Interviews Interviews Interviews

Having been going for job interviews recently has unsurprisingly got me thinking about interviews in general. So far this time round the have interviews has been pretty good, no hideous questions or anything – though I don’t want to reveal too much about how they have been going till I know some final answers… :-)

In the past I have had some pretty strange interviews. Interviewing for a summer job the year before I started university was fun. A friend of the family was on the interview board for the same job the day before, so not only did I know the questions before I went in, but I knew the answers they wanted too. I got that job!

My undergraduate university interviews were fun. Cambridge were pretty tough, asking me to derive some fundamental physics on the spot –I frilled to notice I had just exceeded the speed of light – and making me learn some new stuff between the first and second interviews. Bristol, City, QMW and UCL all give me pretty standard interviews. Imperial, where I eventually went took the biscuit though: One interviewer to seven interviewees. He got us all together and demanded that we ask him questions. We were saved from the embarrassment of not knowing what to ask by the fire alarm, and being forced to line up outside.

The interviews for my PhD kinda happened without me noticing. I saw the advert for the studentship, and thought it sounded interesting – even though till that point I hadn’t wanted to do a PhD, and emailed the guy. I met him to discuss what it was. I didn’t realise till after he told me he liked me that it was an interview. But I got the place, even though I had to interview with another supervisor, which was a bit tougher – something to do with knowing I was being interviewed maybe.


By |February 22nd, 2006|General|1 Comment

Too busy, or too quiet

Quite and Busy.

Life has a strange cycle of being busy, and being quiet. Since I first submitted my thesis this has been really clear. There were two months between when I submitted my thesis to Senate House, and the day of my viva. Two months in which I had very little structure in my life. I knew I wasn’t yet done, not yet ready to get a job. The chances were good that the examiners were going to want some corrections. Thinking back on it now, I can’t remember what I did for those two months. I remember something taking up 3 weeks, but I’m not sure…

It’s not really surprising; the PhD was pretty all consuming. I suspect I was ill for a few weeks, stressed, and sleeping lots. But basically, other than catching up with paperwork, and some meeting up with old friends, I had time off. Then I had my viva, and was given another three months or so of work to do. I started off working hard, working late, running new experiments. Then it stopped – for Christmas. I did some work over the Christmas holidays, but my loved ones prevented me from doing much (for my own benefit!)

January was back to the grindstone, corrections, more experiments, typographical changes. Then it all stopped. I sent it to my supervisor, and found myself with nothing do while waiting for him to look though my corrections, though this time only for a few days till he got back to me, The cycle repeats a few more times before a few days ago when I sent the final copy to the examiners, needless to say, hoping they will get back to me saying everything is ok. When they do I will have to go back into rush mode, to print the thesis, and bind it and hand it in before the deadline. But till they get back to me I am once again stuck with nothing to do.

It’s not just the thesis and the PhD that has this pattern. Today I have been busy all day with sorting out photos for a photo shoot I did yesterday.  Tomorrow I have 4 appointments – one being a final found interview for a good job. Tuesday is totally empty, except a 45 minute phone interview at 7pm….  Then Wednesday, nothing! I have the day off, in fact, at the moment I don’t think I have any plans at all after Wednesday, ever!

Ok, maybe that last bit is slight exaggeration, but the last 6 months have left me feeling like that. Maybe I just need a good long holiday :-)

By |February 20th, 2006|General|0 Comments

Photographic websites

Photography and websites; sometimes they mix well, but so many of the photography web sites I have seen out there just don’t work. They look ugly, or flat, or are just somehow lacking. As both a photographer and sometimes web developer, this is something I have had running about in my head for ages now. The basic problem seems to be, to my mind at least, that the “goals” of creating a good web site are somewhat contradictory to the “goals” of presenting photographs as works of art.

A good website should be usable and accessible. A good work of art should be presented in a way that reinforces the piece. These are not fundamentally conflicting, but it seems that people either care about one, or the other, rarely both.

A friend of mine from Imperial has written Gallery as a general put-some-photos-on-the-web type thing. He is very keen on AAA web accessibility, and making things work for all people in all situations. The site is very good: it works in different sizes; different browsers and even has meaningful behaviour. From a purely computing point of view, its one of the best sites available for photos. But just look at it, I hate to say it about something a friend of mine wrote, but it’s ugly :(! Who wants to go to the effort of taking a photograph they are proud of when it’s going to appear surrounded by so much visual noise, all distracting from the photo?

Flickr is much cleaner in terms of its view, and it’s a very nicely written site (even if it does have long strings of numbers in most of its URLs). But it still doesn’t give any control over the context that your image is placed in. It’s always on a white background, always with the Flickr menu, and so on.

The photographic course I’m attending has, along with reading on the subject, really got me thinking about presentation. A large part of the impact of any piece of art is the surroundings you see it in. A reproduction of a famous oil painting on my wall has different associations to the same work of art elsewhere. It now shows that I have chosen to place it on *my* wall. That says something about me, something that clearly wasn’t included in the original painting. The colour of the wall has an effect, as do the other things on display in the room. If they look like the something depicted in the painting that can change what you see when you look at it. In short, presentation is vital, a photo where the presentation is not decided on is like a piece of writing that hasn’t been spell-checked.

So let’s look at some websites that are designed by photographers rather than computer scientists:

Harriet Logan has a beautiful web site. I think it could do with a bit more text setting a context for the photos, but its beautiful, simple to navigate, and the photos are stunning. It’s also written using Flash. In this case, the Flash is totally unnecessary. The only thing it adds over basic HTML is the nice way that the panes animate when you change from one part of the site to another. You loose the ability to link to a specific photo, and I don’t think an animated bar is worth it, even from a design point of view. Flash makes too many assumptions about the viewer’s environment. This is a debate I often have with my dad. I think I have finally got an argument that will convince even him. I have two monitors connected to my computer – as I imagine do many professional art directors. When I look at this web site, it automatically maximises across both of the screens. The effect of this is that the left half of each photo appears on my left monitor, and the right half on the right monitor. This really is not good. I can imagine a few pissed off magazine editors being so too!

Next we have Lesley Aggar. Lesley is a friend of my dads and an absolutely amazing darkroom printer. Her web site has some very strong point, but ultimately I think it’s a failure. The strong points first. The design is stunning. It’s so elegant that its breath taking. The bad points are that it is in Flash when it doesn’t need to be (see above), but the biggest failure is that a computer monitor simply cannot come close to a fine art print. When I look at one of Lesley’s prints I am speechless, but the computer version just can’t compare. A web site simply cannot work here.

Finally we look at Nick Briggs. Having complained about the last two sites use of Flash, this site doesn’t, it is pure HTML. The site is very simple, but effective. It’s easy to get to the photos, though I do have a few bugbears with it. I don’t like the font, nor do I like the names “portfolio 1″, “portfolio 2″. However there is no denying the fact it doesn’t look as slick, or as smooth as either of the two previous sites. I said before that the Flash doesn’t add much that you can’t do in HTML, and that’s true, but it’s not easy to do the HTML for a site that looks that slick. It’s certainly not a skill that many photographers are going to have.

So I’m left with a conclusion that I don’t really like. It’s possible to make a website that is both good from a computing, usability, and accessibility point of view, and from an artistic point of view. But it’s very hard. It requires both a combination of skills that is rare, and a caring about detail in two very different disciplines, ones that don’t often go together.

By |February 20th, 2006|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Discordant Photography?

The photo course that I am doing is turning out to be exactly what I needed. Last week we were working on concept, the theme behind series of photos, and it turned out (unsurprisingly) that I find it hard not to be too literal. This week we were given the task of shooting to a piece of music: “Choose a piece of music that describes or inspires you, and then use that as the theme for a series of snapshots”. On Saturday we will present the photos first without, and then with the accompanying soundtrack.

I set aside today to do the photos, but first I had to choose some music. This was really hard. I think so literally minded (which I hope in changing) that on glancing though my collection of music I would see “Homeward Bound” and think that it was perfect. I could photograph the route home from the tube station. These thoughts would last about three seconds before I was bashing myself over the head metaphorically (mostly), about being too literal.

I thought about “Le Tango De Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge. I love the song, and I can’t hear it without feeling inspiration. Listening to it over and over I started to feel the grandeur, passion, and even a delicate softness. But no matter what I ideas I came up with for how to portray these in photos, I found myself being drawn back to the scene from the film where it is played. Maybe I just can’t pull myself away from it, but I think I just agree with it so much. I like to think given a free reign I would have shot that scene identically. So in the interests of not just copying Baz Lurhmann I tried to go for something different.

Like I said before, I found this hard. I sat here, at my computer going though my collection rejecting song after song. I pissed off several online contacts trying to get their advice. I started to feel frustrated, and torn in several different directions because I needed to get this done, and had a long list of other things that also needed to get done. I felt like I was being overwhelmed with conflicting requirements, and needs. Then the random play list on my computer started to play “Because You Can Can Can”, also from Moulin Rouge, and one of the few songs I really don’t like from the soundtrack. Its too noisy, too many things going on at once, too much of an auditory overload. In short, exactly how I was feeling. So it seemed an obvious song to pick.

Having done that, the ideas for how to portray it came easily. I wanted to show lots of people, rushing round all with conflicting aims, and directions. Where better than a crowded public hub, like Kings Cross station in rush hour?

The decision made, I allowed myself some down time before leaving in time to reach Kings Cross at the height of rush hour. I spent a merry three quarters of an hour wondering round the underground station, the main station foyer and so on photographing the crowds. Which actually, when you look at it with an eye that wants crowds, are not that dense. Before too long the camera started to die, with a flat battery. So I moved to a corner ready to change the battery.

That is when the police arrived.

I was approached by two community support officers, who wanted to know if I had a photography permit. I did not. They very politely explained to me that it was illegal to photograph in Kings Cross, and that I would have to stop at once, and delete all my photos. They would have to take down my name, description, and carry out a name check with the police central computers. Now I know they are not allowed to demand that I delete any photos, questions on the law are a common feature in the photographic magazines, but I wasn’t about to argue with a police officer in a crowded train station. I wasn’t sure about the rights to photograph in Kings Cross. On public property you are allowed to photograph anything, on private property I am sure you are allowed to photography anything, but that might be US law?

They took my name, and wrote out my description, giving me a nice pink receipt, and didn’t do a name check because their radio was jammed or something. The receipt they gave me does not contain their badge numbers, in theory I have no way of identifying the incident to the police if the paperwork goes missing, as it did once before when a friend was involved in a road traffic accident, so I made a note of their numbers myself.

Most oddly though, they didn’t actually ask to delete all my photos, despite earlier saying they would. So I still have the full set of photos.

After they left I went home, and with the help of my friend Alex, and his friend, and his friend’s friend, and maybe even his friend’s friend’s friend (I got a bit confused) did some research:

  • The TFL Conditions of Carriage specifically ban flash and tripod photography. This is their only mention of photography, so they do allow it.
  • The TFL FAQ says that photography is banned without a £300/hour permit. They admitted that this was nonsense and contradictory to their Conditions of Carriage when asked on the phone.
  • TFL then rang back, and informed us that photography on the underground is totally illegal, though they were unable to say under which law, and admit that no-one at TFL knows.
  • The British Transport Police when asked (again by phone) said they do not know if it is legal or not.

That’s about it so far. I am going to contact the police tomorrow and see if they can tell me under what law I was stopped. I am also going to research photographer resources, and see if someone has summarised the law on deletion of photos, where I can take photos and so on. I will let you know what I find out…

As for the photos, I haven’t looked at them yet…

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By |February 1st, 2006|Uncategorized|10 Comments