I had been anticipating the 2021 Open House Hobart weekend for weeks. As usual, my sister and I had booked in for several tours across Saturday and Sunday, and we had a lot to look forward to.
Our first tour on Saturday was Tate House in Taroona, which was built in 1958, designed by Esmond Dorney for the current owner, Erik’s, uncle, who lived there for many years.
The Open House description of the house says
Tate House sits above the river’s edge with 180 degree views of the estuary, along with the hills and bays of the far shore. The immediate foreground, originally beach and boat sheds, is now slightly masked by later development. The house is a continuation of the form and structural technology of the Dorney Shack (1957) and the Young (Butterfly) House of 1958. With immediate street frontage, this design needed to find a different solution from those two projects to ensure privacy in a developing suburban context. Allied to some solid panels, a slightly deeper setback allows the garden to mask the glazing. The form itself responds directly to the hills on the eastern horizon, offering a relaxed logic to the street view.
In 2019, the current owners commissioned Preston Lane Architects to carefully restore the existing house and update the interiors, maintaining the essence of the original building while also accommodating the changing needs of the clients, allowing them to age in place.
Paddy Dorney spoke of how much planning went into the restoration project and of the passion of Erik, the architects, and the builders, who all worked to maintain the integrity of Esmond’s design while updating it to reflect the occupants’ needs. He noted the care and attention that James, the builder, who was also there for the tour, had put into the project.
The downstairs section wasn’t part of Esmond’s original design and it was deliberately designed to not look like his work.
Part of the redesign was to include an internal staircase, so that people didn’t have to go outside to get upstairs. It’s a beautiful addition, sympathetic to the design but not trying to replicate it.
I walk past this house often and never knew the downstairs area was there because you can’t see it from the street. I’d thought the house looked so small and wondered how it was possible to live in it.
Learning about the flow-on design from the shack and the way downstairs was incorporated later, it all made sense.
I’d also been watching the renovations from the outside and, even though my first impression when seeing the house stripped back was to be horrified, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would do anything to a Dorney house that hadn’t been well considered and in keeping with its origins.
It’s beautiful work and the house looks wonderful. It’s a simple but very clever design with lovely attention to detail. It seems to just fit the space perfectly as well as take advantage of the wonderful river views.
One of the things I want to do this year (and every year) is improve my photography, which is kind of like asking myself to measure a piece of string. It is, as I’m sure is the case with any craft, a skill that you can keep on learning about forever and still never feel like you know everything.
That’s the beauty of it.
So saying that I want to improve is not so much setting a goal as taking an endless voyage of continuous learning.
One of the things I can do to learn, aside from actually going out and making photographs, is to take some courses in areas that I want to do better in. I’ve signed up to many of them, and always seem to start and never finish them. I find it difficult to stay motivated when the whole course is delivered online and there’s little, if any, interaction with the instructor, and no assignments to hand in. Some of them have online groups you can post your work in but there is still very little accountability and no one chases you up if you don’t. However, I suppose this is the difference between a short online course for a few hundred dollars and, say, a uni degree or diploma for several thousand dollars, which I seemed to have no lack of motivation to finish.
Anyway, my lack of follow-through aside, one of the courses I have been working through (slowly) is called The Compelling Frame by the Canadian photographer David duChemin. David describes the course as being “designed to help you better understand visual design and composition, specifically how we use those to create more captivating, more powerful, photographs”.
I’ve been working though the lessons (there are 19) this year, and have just completed lesson 9. (Did I mention I was working very slowly?)
This lesson is about contrast, and one of the exercises is to go out and make photographs of ten contrasts. This could be obvious things like colour contrast, dark/light or size, or more “conceptual” such as new/old and natural/man made.
The brief didn’t say they had to be great photographs or even photographs that were trying to say something, so I tried to let that additional pressure go and just look for contrast. I took my 24mm lens, which I haven’t used for ages. I was talking about it with a friend the other day and thinking how once upon a time, before I got my 50 mm lens, this had been my favourite lens and how it might be fun to take it out for a while. So I did.
Here are some of the images I came back with. I did some quick edits on them and cropped most of them to 8×10 to try something different. I don’t think there’s anything earth shatteringly brilliant here but what I found interesting was the more I looked for contrast, the more I found it everywhere.
I also found that in some of the images, there was more than one type of contrast, which I mostly didn’t notice until I got back home and started looking at them.
When I got the idea for the 50 in 50 project, I thought it would be interesting to challenge myself to take a photo every day with the same lens, and to restrict myself to using only that lens for a whole month to see what new perspectives I could get by limiting my choices. I had initially thought I’d use my 24mm prime lens because, well, because I love it and I could see myself using just that lens forever and never using anything else.
But loving that lens so much, I didn’t think that it would be a huge challenge to not use it. The 50mm, on the other hand, well, that was something different. I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d bought it and I’d rarely used it. I think I’d heard it was a good lens for portraits but, as portraits aren’t a genre I’m very interested in at all, I’m not sure what I thought getting a portrait lens would achieve.
Nonetheless, I had it and it was sitting there in my lens bag unused. Everytime I went to use it, everything would be SO CLOSE and I’d hastily swap it for my 10-22 where I was a lot more comfortable.
I’d set myself the goal of completing a 30-day project with one lens in 2020 as part of my 20 in 2020 list that I write about on my other blog. I realised at the end of October that time was running out if I wanted to get this done. I was on a short break in the middle of a very frantic time at work when I decided, in that way you make crazy decisions when you’re relaxed and on holidays, that I was going to start the project the very next day with the 50mm lens and it was going to be a 50-day project, not a 30-day one. Because 50/50/50 was just so much tidier than 30/50/30.
The challenge was set and the rules were made. I locked all my other lenses away in my camera bag and began. The main rule was that I needed to make at least one photo every day and post it. I didn’t actually have to edit or post it the day I took the photo, as long as I’d actually captured a photo every day. I was a little bit flexible with the challenge and I did allow myself to continue to use my phone for thing I’d normally have used my phone for anyway like casual daily photos and Hobart Street Corners.
So what did I learn?
Not allowing myself to crop the images, other than what was needed to straighten them, meant that I had to be a lot more careful in my framing in-camera. In some photos that were very tight, I found it difficult to make the adjustments I needed to compensate for the viewfinder showing me a slightly different view than what appeared in the image. More than once, an image that I thought I’d framed perfectly ended up with something I thought I had excluded sneaking in on the right hand side, or the image wasn’t framed exactly the way I had thought it was.
It was also difficult to step back as far as I needed to get what I wanted into the frame, so in a lot of photos I ended up getting closer and including less in the image than I had intended. This is why there are a lot of photos from the challenge of the tops of buildings or details, because the 50mm perspective just didn’t allow everything to be included. There are limits to how far you can step back sometimes, because there are things like brick walls or roads with heavy traffic that stop you. Getting run over in the pursuit of my art is not really the way I want to end my life!
Doing this challenge forced me to look at things in a different way to how I would have if I was using the 10-22 lens and trying to get everything in. It helped me to isolate details that I found interesting and to really think about what was interesting about a scene. It often felt like it was a lot more of a personal way to make photos, to find the element that spoke to me within what was usually quite a cluttered space, and to focus on that and to show it from my perspective.
I’d go out with one idea in mind and then, after being in the space for a while and taking the photos I thought I’d wanted, I’d look around some more and see something completely different. I’d then go and explore the things that had caught my eye and end up with a totally different image to what I’d imagined. Light playing on a surface, a creeping shadow, a small feature that I’d never have noticed if I’d been looking at the big picture. Something on the ground. Something sitting on a fence. I’d capture these things as I saw them, and I’m glad I did because, more often than not, I’d come back the next day and they’d be gone.
Of course, not everything worked out as I’d wanted it to, and some days I ended up just taking a photo of something, anything, just to complete the challenge for that day. These were not some of my best moments.
I found I really enjoyed getting up close to a feature and making it the focal point of the image, with a very shallow depth of field to blur the background.
Some of these types of photos worked well; others not so much. I had a couple of days where I’d get a photo I really liked only to find I hadn’t quite nailed the focus, whereas similar shots with less pleasing composition were tack sharp. What to do there?! My choice was to go with composition over sharpness and to remind myself it’s okay to take more than one photo of exactly the same thing if I think it’s going to be a good one. Maybe one day I’ll remember this.
16 December was the last day of the challenge and I’d already picked out my subject a couple of days earlier on my morning walk, when there was great light. I’d taken a few test shots and thought I could make it work on the last day. All I needed was the same light and the same lack of traffic on the highway. Sadly, the light didn’t come and I woke up feeling very unwell. Not unwell enough to not go for a walk but not exactly raring to go either. So I didn’t get the photo I wanted to round the project off. I took a couple of photos while I was out but nothing really worked and all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Which I did.
It was a disappointing end to what had been a fantastic project that, for the most part, I enjoyed doing. Overall, I’m pleased with the photos I made for the project, and there are a couple that are up there with my favourite images of the year.
I’m not in any great rush to stop using the lens and, now I know some of its possibilities, I’m keen to use it more often.
It’s been a great experience for me. I would say if you feel like your photography is getting stuck or same-y or you want to mix it up a bit, set yourself a challenge like this where you restrict yourself to one element. Go out for a couple of weeks, a month, however long feels right to you, and make photographs every day within that restriction. Maybe you could restrict the lens, or the aperture you use (or even both!). You could restrict yourself to making a photo at a particular time of day or within a particular location. One challenge I have always been interested in is the “one block” challenge, where you can only make photographs of things that are within one block of your town for whatever period you choose. Maybe a back and white challenge is more your thing (I did that for a year in 2018), or you photograph only yellow things every day for a month. Or birds. Or cups of coffee. Or sandstone (nah, just kidding, don’t do that). Anything where you limit your options, I think, will help you to focus on one thing and to get more creative as you can’t get distracted by the many other variables that could distract you.
Now I have to plan myself a new challenge for 2021.
Have you thought about undertaking a photo challenge like this? Or done one? Let me know in the comments.
On Saturday, the Aurora Australis left Hobart for the last time.
If you’ve been in Hobart for long, you’ll probably have seen this boat anchored at the wharf. It was, until this year, the Australian Antarctic research vessel, and has been in service for the last 30 years.
She made her final voyage to Antarctica earlier this year, and many people were concerned about what would happen to her after that. There were reports that she was going to be sold or even scuttled, and there were calls for the government to buy her and convert her into an Antarctic museum in Hobart.
That didn’t happen. The latest reports are saying she is sailing to Dubai and after that, a possible future in Argentina.
I’ve enjoyed photographing her over the past few years.
The last couple of months leading up to her departure, I’ve made a few trips to the waterfront to capture her for the last time.
On Friday, I went to the waterfront to see her for the last time (with only my 50mm lens). I wasn’t the only person there.
There was a group of workers from the dock, or maybe from the ship itself, having their photo taken in front of it, and several other people stopping to take photos and say goodbye. One lady said she’d heard the ship might be going to be used for cruises to Antarctica, and if that happened, we might well see her again in Hobart.
I hear that there was a huge turnout on Saturday morning to see the Aurora Australis off as she sailed out of Hobart for the last time. A flotilla accompanied her as she departed, and there was a lot of emotion in farewelling her. I wasn’t able to be there, but I was able to catch a final glimpse of her as she sailed down the river.
I saw her for the last time as just a spec on the horizon and wondered what her future would hold. Perhaps she would have been a wonderful museum, but perhaps it’s better for her to continue her life on the sea. It brought to mind that quote “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”. I have no idea who said that but I like it. (And it’s not really about ships, is it?)
In the words of my friend, who had found a spot on the river bank to say her goodbyes as the “Orange Roughy” sailed past, “Go well, little ship”.
I’m past the half-way point of my 50mm challenge and I have no real wish to go back to any of my other lenses. I’m struggling a bit with taking a photo every single day, but I’m loving the days when I have the time to go out and spend some time wandering round with the lens.
These are the photos from the third week of my 50 in 50 challenge, where I use only my 50 mm lens for 50 days and post a photo a day. I’ve been a bit behind in posting because I had all the Open House Hobart photos to post as well, so there will be a couple of catch-up posts now.