“She was not fragile like a flower; She was fragile like a bomb…”- Poetry At Most

“Personal Work”…  I have used the expression in this blog and also in comments on LI about work being “personal”, so I thought I would explain that. I think I actually use it as a caveat, that is “personal work” not fitting the parameters that we expect to see in portrait or fine art photography. I am speaking specifically about my portraiture in the gallery “Obscure Poésie“. I create this kind of work with a personal vision, the composition and styling, the processing and presentation, including the narrative or title that accompanies it. I believe it is my most emotional work. It all means something to me, and that is who I am creating it for. In the previous blog post one of the main themes was that I wanted my work to be easily understood, there is nothing mystical about it, but it is intrinsically “me”, and at times it is not understood at all, something that I don’t have a problem with. I indulge myself in this work, in portraiture, it means more to me than any other genre, that’s why I can spend several years working on how I want to present a particular image, it’s all very fluid. I have changed the entire narrative and title of a portrait series in the past, because my vision for it changed, and I accept that I can see things in an image or a series later that I have not before. So revisiting work is something I have always been comfortable with. That is not how I worked when I was a painter, I worked weeks on a canvas till finally I  had to tell myself, “it is finished”, whether I really felt that or not, it had to end. My photography, my images, feel dynamic in a way my paintings never did, always waiting for me to perhaps discover something about each one I had not recognized. RG

“Reflections On Baudelaire’s “Le Désir de peindre” “

“The Desire To Paint”, “Le Désir de peindre”, by Charles Pierre Baudelaire, so clearly reminds me of the intensity I feel about the work from “Dark Poetry”, “Obscure Poésie“. You may read the English translation of the poem (here). As I have stated in other blog posts, I was a painter for many years, and I was always dreaming of many more paintings, and always aware that I could only accomplish a few, yet it did not stop me from imagining them in detail. I feel the same way about the project, “Dark Poetry”. There is not a single day in over two years that I have not reviewed and considered images from that work, it kind of washes over me like a black tide, cold yet exhilarating, like swimming in the ocean at night, seeing a bright moon overhead and yet not knowing what lies beneath you. Each morning when I walk the path through the woods and along the stream I imagine her in a white Edwardian gown, sitting near the narrow stream in contemplation or her face deep within the boughs of an Evergreen tree staring silently ahead and waiting for me to capture her visage…she never invites a touch but she offers and gives what she can, her clear and direct gaze, her eyes into mine. I have seen her with Honeysuckle blossoms falling from her hair, I have seen her with her arms gently encircling the trunk of a tree as she presses one cheek against it, I have seen her lift the hem of her gown and dip her toes into the stream as it twinkles like diamonds with sunlight that filters through the trees and glances across the water. She who is the object of Baudelaire’s “Le Désir de peindre” is also the object of my “Obscure Poésie“, my “Dark Poetry”. RG

“…she tastes like every dark thought I’ve ever had.” ” …elle avait le goût de mes pensées les plus sombres. “

“…she tastes like every dark thought I’ve ever had.” from the novel, ‘White Cat’, by Holly Black

This quote was left in a comment on one of my portraits recently and of course, it resonated.  And so, I am discussing portraits again.
Portraits are an adventure to me. I have traveled the world and yet true adventure for me is what I find in post after I have done a two-hour portrait shoot!  I can find seduction, intimidation, grace, strength and weakness, I can find everything we are or can be, or desire to be, in portraiture. When I began work with a model for a new portrait series I have no idea where it will take me…that’s “adventure” to me. More to come… RG

“She never cried, never uttered a word. Only her eyes spoke. Big, tragic eyes.” Jean-Paul Sartre

“Thoughts about my work”…”Lovely simple idea, Roy, beautifully executed.” This comment was left on the attached image of my model’s hands that I had posted on LinkedIn. The image was taken just before we had begun our work this day. I am punctual about beginning and ending a shoot on time, and yet I also love shooting spontaneously, and as I have said other times in my blog posts, I consider my style instinctive and visceral, and much of my portraiture, particularly that of “Dark Poetry”, is retro-Romantic. I don’t have elaborate plans or schedules, I don’t use stylists and hairdressers, I don’t have a “team”, I wouldn’t know what to do with a team except go for a pint! I’m really a Blue-Collar fine-art photographer, most of my life I was a laborer, and I think I bring a direct, perhaps blunt, style to my work, I want it to be easily understood with the eyes, and perhaps the heart, with some images. These sensibilities served me well as a photojournalist and documentary photographer, where unvarnished truth is paramount, and yet I work the same way with my fine-art portraiture, I do not use PS, I do not “retouch” my work, i’m not even sure what that means and I don’t want to know! I am uncomfortable with color, even though I have two posts on LinkedIn in a toned color, I do not have any on my website. Color detracts from what you are trying to say with an image!

I viewed the work of another photographer today, a well known French photographer, and of course it made me compare it to my own, not the images, but the philosophy behind his work. If you view a great portion of someone’s work, as if going through their website, you can see the philosophy behind what they are saying and trying to communicate. I don’t view my work as complex, I don’t view photography as complex, I want my work to be straightforward, I want it to be easily apprehended and understood, and most importantly, I want it to be “felt”, with no confusion about what I am saying with an image. The images from my street, documentary and photojournalism reflect what I think is important to show the viewer. The portrait work from “Dark Poetry” reflects what I think personally is beautiful, seductive, provocative. I am showing the viewer who I am, what I believe is significant, how I feel about a variety of things. I take pride now in revealing who I am through my work, but in the beginning it was daunting, I believe I used the expression in the past that you are “betraying” who you are very intimately through your photography.
This has become long, I will post it today! Thank you to all of my subscribers for inspiring me to understand what I am doing and trying to say through my work. RG

“A message…”

I received a message today, by a LI connection that has followed my work for months. It did more than touch me, it slammed me, as the author mentioned and referred to my work set within the world of today, certainly not a very nice place, and what it means to him. To say the least, it affected me profoundly. I post it below:
“In these incredibly uncertain times, it is art and beauty on my LinkedIn timeline that is going to be my savior. Thank you for helping me to maintain some semblance of sanity. It is in the eyes of your subjects that I find the common thread of humanity. Humanity. In all of its forms. Without filter. It is a beautiful gift. Your ability. Thank you”
I have always had the freedom to shoot exactly what I choose to, whether fine art, documentary or photojournalism, and I have always fiercely protected that freedom. It’s always been so important to me that people who view my work understand I have made all of the choices for each image, from composition to processing to presentation. Because this work, my work, represents who I am in the most real and intimate sense. RG

“À mes abonnés français”

*A note to my French subscribers!
“À mes abonnés français, je veux dire un “merci” spécial. Ma photographie a été influencée non seulement par les nombreux photographes français célèbres, mais aussi par les philosophes, les intellectuels et les poètes français… Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Rimbaud, Gide, Baudelaire et tant d’autres. Je crois que l’acte photographique est non seulement guidé par l’œil, mais aussi par le cœur, par ce qui nous nourrit et nous façonne, par le regard que nous portons sur l’autre et sur le monde. Et au-delà de ce que nous voyons, l’acte photographique est guidé par ce que nous ressentons juste avant de prendre la photo et qui dépasse l’intuitif, l’instinctif.
Donc, je vous adresse un salut particulier, vous qui savez voir et appréciez mon travail, vous, qui êtes vraiment ma “raison d’être.” RG

“Honeysuckle in the morning…” “Le chèvrefeuille le matin…”

I glanced over at the Honeysuckle today while walking and it reminded me of when I was a boy…I would spend an hour, in “childs time” about ten minutes, plucking Honeysuckle blossoms, one by one, then carefully pulling the stamen through the end for that one small droplet of sweet nectar. It, of course, reminded me of photography, of those fine images that you might capture, those moments that disappear in a fraction of a second. I shoot fast, I shoot a lot of images and I shoot fast. When I worked in the field there were a variety of reasons why I worked quickly. There were many instances in the field or the street where I was not welcome with a camera, or as a foreign journalist, many images I captured I had to work quickly and move on. I found that doing photojournalism or documentary work I would close myself off, I was stoic, I framed quickly and was always looking for those images with pathos and yet I didn’t let the significance of the scene or image affect me emotionally, if you did you couldn’t do the job, at that moment it was a “picture” to me, a good picture, but still just that. The images touched me later, in post, and that is when I reflected on what each one meant or had shown, an issue I have dealt with in past blog posts.
In contrast to working in the field, when I have worked in the studio with my model, I have opened myself up. I viewed her as a lover would, I saw only beauty and grace, I saw no flaws. And I think that is significant, although it is not something I expected, it is something I realized quickly and embraced. I would shoot just under a thousand images an hour in a two hour shoot, I was consumed with capturing everything about her, each nuance, each glance, it is an exhilarating kind of intimacy, and I realized that my style of portrait photography is just that, it is intimate, it is a kind of abandon, desire, and surrender, of sensuous joy, that is why the work with her fits so many narratives I have placed it in, from “L’amour L’après-midi”, “Love In The Afternoon”, to “Le Bain de Minuit”, “The Midnight Swim”, to “Bronte dans le miroir”, “Bronte In The Mirror”, and I am still finding inspiration in the work I have done with her. RG

“Eyes as black and as shiny as chips of obsidian stared back into his. They were eyes like black holes, letting nothing out…” Neil Gaiman

“About My Work”…I create my images the same way I painted, by what feels “right”, what feels “beautiful”, to me. From the original idea, to composition and processing and finally, presentation, my work is instinctive and visceral. I don’t follow rules of photography because I don’t care about them, and don’t know them anyway. There is bliss in not knowing the parameters someone else, or history, has established. I am excited to find and capture fascinating angles and lines in a composition, and as I’ve said before, I love “negative space”, which to me can give an existential quality to a particular image.
A lady in Spain recently left a comment on a portrait of mine referring to me as “The man who sees souls”. It startled me, less because it was flattering and more because it was so damn beautiful! I’ve expressed several times throughout this blog how much I love creating portraits, and also perhaps the reason being is that I don’t connect with people often. If anyone really wants to know who I am, they have only to view my work, I really believe that it reflects, and at times betrays, more about me than my words ever could.
I have been taking a short walk in a park the last few months, about thirty minutes, doing what the Japanese call “forest bathing”, no aerobics, no power-walking, no worrying, just moving down a path through trees and bushes and a rippling stream and the wildness of it all. I can’t help but see “portraits” in every bit of beauty, a face in the midst of a huge Fir tree, a figure in white posed among the pebbles in the shallow stream, or emerging from the huge roots of a tree along the bank.
I drive each day by a railroad track that has a large stack of railroad ties, and the side where they are end-to-end would make the most amazing close backdrop for a portrait series, these dark, aged square ends.
I live my work, my photography, each day… RG

“A Revolution Story…”

roygunnels-cairoegypt-tahrirsquare-egyptianrevolution-roygunnelsphotography-10I was talking today to a friend, an artist and visual art instructor, about the challenges and risks shooting in the field…as I’ve mentioned earlier in blog posts, I was arrested a myriad number of times during the Egyptian revolution, and had my share of ugly incidents across the Middle East and East Africa, as well as my own country. That said, it’s simply part of shooting “in the field”, to me…
And yet one incident during the revolution was perhaps the most significant. I had been at Tahrir Square for hours shooting the happy throng, it was the day after Mubarak had stepped down and the revolution was theoretically over, with it’s goals achieved.
As I was leaving I saw a child cleaning the tracks of an Egyptian Army tank, and stopped to photograph the scene, this young girl in a “Dr Seuss” hat in the colors of the Egyptian flag, brushing the dirt from the wheels of the tank. I shot a short series and then a soldier appeared, grabbed my arm and asked “Are you an Israeli?”. I produced my passport but that did not settle the matter, he called other soldiers over and I was escorted through the crowd to a group of officers, who proceeded to repeatedly ask if I was Israeli or had been to Israel, and searched my camera bag, then began going through the images on my camera.
Even though I had been followed by State Security operatives while I was working protests, and detained numerous times during the revolution by both the military and the police, I was always questioned, searched, and allowed to go, but this felt different, it felt much more serious.  I had my cell phone and called my friend and frequent shooting partner, herself an Egyptian, and told  her what was happening and I would keep the line open for her to hear it all. The officer in charge at that point noticed I had someone online who was listening, and kept assuring me there was no need to contact the US Embassy when I suggested I was going to.
So, the repeated searches continued, and the questions, and the idea somehow that I was an Israeli spy.  At that point I was surrounded by a throng of soldiers, several officers and a group of enlisted men, all armed of course, as the lead officer kept calling higher ranking officers on his cell, to discuss what to do with me. My Arabic was not good enough to keep up with the discussions, but really, it was the only time during the revolution I felt very uneasy about what might occur. It’s interesting to note here that post-revolution can be a very dangerous time, with channels of command and control very hazy.  Under those circumstances mistakes by authorities can be made, and I did not want to be one of those “mistakes”.
So, after about 45 minutes I was released, with the commanding officer returning my passport and equipment and wishing me “Welcome to Egypt”, even though I had been living there for several years…It is significant to note here that my Egyptian friend, herself a journalist, was very concerned about what she heard in Arabic, “frightened” is the word she used, and that she had begun calling other activists in Tahrir to assemble, find my location and confront the soldiers.
And so, a “war story”, or at least a “revolution story”, from me today…RG

“Missed Moments”

After I had returned from living and working in the Middle East I yearned to see some rural areas here, so one day I drove out to a lake I remembered as a boy. It was a narrow two-lane highway twisting and turning lazily in the morning sun, a quiet drive with meadows of grass on each side and butterflies and solitude. As I was approaching what I remembered being the entrance to one side of the lake there was a fisherman’s “bait shop” on the left. It was such an unusual sight in the world today, a low, wooden building with two old-style gas pumps out front and huge, dried catfish heads nailed across one side, trophies from the past…Sitting just to the left of the front door was a wise old dog, a German Shepherd greyed with age who I expect had sat there for years. To say the scene was “iconic” is an understatement, it was a step back in time for me, to a world that did not exist anymore, and yet here it was, this jewel of the past that looked as if it had suddenly transported from the 1950’s or 60’s to the present day. I knew I had to capture this scene, but as I reached for my camera bag a truck pulled in to fill up with gas. I decided to drive down to the lake and on the way back I would take the picture. As things happened I drove past with other matters on my mind and when I remembered it down the highway I thought I would return another day. And when I did return a week or so later the bait shop had burned to the ground. It was charred and empty, the dog was gone, everything it had been for decades and everything it had meant to me, that I had seen in it, were gone…

Missed moments…there are other pictures I have missed but yet exist in my memories, times around the world in places that I had to be careful about taking photographs, about pausing, about being vulnerable. And scenes that developed before my eyes and disappeared before I could aim and shoot. I always wear my camera bag on my left shoulder and the camera around my neck, hanging down in front, even though it’s a heavy camera and big lens I keep it there, close, against my chest, with my left hand cradling it, always ready. And as I have mentioned before in this blog, there are images I captured but decided I didn’t want to see again, even though I will always remember them, the people and moments, I didn’t want the graphic recollection of the image itself, and so deleted them. A photograph is more then a picture, it records real people with real heartbreaks and torments at times, if you are doing documentary or photojournalism, it records real sadness, I have never forgotten that fact, and I believe all of the work I choose to show reflects a respect for the challenges people face in life in so many different ways.
I have learned to shoot when I see an image I want, and don’t hesitate…it’s why I named one of my primary galleries, “Éphémères : Moments fugitifs de par le Monde”, “Ephemera: Fleeting Moments From Across The World”  RG