Saturday, 27 March 2010


For a long time I have wanted to launch a new word on the unsuspecting public. It is not a word I invented myself, I think that honour was Jim's, though I was instrumental in coining it the word is GERONTOLEPSY. It comes from 'geronto' meaning old age - from the greek... and '-lepsy' meaning seizure. In essence it is another way of describing a 'senior moment' - a fit of being old...

Jim is responsible also, for my thinking of this now: A week or two back it was my father's birthday and I stayed with him and my mother for the night, we went for dinner at an excellent fish and chip shop. Knowing that I was with my dad, my son Jim called me, on my iPhone, late in the evening to wish his grandfather a happy birthday. I handed the phone to my dad, telling him it was his grandson . He held the phone at arms length looking at it with complete incomprehension - why was I telling him that this elegant piece of consumer electronics was in fact his grandson? I prompted him "dad, you put it by your ear, like a telephone" The moment passed but gave us all, including dad a real belly laugh.

The Polaroid here is of Jim, rather younger than he is now, though even then there was a connection with telephones - I found this in a file of old family pictures.

Technology is fascinating, it imposes itself on us in so many ways. My dad is not a technophobe, he is however very good at selecting which pieces of technology he will allow to be imposed on him. Brian has spent his entire working life immersed in photography, both as a photographer and running a picture library. He has a marvelous eye which I have tried to emulate in my own picture taking. He is also a fine black and white printer though now the darkroom has been dismantled to make room for more computers. What has interested me though is to look at the way that he uses Photoshop. Watching him at his screen with one of his own pictures my dad uses Photoshop like an extension of his darkroom. He adjusts contrast - as he would have selected the most appropriate grade of paper. He slightly lightens or darkens selected areas as he would have dodged or burned. He adjusts the exposure a little, and he cleans up dust spots as he would have spotted prints with a sable brush in the past.

I find it so refreshing to see such an immensely complicated computer programme used like this. though I cannot deny that it is more costly than even the most beautiful sable spotting brush. What I like though is that my dad knows what a good picture is, he captured it in camera and the negative sits in a file waiting for a time in the future when it might interest someone to have a look. It is his experience as a photographer that made it a good picture and not clever post processing. The experience he has was gained through taking pictures and processing them and printing them without the safety net of knowing that he could create a montage of the good bits of twenty images if he needed to in Photoshop.

The black and white picture is of my brother, Simon and our whippet Tulip, taken by my dad in 1969 (© Brian Shuel 1969)

Lets not embrace technology before we have decided what we want it to do for us, do what my dad does, when you have to achieve something use the technology that will get you there. If the technology decides what you are going to be able to do I think it will often be the technology that should take the credit for the result.

Sometimes gerontolepsy is a fit of being wise...

Thursday, 11 March 2010


In the context of photography 'focus' is a very broad word. I have just spent the last 4 days at a trade fair called Focus on Imaging - known to all as Focus. It is a great place for people like me, who have been in the industry for a long time to meet up with friends. it is also a great place to go if you are a photographer of any level to learn what is new (sometimes the two get horribly in the way of one another!). What I learned over these last few days though is that the 'focus' is very much on the hardware and the software of a digital industry; with the exception of the press, the trade organisations and the schools there was little focus on photography.

I think that the focus should be on learning the skills of taking pictures with your head and your heart instead of with a camera that requires in many cases no more involvement from the 'photographer' than that of aiming. I am delighted to say that in discussing this with visitors to the show I found that I was not alone in feeling this way and hopefully I will have plenty of opportunity to expand on this in the future.

The pictures in this weeks blog have little to do with the subject except that they were taken at Focus... The panda faced girl is Becca, author of the brilliant sunset pictures I blogged about a few weeks ago. Becca is a friend of my son's and came to have a look around the show.

The fellow in the glasses is here for no better reason than that he had the best suited pair of glasses I have seen for ages. they were the perfect match for his face! He is (or was?) a student at University of East London. I hope to be doing something with his Tutor, Ralph who I have known for nearly 30 years!

The final picture - well, I have seen pictures like this passed off as art - very conceptual... it was taken by my lovely wife who is indeed an artist but the truth is that the focus of this particular picture was a failure to find the correct button to press to close the camera.