June 5, 2021 ·

Ed Gordon

Firstly, I would like to thank Josh for inviting me to share my work, thoughts, and ideas about photography. We cannot discuss photography in isolation of our journey in photography and of course without reference to the many great photographers that have influenced and continue to inform and influence that journey.  
 
When Josh and I first discussed writing for Lula I wasn’t confident that I could add any value to the already much-discussed topic of photography. Much has been published on equipment and how to and what to do but very little on why. 
 
Below are just some of the questions I continue to ask myself and continue to debate with other serious photographers both amateur and professional. 
 
Why Photography? Why Black and White? Why Long Exposure? What type of photographer am I? What meaning has photography in my life? What informs and influences me in photography? Where am I in this journey of UNIQUE self-expression?
 
Where do I want to get to and how do I get there?

“A photographer is someone drawing with light. A man writing and re-writing the world with light and shadows” – Sebastiao Salgado 
 

So many ideas and thoughts to explore both now and in the coming months.
 
Discussing the journey is vital if one is ever to arrive at a place of self-expression. It is by understanding the journey and the work of others that leads us to the awareness necessary to map out our own course.   
It is my hope that my words and the words of others whom I admire will stimulate and inform.

“I still dream of the day when I take a photograph so beautiful, it can be called love” – Jan Saudek 

This is the closest I have ever gotten to Jan’s dream. The image was taken 15 years ago using a Singh Ray 10 stop ND filter on the island of Skyros in Greece. I am still dreaming.


 
Eds Journey ~In The Beginning 

In the words of Don McLean “ It started out quite simply as complex things can do”. (The opening line from “The Pride Parade”)

In the ’60s my father bought a Nikkormat FTN. 

So began my love/hate relationship with Nikon. I remember him developing E6 using a dip and dunk tank for slides and shooting some really awful C41 color images. He never did like black and white but I guess for most people taking up photography Kodak and Kodachrome was the rage in the ’60s. I was but a boy but I learned about the relationship between aperture, shutter, and ISO, and I learned how to use a camera in manual mode using an 18% grey center-weighted meter. 
I loved the feel of a camera in my hands. As soon as I was able I bought myself a Praktica LTL 35mm SLR and so began my hit and miss love affair with photography. It always infuriated me that the magnificent scenes  I photographed that the prints never came back as I had seen them from the cut-price lab. 

This was my early 20’s and I had taken a job with IBM in Ireland and between work, playing serious rugby, and being a bit of a lad left little time for anything but the occasional photographic adventure. 

It wasn’t until my early thirties that the bug totally and absolutely took hold. I had just returned from a corporate jolly in Hawaii. Before leaving for Hawaii, I bought myself a shiny new Nikon F301. I was living in London at the time and immediately upon my return I sent my almost 20 rolls of amazing images off to Jessops or some other lab whose name I cannot remember. Well, you guessed right! Twenty rolls is about 720 prints and I can honestly say that not one print that came back was a keeper.

I remember the deep sense of disappointment and pondered what next? Maybe I bought the wrong camera? 

MAN RAY 1890-1976
“People ask, “what camera do you use?” I say, “you don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.”

Enter serendipity. As good fortune would have it I had planned a visit home to Ireland to see my family. 

When I arrived home and after some of the usual catching up my brother David left the room and returned with an artist’s portfolio satchel. Prancing around like a prized peacock he proudly began to show me an amazing collection of black and white images, all printed beautifully on Ilford Multigrade fiber and each print expertly placed in an off-white window mat. 

He then proceeded to inform me that he could now use the letters LRPS after his name. This was my first insight into the power of distinctions to drive one’s photography forward with a goal and objective. I was unaware of distinctions and the role played by the Royal Photographic Society. He went on to tell me that he had joined his local camera club and that he was learning a lot from the more experienced and advanced members of his club. He went on to say “and that’s not all” 

Would you like to see my new darkroom? 

And so it was that the bug firmly took hold. I spent 3 days in Ireland and most of it was spent in David’s garden shed darkroom. 

I shot some portraits of my girlfriend and we developed the film, FP4 in ID11. 

Examining each frame for proper exposure and sharpness a negative was finally placed in the Durst enlarger. Focusing complete, exposure calibrated, the time of truth had arrived. As I gently rolled the print in the developer tray something more than just that image came alive. In me was born a desire to uniquely express in images how I saw the world and so my quest for unique self-expression through photography began. I was hooked.

I set about learning the skills required to be a master of The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. The Ansel Adams trilogy and the bible for all serious fine art black and white photographers of that time and arguably still relevant in today’s digital age. 

“Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream?” – Ansel Adams

I immersed myself in all things photography and in the space of 18 months completed my LRPS, ARPS, and FRPS with the Royal Photographic Society. The discipline of setting these goals was an invaluable experience and made for a very steep learning curve. 

During this time my work became known and I was invited along with Bob Moore, the then President of the RPS, to adjudicate for a prestigious camera club competition. This was a turning point for me. It was my first run-in with the quick fix mentality provided by the tools of the new digital age and it was clear even then who and what was going to win. I felt that a shift towards fixing mistakes in Photoshop had begun and during a debate, it was clear that the point of view I expressed was going nowhere. My view was to get it right in the camera and not afterward to fix poor photographer craft in Photoshop. That was the end of my RPS involvement as I felt that I had been given all that I needed and it was time to find my way outside of the RPS. I am eternally grateful for this stage of my development and I highly recommend to any serious photographer to aim for distinctions in the RPS.

I still had a demanding day job working for a software company and so as the ’80s faded I became determined to make photography my goal.

In the most important year of my life, 1989 aged 37, I determined that I would retire aged 50 and follow my dream to travel the world making images in search of unique self-expression through the medium of photography. I made a vow that everything I did from that time forward would lead me closer to my goal. I got lucky and soon afterward I was appointed Managing Director of a software company specializing in internet search technologies. I applied myself with gusto to my work and soon became European CEO with the appropriate share options commensurate with my position. I quit my day job with some years to spare. 

Later in this story, it will become clear how the decisions I made back then would transform not just my life but the lives of others. 

The Stones were good but the BEATLES were CRAZY GOOD ~ Find your CRAZY GOOD – Ed Gordon

And so the journey began in earnest and so too did my search for my “CRAZY GOOD”. 

Powerscourt Waterfall Ireland. Use of long-exposure and blue tone to create an unreality within the ingredients of the frame.

When I founded www.explorelight.com many years ago, in 1995, I agonized over the name and finally came up with Explore Light. To my amazement, it was still unclaimed. Our evolution and growth as photographers have a direct correlation to our growth as a person. To me, the words Explore Light were about the journey as a man and as a photographer. This was a very important time for me in many ways.

Some months later I was in Florida with the renowned fine art nudes photographer Robert Farber. Canon was his sponsor and they offered to sponsor us for an ambitious project we were discussing but only if I handed over the ExploreLight name. I said no as I really wanted to keep my baby and I am a Nikon guy anyway. Thus Canon’s Explorers of Light was born. 

As an aside you should check out Robert Farber as his work is amazing. Nudes in the landscape interested me back then and still do. The images here were shot on film with a Pentax  67 almost 30 years ago and use long exposure techniques to create a unique image. Shot on Ilford FP4, printed in the darkroom, and then scanned. 

The Santa Fe image, seen here, resulted in an invitation from Photo Art International to feature my Fine Art Nudes in their very prestigious magazine. This led me to an association and friendship with the Palestinian author and photographer Yousef Khanafar. He had read the magazine feature. In my nudes, he saw a contemporary Edward Weston. I felt great joy in such praise. He contacted me, we spoke and then we met up in London to shoot some beautiful fine art nudes.

Yousef Khanfar is an award-winning international author, photographer, and humanitarian, whose images and messages transcend the dark corridors of our world and take us to places of splendor where we can find peace and humanity http://www.yousefkhanfar.com/about/

Near Santa Fe sometime in the early ’90s. Printed in my darkroom, soft/hard twin-bath developer and Ilford Warmtone and sepia-toned.
Shot during a workshop I was leading on Lake Powell, USA. In-camera shots of this kind attracted me as they were unique and could not be replicated by me or anyone else.

THE YEARS OF SEEKING~The HUNGER TO LEARN 

Remember earlier on when I recalled my epiphany moment. The intuitive grasp of my new reality back home in Ireland as the image came to life in the dev tray? I left out some bits of the journey that were key to arriving at the formation of www.explorelight.com 

Post epiphany and upon my return to London, I joined The Camera Club in Bowden Street SE11. Quite close as it happens to Silverprint and Martin the maestro of all things darkroom. 
The club was founded in 1885 when the editor of Amateur Photographer magazine, J Harris Stone, called together the most prominent photographers of that time, to create a group that aimed at being “A Social, Scientific and Artistic Centre for Amateur Photographers and others interested in Art and Science.” 

Untouchable lady shot in India on Contax 645 with Zeiss 120mm using Fuji Velvia. Wet scan of negative and edited using ArtisanProX by Joel Tjintjelaar.

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”-Ted Grant 

The photographers and members of The Camera Club were an amazing group of people and whilst the darkroom studio and all the incredible facilities were hugely important it was the members that showed curiosity and interest in my development that I most remember with great fondness and gratitude.

I was consumed with a desire to learn. I loved portraiture, street photography, and still life, and of course fine art nudes. 

These disciplines were my focus for many years and always in black and white. The Camera Club had a studio and they would have a models night and it was in Bowden Street that my love of the fine art nude was born. Poring over the work of Edward Weston, Wynne Bullock, Jeanloup Seiff, and many others, the images just spoke to me. The beginnings of a quest for meaning led me to want to shoot the nude in the landscape. It would have to wait as it required quite an investment of time and money and I still had a day job. The studio at the Camera Club became my landscape. Some years later I hooked up with Steve Anchell and my nudes in the landscape work began in earnest. More on that later.

London was full of second-hand bookstores. My favorite was in Chelsea’s, Worlds End. 
Almost every Sunday for many years I would make the pilgrimage to Hyde Park Speakers Corner and shoot TriX on a Contax G2 and FP4 on my Nikon F4 and in later years on my F5. After each shoot, I would make a beeline for Chelsea. I would first find a “greasy spoon” diner and have a big breakfast. Fortified, I would spend forever looking at all the secondhand photography books. This was how I built my enormous collection of books on photography and art. No internet and no Amazon back then. I would still highly recommend that you scour your universe for some great books as opposed to trawling YouTube for the latest tips and quick fixes in Photoshop. 

“Books inform. Our response to images informs. They tell us who we are, and more importantly who we are not” – Ed Gordon

I love this image. It informs me of my continuing quest to find and to speak with my own voice.

In addition to the camera club and the books, I made it a point to seek out photographers whose work I admired. Workshops were an obvious choice and at the time Duckspool, run by Peter Goldfield, had the most incredible schedule of courses with great photographers providing tuition, insights, and mentoring. I attended many. 
My favorite by far was Leonard Freed. Early in Freed’s career, Edward Steichen then curator at the Museum of Modern Art, bought three of Freed’s images. He regarded  Freed as one of the best young photographers he had ever seen. Leonard and I got along and we liked each other. I think he saw my hunger and desire to find my voice.

One evening there was a funfair/carnival nearby so we headed out to shoot with TriX and Fp4 or Ilford 3200. Armed with two Contax G2’s and 10 rolls of TriX and another 10 rolls of FP4 I set about making images. 

I left Leonard near some unassuming vendor stands and a street lamp. Several hours later when I returned to that same spot there was Leonard still standing there with his Leica calmly resting high on his chest. 

I was about to learn, maybe, the biggest lesson of my entire photography career. 

This is almost 30 years ago and I still remember his words to this day. 

It’s real simple Ed, he said in his Brooklyn deep drawl. I haven’t moved because I’ve been observing what’s going on and what I observed made me choose to stay here.

I looked around, still puzzled, and nothing of significance jumped out at me. He knew I was stupid so he made me suffer. The more I looked around the more puzzled I became and the more amused he was. He was a teacher, teaching me. Just like the time, Fay Godwin told me to come back with grown-up paper, but that’s another story of another great teacher. 

Back to Leonard. When I got here Ed the first thing I noticed is the small winding pathway leading to the candy floss stall run by that very pretty girl. I looked and sure enough, there she was, still there. The next thing I took in was the “young buck” (Leonard’s words)  in the next stall. 

To my mind Ed we are looking at the possibility for the greatest type of picture in the world here. Love and romance. It was quite clear to me said, Leonard. They like each other and that’s the reason I am still here. 

Then he asked me a question. So Ed, what’s the final piece of this jigsaw? 

I’m Ed Gordon, I’m European CEO of a $Billion dollar company and this guy is making me feel like a jackass. I looked around and infuriatingly I saw him trying to suppress laughter.

Finally, Mr Freed PLEASE put me out of my misery.

Ok Ed, here goes. We have the boy, we have the girl. We have a small winding pathway that they will have to pass along to get to the car park or the pub after the fair closes down. 

What’s the key ingredient along the pathway Ed? 

Another infuriating question and again I feel like the dumb dog in the Tom and Jerry cartoons as the dog turns into a jackass.

It’s the street lamp, Ed. The street lamp is all. It is everything and nothing.

It is a possibility in my imaginings. It is the chance of a great picture that I imagine in my mind and that I am ready to shoot. 

All I need is for them to leave together and for him to stop her UNDER that street lamp and kiss her. 

The penny dropped. All at once, I knew I was in the presence of genius and this genius was sharing his vision with me, a mere mortal. Despite him having kicked the **** out of my pride I loved him for it. I knew why he did it and I knew why he made it so difficult for me. He was taking his responsibility as my teacher seriously.

Leonard did not get his shot and so as we walked back to our car in silence I felt the embrace of a new friend happy in giving all that he could to his new jackass friend. 

On the drive back to our hotel I thought about the Killorglin Puck Fair festival I had attended in Ireland the previous year. I kid you not (no pun intended) I shot about 60 rolls of film a day at Killorglin. It was like a feeding frenzy and weeks afterward when I viewed the images I felt a deep disappointment in the work I had done. I was a clickaholic. Not a photographer. Not an artist. Not a thinking Leonard Freed armed with vision and craft and skill. I was just a man endlessly pressing a shutter in the hope something would stick. 

I will always be grateful to Leonard Freed for the lesson learned and the wisdom shared. It’s what all photographers should do, share willingly, but not all will. I am a Leonard in this respect and so is my son Peter and all the photographers allied with www.explorelight.com

“How is the light describing the subject”? How will the light describe the subject”? -Ed Gordon

TO BE CONTINUED ~ I think that’s enough of my ramblings for this month. 

Ed Gordon

June 2021


 

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Ed Gordon

It’s been more than 20 years now since I founded www.explorelight.com and gave up my day job to immerse myself fully in my photography. My work has been published in various magazines including Photo Art International and Outdoor Photographer. I have also featured in numerous radio and TV celebrations of the work created by myself and my son Peter, European Professional Photographer of the Year 2013. As I reflect on almost a lifetime of making images and teaching others to find their voice in photography I realize that unique self-expression and authenticity are the ultimate goals in this great medium. The changes that have taken place in these past 10 years motivate me to share my journey and in so doing provide insights so that others can learn to find their voice in photography.

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