a glass eye. She had been an architect, and was a keen gardener with the best water garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. She fostered creativity, and told me great stories of how, she had visited Mexico on her own in the 1930s, which would have been a brave move for a young man at that time, but unheard of for a woman then. She had cut her hair short, and as she was tall, had worn bandages to change her figure.”

Last, but by no means least, he says, was Jummy. “Jummy had grandchildren about my age, so when they were staying, I would go and stay too, even though she was our next door neighbour. We used to play in Box Woods (between Minchinhampton and Nailsworth), and have fun.”

When Tom was eight or nine years old, his parents gave him their old Kodak Instamatic camera, “a good 35mm film camera to learn on.” From then, Tom’s had a variety of different cameras, and has always taken photographs throughout a 20-year career in telecoms.

Stourhead cr Tom Vooght

Stourhead © Tom Vooght

About five years ago, Tom decided to make the move from keen amateur to pro. “I’d managed to get better shots than several pro photographers at weddings, and had lots of encouragement from friends. So I tried it.” At the end of 2014, Tom felt ready to go full time. “I ditched telecoms in favour of a better, if somewhat financially poorer, life.”

Tom has an enduring fascination with Norway’s dramatic vistas, its culture and its people. “Northern Norway has so much to offer – it’s not just fjords, and aurora,” The people are warm, friendly, and helpful. The air is crystal clear, light pollution is minimal, and the colours of the skies, day and night, are phenomenal.”

Tromsdalen night cr Tom Vooght

Tromsdalen night © Tom Vooght

He’s so keen on the Arctic that he’s also set up travel company Phor to arrange for you to go there too, either on holiday, or a photography trip with tuition, along with insights on the best places.

Tom’s first trip to Norway was the opportunity to visit a country “which I had dreamt of as a child fed on Norse and Viking myths and legends.”

Rosatimen cr Tom Vooght

Rosatimen © Tom Vooght

Among Tom’s images are several that capture the Norwegian pink hour.

“They call it Rosatimen,” he says. “The closer you get to the poles, the shallower the angle of the sun is, so the light in the Arctic will have always travelled through more of the earth’s atmosphere than light seen closer to the equator. As light travels through the atmosphere, more of the blue, and green, wavelengths are scattered. This leaves more red. When the days are relatively short, the sunset is really stretched into hours. Rosatimen starts as the sun has almost set, and will last until blåtimen (the blue time) begins and it gradually gets dark.”

Blatimen cr Tom Vooght

Blatimen © Tom Vooght

How’s that for poetic?

Tom explains that he carries out much of his work in an effort “to remove an image from my imagination. Some images are the result of having dreams, and wanting to realise the shots. Once taken, I can start to work out how to do the next one. Other shots are of landscapes which I want other people to see how I saw them. This isn’t always what my eyes are telling me, but what my brain suggests could be possible. It’s quite hard to explain!” He adds: “I also like to document as an impartial onlooker, be that people, or wildlife. Then the last factor is when I have to take shots to record my arty moments.”

Find more of Tom’s work at any of the following: facebook.com/TMVmedia,
Instagram.com/TMVmediaTwitter.com/TMVmedia and www.tmvmedia.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Photographer Premgit invites you to open your eyes

Dai-Chin Woman 2, Chin State, Burma cr Premgit

Dai-Chin Woman 2, Chin State, Burma © Premgit

Some photographers have a skill that goes beyond lenses and shutter speeds to offer up views of the world and its people that tell entire stories. I’m a fan of portraits anyway – the human face is endlessly interesting to me. Premgit’s work, which also includes landscapes and abstracts, captures glimpses of people’s lives, loves and hopes. It’s incredibly powerful.

Ganga Puja 6, Varanasi, India cr Premgit

Ganga Puja 6, Varanasi, India © Premgit

And yet, Premgit says that he never set out to become a photographer, instead dreaming of being a musician. “I spent a good few years pursuing this course, having lots of fun, but then realising I was not a musician,” he says. “I wasn’t very good, I did not practice, and I felt totally unfulfilled. So armed with an old Rolli 35mm, my then wife and I left England for India.” Continue reading

Book review – Beautifully Different

Beautifully Different cover1With exquisitely shot photographs, information-filled chapters and commentaries both from autistic children and their parents, this is that rare thing – a universal and yet deeply personal insight into the experience of life on the spectrum.

The book is a collaborative effort between photographer Makiko, Dr. Rebecca Landa at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the USA, and the parents of children treated at the Institute.

While described as a photographic book, the compelling images take up far fewer of the pages that I expected, and I would have loved to see more. Instead we’re presented with interviews presenting different views of autism, most notably a q&a with Chase, an autism activist who speaks eloquently about his experiences of diagnosis, social marginalisation, friendships, and his future plans. It reveals the strength and joy he finds in his own company as well as the heartbreaking lament that haunts the boy so much of the time: “What did I do wrong?”

It’s a message that rings out clearly from the pages, that these children, through being different, having different responses to the expected ones, risk being made to feel ‘wrong’ simply for being themselves.

When he’s alone, Chase says: “I don’t have to play rules […] I will go out and find the excitement on my own.” Effectively, for Chase, being with others is far lonelier than being left to his own company.

It helped me to glimpse the richness children in the spectrum gain from the world around them – and to understand that they can enjoy exploring their fascinations, with numbers, nature, music, architecture, with the same depth of pleasure we may gain from spending time with others.

One of these interests highlighted in the book is Ben’s ‘obsession’ with lighthouses, which contrasts sharply with his brother Alex’s (also autistic) dread of heights. It begins with the boys’ mother overcoming her own vertigo  as she follows Ben’s race up the lighthouse stairs, emerging with her legs “shaking from the stress of the climb.” It’s a magical moment as she sees, and shares, her son’s happiness. “It was infectious. The moment was worth more than the fear I had overcome.”

The next challenge, encouraging Alex to ascend a lighthouse, is far more difficult, and takes many more lighthouses. Eventually, they succeed and he’s as awestruck as his brother. “Take the time to join your child in his world,” says their mother, “and you may be surprised that eventually you will find the strength and tenacity to pull your child out of their world and into yours, no matter how briefly.”

For me that’s the power at the heart of this book. It’s not about changing or ‘curing’ children with autism, it’s about understanding them and what they present you with, and finding ways to engage with them, or help them engage with you.

While I would have preferred the different elements of each child’s story to be presented together, so that the parents’ insights came alongside the images and diary entries from the children, these separate sections each layer up to a vivid whole that will draw you into the world and lives of these children – not wrong, but beautifully, wonderfully and sometimes awe-inspiringly different.

Beautifully Different: Autism: Viewing the World Through a Different Lens is published by Matador and is available to buy from Amazon.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Soraya Schofield’s reclaimed home

come this way © Soraya SchofieldThere’s always something magical about encountering a ruin in the wilderness where nature is having its way with the walls and roof that once sheltered humans.

Soraya Schofield of The Drugstore Gallery took this idea to beautiful, fairytale-esque extremes with her project Mendip House – I looked back and you were gone. “This project came about after both my parents died within two years of one another,” she explains. “My childhood home was already very dilapidated by then, which is when I came up with the idea of the natural surrounding garden and woodlands creeping back to reclaim the house, which I tied in with mementos of my childhood and of my parents.”

Primrose wall © Soraya Schofield

She adds: “I wanted a strong sense of reality but with an aesthetic which alludes to dreams and memories. Although these images are personal to me I wanted the viewer to be drawn into the images and connect with them in their own personal way. It was a very cathartic experience.”

Rather than passively waiting to see what nature would do to the house, Soraya actively encouraged the plants to reclaim the rooms.

Peeping through © Soraya Schofield

“I filled an old wardrobe with soil and wild garlic, wild garlic being a distinctive smell from my youth. Also planting grass seed that ran out of the cupboard and over the floor of one of the bedrooms, these I tended to and encouraged them to grow inside for a time so they looked as if they had spread naturally into the rooms.”

It’s an immensely moving project, however much or little you know of the background story. I rather love that in a sense it brings Soraya’s artwork back home after several years of taking photographs in far distant lands.

“I had always like taking photos, but I spent four years out of England travelling through Asia and South America, and through this experience I really found a love of the photography,” she says. “When I returned I was milling around trying to find a creative direction and booked myself onto a City Guilds photography course.”

Golden doorway © Soraya SchofieldSoraya first started taking photos due to “a desire to capture people and places new to me.” She visited Cuba in 2002 with her artist boyfriend Barry Cawston with whom she runs The Drugstore Gallery. “This is where Golden Doorway (above) and End of the Passageway (below) were shot,” she says.

passageway © Soraya Schofield“My practice has developed over the last six years as I completed an Art foundation course and now am finishing a degree at UWE in Drawing and Applied Arts. I use the layering of photographs over an image to create landscapes in which nature meets manmade structures, and am now beginning to experiment in combining screen-print and lithography with this as well.”

Her current project, however, is something of an attempt at reversal, as she and Barry now live in the Mendips house she grew up in.

“We realised that we had to save the building!” she exclaims.

Work to evict the natural elements she’d invited in began in April 2013, and brought with it a series of curious adventures. “In June 2013 we moved into a tent in the garden for seven weeks – the weather was great but sleeping was a bit tricky, we would be woken at 4am by the resident hedgehog and our dog growling at it, at 5am the cockerel would call and at 6am the plasterer showed up for work. Decamping onto the top floor in August, while building work continued downstairs, was a huge relief! We are not totally done but very close and very happy to be here!”

Of all her photos, Soraya is most proud of the image I lost you (below).

I lost you © Soraya Schofield

“I took it after I’d completed the Mendip House series,” she says. “It referred to my parents and the grief I experienced, somehow the image holds a poetic quality that reflects the loss and turmoil I felt.”

Soraya’s photography is currently on show in an exhibition called Emergence which is in The Paperplane Gallery, Bristol. Find more of Soraya’s work at The Drugstore Gallery, Somerset, www.thedrugstoregallery.com.

Ambiguous imagery with Stephen Mason

Homage to Catalonia © Stephen MasonI’m always in awe of photographers who can capture an image that resembles a work of abstract art, revealing the beauty lurking the landscape around us. Stephen Mason has an eye for angles, lighting and colour that make me want to see my surroundings anew, as he must every day.

His mastery might be better understood when you realise he’s been at this for a little over three decades. “I bought my first camera (a Pentax SLR) in 1982 and learned the basics of how to balance exposure, aperture and depth of focus,” he says. “Initially, I just wanted to record holidays and explore Bristol (his home city) in photographs. However, I soon noticed that straightforward shots didn’t fully satisfy me and I began to explore unusual angles or details in what I saw.”

Light Fantastic © Stephen Mason

Light Fantastic © Stephen Mason

The arrival of digital cameras gave Stephen much greater freedom “to explore creatively by taking multiple shots of the same subject and then looking to see which ones worked. Then, using iPhoto software I began my first experiments in ‘developing’ my own photos.”

Eventually Stephen bought a digital SLR, graduated to Apple’s Aperture software and started to take his photography a bit more seriously. “Even so, I use the tools in Aperture very sparingly – mainly to modify contrast and to crop the original image.”

In a world where Instagram seems to taint most photos I see, it’s refreshing to encounter someone who wants only to emphasise the beauty that already exists in the world.

Untitled © Stephen Mason

Stephen seeks to explores a number of themes through his photography, including  form, movement, perspective and ambiguity.

“Many of my photographs explore visual enigmas in our everyday environment,” he says. “They are intentionally ambiguous. In photography, what you see isn’t always what you get. The eye and the camera see differently. I look for a subject that interests me. I then compose the photo according to how I see it but, when I press the shutter, I know that the camera will see it differently. There’s an excitement that arises from the uncertainty about what will result.”

While many artists present 2D images that we must interpret as a 3D vision of reality, Stephen is aiming to do the opposite of this. “By making use of the camera’s limitations I try depict 3D reality as an abstract 2D pattern or at least to leave the image open to either a 3D or a 2D interpretation,” he says.

Frustratingly, for me at least, Stephen’s passion for ambiguity means that “with rare exceptions I deliberately leave my photos untitled so as not to influence how the viewer sees them. Some people want to know ‘what is it?’ Others want not to know. I usually have an info brochure at my exhibitions which gives information about each photo but it has a very clear “spoiler warning” on the cover!”

Stephen often finds himself surprised by the scenes, or corners of scenes, that capture his attention via the camera lens.

“Many times I’ve gone out to photograph this or that, only to find that I’ve just spent half an hour photographing something else. I just try to stay open to getting lost in whatever I find. My own favourite of all my photos is the one I call Long Division (shown below). I love it because it is so simple, so stripped down and bare, so minimal.”

Long Division © Stephen Mason

Long Division © Stephen Mason

Reflections in water are another visual prompt Stephen returns to time and again. “It is the frozen moment that looks so different from what I saw ‘in time’. For mud and sand, it is the exploration of form, light and the ambiguity of scale. I have had people look at my mud/sand photos and ask if it’s a mountain range from an airliner.”

Untitled (No1) © Stephen Mason Remarkably, Stephen is entirely self-taught. “I’ve never had any formal training or even been on a photography course,” Stephen says. “I’ve always wanted to learn things in my own way. I want to explore my way of seeing and I don’t want to be influenced by an establishment’s idea of how a photo ‘should’ be composed or balanced. I discovered my way of seeing through doing it.”

Stephen has been exhibiting his photos for the past four years, and will be showing his work in his own home as part of Art on the Hill – The Windmill Hill and Victoria Park Arts Trail on Saturday and Sunday 4th/5th October 2014 from 12-6pm. Altogether around 90 artists will be exhibiting in 50 venues, with an extensive performance programme in marquees and gazebos across the area.

Find more of Stephen’s work here www.flickr.com/photos/esteph/

Find a midweek #writingprompt inspired by Stephen’s photography here.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.