Chasing the Ambient

I started out out, like most people with a camera, just shooting pictures with natural light. I hadn’t yet got to grips with flash and I loved the simplicity and spontaneity of daylight.
I served my apprenticeship on the ambient. Forever studying the play and complexity of light, I developed an awareness of it that is now like a ‘sixth sense’.
I see the world in the way the light transforms it.
There are so many things in a room I fail to notice but light is definitely not one of them.
Ironically there are now so many aspiring photographers and film makers that I meet who just want to fast track their way into the business of making images.
Bypassing the process of learning the most basic concepts of light and an ability to craft a still image they just want to race on to ‘higher’ things.
For me, as a photographer, the road to ‘higher’ things was a long, hard and challenging ride.
When I finally achieved commercial success and moved into global advertising my world was flooded with flash…..Assistants, light meters, strobes, flags, soft boxes, – the whole caboodle needed to produce the slick glossy images that I was tagged with.
As a photographer if I get asked one question more than any other it’s…….. ‘how do you achieve the ‘flash’ in your pictures?
Nobody really wants to know how – they just want to be told the formula and move on.
And that’s the point…how can you understand the use of artificial light if you have no knowledge of the natural?
So that’s my advice…start with the the most basic and beautiful light there is – daylight, and work your way on from there.

portrait by John Hicks portrait by John Hicks

portrait by John Hicks

 

portrait of the artist as a young man

I’ve always looked for the beauty in dereliction. Decaying, abandoned buildings, peeling walls, rusted artifacts and long discarded objects all hold a visual fascination for me. I spend time searching out and photographing these places – both in their own right and as a backdrop for my environmental portraits.
Recently I stumbled across an old abandoned ‘finca’ with an amazing series of graffiti artworks decorating its walls and inhabiting its spaces. It was a gallery of work – years in the making, that nobody had ever seen. Through each room you could see the development of the artist as they fueled the need to paint these crumbling walls. I was intrigued by this ‘unknown’ artist and what inspired them to paint a building that would soon be demolished. Most of all I was overwhelmed by the respect the ‘unknown’ artist showed this devastated house and how the graffiti complimented, rather than detracted from, its environment.
I posted a photo of the ‘artwork by unknown artist’ on Instagram but nobody knew more of this mystery creator.
I was left with nothing but questions. What drives an artist to produce art that may never be seen, let alone bought, by anyone? When the building is demolished and the artwork reduced to dust – where does that leave the artist?
I can relate to the physical need to make images – to take photos or paint pictures, because it is compulsion, obsession, vocation and from the day I left the ‘finca’ I was determined to find this fellow artist.
I did that yesterday. His name is Mangüe López. He’s just 17 years old. If he had a website to link to I would but he’s an original talent and he’s not doing it for the fame or the gain – he’s just doing it because he is.

 portrait-of-the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicksportrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

portrait of the-artist-Mague-by john hicks

thoughts on photography

I photographed these black and white double exposures in Paris years ago – back in the day when I still used film and there was no photoshop, no lightroom, no presets and everything was done in camera. I  pulled them from the archive because I wanted to do some more double exposures recently and discovered that with digital cameras I can no longer do this!!! It got me thinking about the ‘decisive moment’ and our ability, as photographers, to capture that frame in the split second that it passes across our vision.
I took the colour ‘pool splash’ photo in Cape Town for an editorial where the budget only allowed 2 rolls of film per shot. Shooting medium format it meant I only had 24 frames to nail it. In order to get the water splash back lit against the sky I was shooting directly into the sun. Using the model’s body to partially block the sun, but still allow enough flare to create the shot, I also had to perfectly time it with the assistant throwing a bucket of water off camera.
It’s hard to describe the anticipation of waiting for that ‘decisive moment’ and the exhilaration of just knowing you’ve got it. Instinctively I ‘knew’ the minute I pressed the shutter button, and before I wound the film cartridge on, that I already had the image I wanted. I didn’t need to look at the back of the camera to check – because you couldn’t.
Call me a purist but I’m proud of the fact that I took these shots ‘in camera’. I guess it’s an obsolete skill to have but in the modern photographic world we seem to have forgotten the very basics of photography. The internet is full of second rate photographs taken in terrible light and with no clue as to a half decent composition. The people who take these pictures then blog/brag about how to make them look decent using an array of quick click post production tools.
Actually I admire the honesty of these ‘before and after’ artists. It’s a bit like celebrities who have plastic surgery and don’t try to hide it. I’ve never used more than minimal retouching in my own work – preferring, even now, to get as much as I can ‘in camera’  because I can and because, personally, I think it’s lazy not to.
It’s a skill that’s served me well in motion capture and the move to cinematography and I’m grateful for it.

poolshower-by-john-hickstalking-to-the-trees-by-john-hicks

 

 

talking-to-the-trees-by-john-hicks

Auckland, Art, Aerosols & Artists

on a recent trip to New Zealand I discovered that it’s cities have a rich and vibrant history of graffiti and street art.
Sadly most of the public spray paint art in Auckland had been erased in preparation for the Rugby World Cup 2012
so I missed out on seeing some its most iconic pieces but I did get a chance to meet up with many of the artists driving the regeneration and appreciation of this evolving art form.
Thanks to all those who took part and to the hugely talented aerosol artists I missed meeting up with – I hope to catch
up with you all further down the road to continue this project.
For more information on each featured artist – just click the images below…

Askew One by John Hicks

Askew One

Gasp by John Hicks

Gasp

Erin Forsyth by John Hicks

Erin Forsyth

Xoe Hall by John Hicks

Xoe Hall

Enforce1 by John Hicks

Enforce1

Flox by John Hicks

Flox

Component by John Hicks

Component

Wert159 by John Hicks

Wert159

Ross 'TrustMe' Liew by John Hicks

Ross ‘TrustMe’ Liew