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.
screen grabs from a recent commercial with Nike sponsored triathlete Helle Frederiksen
Just finished working as DoP on The Actress – an amazing film collaborative project with The Smalls.
Directed by Ben Charles Edwards and starring Sadie Frost, Perry Benson, Sally Phillips, Morgana Robinson
it tells the story of a grand old movie star through the eyes of the cinema that she spent her life performing for..
I can’t wait to see the finished edit but here are some behind the scenes photos from Chris James Edwards
Yesterday my attention was caught by a great project which needs support on the Kickstarter fundraising platform.
I personally backed it because I read the objective and I believe it’s a story that needs telling and will be well told by photographer and film maker John Ferguson
In an age where editorial can no longer fund image makers to create personal projects of value and significance,
I hope you you will take the time to read more about The Forgotten Cowboys by John Ferguson and consider a small donation.
“As a ten-year-old boy playing cowboys with friends at school in England, I was never allowed to be a cowboy; I could only be a Native American Indian. I was told: “Black boys were never cowboys” or “Have you ever seen a black cowboy?” I had to admit that I had never seen a single black cowboy.
The only cowboys we ever saw were your white archetypal squared-jawed, American gun-slinging heroes. Think of our screen legends; The Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood, right up to The Marlboro Man, the list is endless. Not one black cowboy amongst them.
Indeed Hollywood played a big part in keeping the cowboy myth alive. In fact where American history and identity has been projected by Hollywood and the mass media, the non-white settlers have largely been left out of the story.
Thirty years later and enjoying watching those same legends with my own children, I have only just learnt the truth; many of the first cowboys were black.
I have now made it my metier to discover these forgotten cowboys. And I have been both surprised and excited to find a thriving African American cowboy community.
There are many reasons why the history books fail to mention the contribution of the black cowboys. Oral tradition had preserved stories in the past, but illiteracy played a major role in their exclusion from America’s written history. Those who were literate always wrote their history, those who could not simply disappeared.
The original term ‘cowboy’ was a derogatory slight against the black man often born into slavery. The terms house boy, field boy, kitchen boy and ‘cow boy’ were commonly used. Ironically, because of the abilities of these early stock handlers, the term became associated with strength, skill and tough, manly ruggedness.
After the American civil war many black cowboys and former plantation slaves enlisted in the army cavalry and were known as Buffalo Soldiers.Once they left the military they stayed in the Western territories and became ranch hands or cowboys. Non-military black men simply went West, seeking a better life, signed on with ranches and learned on the job. They were often brilliant horseman or sharp shooters, and many went on to become ranch foremen and managers, while others were hired as guides or federal peace officers in the Indian territories. It is estimated that as many a a third of all cowboys contracted to drive cattle to markets across America were either black, Indian or Mexican.
As well as the physically hard lifestyle, African American cowboys, often had to endure discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice. To counter this they learnt to excel at their work. They were most often the best at roping, bronco busting, taming mustangs, calling the brands, controlling the herd, or topping off horses.
I found it thrilling to see how these skills have been passed down through the generations. From New Mexico to Texas and as far up as the San Francisco Bay Area, many African Americans can trace their lineage right back to the old South.
I will continue my work and am anxious to discover more about some of the amazing characters, meeting the new breed of 21st century black cowboys working on the many ranches scattered around the Southern states today.
I hope to document the lives of the men women and children who compete in the hundreds of rodeo events across the country. Shockingly many black cowboys from communities across the US were banned from competing at the main rodeos right until the late 1980’s.
Even with that hardship I have found that black cowboys were fundamental to the evolution of the western narrative, which has been so central to the identity of mainstream or “White America”.
When I came across this community of black cowboys recently in Texas it surprised me how little I knew and also how little was known about these true pioneers of the Wild West.
For too long now, the contributions of the African-American cowboy has been overlooked and almost forgotten in the great history of the American West. I would like to recognize these unsung heroes.
My aim is to produce a multimedia exhibition, which will consist of one full length documentary feature film, three short video stories, a photographic portrait series and a photographic book, all under the title of ‘The Forgotten Cowboy’.
I want to realise the widest cultural and educational exposure for this captivating and vastly unexplored subject matter globally.
My responsibility as a documentarian photographer/filmmaker is to translate what I see and to produce an objective project, which enlightens, entertains, stirs emotion, educates, and hopefully leaves an indelible impression. And as a visual artist I have a keen curiosity in every new story that comes my way.
With your help and support I can create an extensive chronicle on this much over-looked community that has served it’s nation well over the centuries, without recognition or reward.
These cowboys and cowgirls are proud of their heritage and background and have seen their stories gradually, if very slowly, entering mainstream American history. I would like to help promote and document their stories.”
To find out more about The Forgotten Cowboys by John Ferguson press play on the image below