Thursday, February 12, 2009

PP's Photographer in the Spotlight:

Tony Hadley


I can't remember exactly which image of Tony Hadley's first caught my eye at Photo.net, an online global community of photographers of all levels and styles. But I do remember that, it seemed, one after another, after another, of his images that he would add to his portfolio reflected an eye for detail, composition, thought and creativity. In particular, his mathematical abstracts -- like the one above and another elsewhere in this interview -- I found intriguing -- detailed and, often, masterfully colorful while at the same time artful.

Tony, a Canadian citizen, is this month's Photo Potpourri "Photographer in the Spotlight." Born in St. Vincent, West Indies, he was adopted as an only child in infancy. Tony studied classical piano for many years but gave it up when he moved to Canada to attend college. At an early age, he says, he had a fascination for "the magic" of photography.

"My parents had enough resources to build me a basic darkroom in the basement area of our home," Tony says. "I started the first photography club at my high school, where there was no lab or equipment, so our meetings were held on the front steps of the school." He started shooting weddings on the side but eventually got out of it, joined Lakeshore Camera club in Quebec and was an active member for a brief period. "I did not have the confidence or the material to submit anything for the competitions, but I learned a fair amount. It is through this club that I was able to benefit from a Freeman Patterson seminar.

"Most of my photography for a number of years was very casual -- and mostly when I went on vacation. I became part of the Photo.net community in mid-2006, and it is here that I better focused on image-making," weathering the disappointment shared by many member photographers -- low ratings from anonymous critics without comments on photos submitted for evaluation. Nevertheless, he said, "I feel that my growth was exponential since that time."

And I agree. As mentioned at the very top, Tony's work caught my eye immediately, and I count several of his images among "my favorites" that each photo.net member can designate in a sort of personal, member gallery. In a recent interview, I was able to get Tony to answer a few questions about his craft.

When did you first get into photography, and did your interest develop gradually or did you jump into it 100% from the beginning?

It all started when I was about 7 years old when my neighbor photographed me. Hours later, he magically emerged from a closed room with a dripping black-and-white print, and I truly knew that I had to perform the same magic. This happened in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Later, and in my teens, I completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in quantitative methods in a Montreal university, after which I became a Canadian citizen. As a consequence, my photography really reflects the North American and Caribbean world.

Are there any photographers you can cite as influences, or favorites?

In the early stages of my photography, I was taught black-and-white darkroom work by the late Michael Odlum (not a well-known photographer), who gave me great tips about low-speed B&W film like Agfa ISOPAN 25, the use of Agfa Rodinal film developer, and how agitation could affect the development stage. In addition, I greatly admired the B&W work of Ansel Adams. Later on in my development, I also attended a one-day seminar put on by Freeman Patterson – a Canadian nature photographer, and it is here that I learned a great deal about color, composition and the "art of seeing." I cannot emphasize enough about the "art of seeing," since no amount of technical competence can make up for the lack of seeing something worthwhile photographing that may appeal to others. I have developed a sort of workflow to "seeing," and it is to stop and wonder what it was that first attracted my attention. Once I have identified it, this becomes the center of interest. I must now decide what the foreground and background will look like, and if it does not "add" value, then it must be "subtracted." This sometimes leads to visiting that "center of interest" many times to see what different light or different times of the year will offer.

What gives you the most pleasure, satisfaction or fulfillment about your photography? Do you have one or two favorites from your entire portfolio?

When I accomplish a high level of artistic expression and technical competence in an image, I think that gives me a great deal of satisfaction on one level. On another level, I simply love finding, admiring and capturing something exquisite that Mother Nature has to offer. On the few occasions when that happens, I feel a great amount of excitement and trepidation at the same time: excitement, because I am experiencing something in nature that may never repeat itself, trepidation, because I fear that I will not be able to capture it adequately.

I am so fascinated by the world in which we live. Sometimes I feel like I am in Pandora’s box because I think I see beauty where others might walk right by it. It is difficult to choose favorites, but there are a couple that I like, but like music, depending on my frame of mind, on another day I might like something else.

To paraphrase another photographer: "The most important asset I can now claim as a photographer is that I was simply there. While this seems obvious to most, I believe it to be significant, considering all I have forsaken just to make sure I did not miss the fall" colors and other photographic experiences. Other than self-satisfaction and the possibility of an odd sale here and there, my images may be remembered to live for a short while after my "station" has arrived.

You do some fascinating geometric abstracts (like the one at the very top of this post). Is that the phrase you use to describe them, or ... do you term it something else? Do you have a strong math background to help you appreciate these or know what you're going after from the onset of a particular project?

My mathematical or geometric abstracts ... (are) something quite dormant in my current stage of photography. At one point, for a few months, I was totally addicted to producing these images. I literally had to tear myself away from it simply because I knew I wanted to explore and develop myself in other areas of image-making. Even though I have a strong mathematical background, I am not sure how my brain processes these images. However, I look for form, color and in the case of these abstracts, I aim to try and find something to which a viewer can relate, even at a subliminal level.

How difficult, or time-consuming, is it to set up/arrange, shoot and post-process these abstracts?

I use several different programs, including Photoshop CS2. These non-CS2 programs require a disciplined approach to acquiring these special images, and it is very time-consuming, but in the end, I find something that appeals to me. When I use Photoshop CS2, I mostly start with an original photograph, and it is then very much a trial and error with a goal in mind, but never having it all mapped out. Here again, I will try and keep the criteria of form, color and something recognizable that can attract a viewer’s attention.

Are those abstracts the images that fetch the most comments and/or interest from those who see them? Do you display your work online at a site other than photo.net? If so, where?

Most of my online images are on Photo.net, and I get a sense that the people who enjoy these geometric and other abstracts are in the minority. I get ecstatic responses from this minority, but the images are probably not everyone’s "cup of tea." The evidence of that is when I get a question like "What is it?" or “What does it represent?” I wonder if those people that cannot appreciate the abstract image feel that I am trying to put something over on them and calling it "abstract art." Perhaps they see it as art, but spelled with a silent and non-visible "F” preceding it. I was invited by a photo.net member to display my abstracts at another site, but as of now, I have not gone that route.

In addition to abstracts, you do some fabulous landscapes and vistas, and I read in your photo.net biography that you truly enjoy shooting outdoors in the fall. How do you avoid making those types of photographs or shoots stale or redundant? Do you try different places, maybe?

Since I am in awe of the fall season, it is quite easy for my images to become redundant. However, there are so many things that can help you to avoid this, and changing location is a very good start, and even visiting the same location on different days may yield something different. On a different day, you might see something that you missed on a previous day. In addition, one has compositional aspects, camera techniques (in camera zoom during exposure, multiple-exposure, in-camera images, etc.), choice of lens (wide-angle, macro and telephoto), plus use of post-processing, and all of the tools provided in Photoshop. One is limited only by one’s imagination and creativity.

Do you have a favorite type of shot to do? The abstracts? Or sunsets? Or autumnal vistas? Does it depend on how challenging it is, or does it strictly have to do with how it makes you feel?

One must know one’s self to answer this question, and the fact that I could not pin this down to a single category will probably lead me to the answer. I have quite a varied portfolio on photo.net, and I conclude the following, supported by comments from others: "Color" is an important part of my work. If I can find color, form, and good light, then I am a happy camper. I am probably in that category of "how it makes me feel." There have been a few times where I was in complete awe and had to remember that I should be photographing the scene.

Have you ever had any of your work published or displayed publicly at a gallery or at arts/crafts fairs? Do you sell your work? If not, would you like to?

The first and only time my work was published was in a high-gloss Taiwanese magazine called Unique Image. They spotted my images at photo.net, selected nine of them, and made me September 2008 Photographer of the Month with all images printed as full or double-page sized. In addition, they asked me to write an article.

This is also the first time that I am mentioning in a public forum the details about being published. I have kept a fairly low profile on Photo.net because I wanted my images to speak for themselves and not try and enhance them with talk about being published.

With that commercial success, it has given me confidence that I could approach other magazines and perhaps have some luck in getting other publications to feature my images. I am starting to fantasize about doing a book, but I am a long way from that.

At present I don’t do galleries or exhibitions, but that may be an essential step in generating some sales. I have had a few requests for prints, but I probably need a new Web site to promote that kind of activity and other further commercial promotion.

I am concerned with the life balance of proceeding commercially too far, compared with my ability to continuing to create images. For personal reasons, I would rather lean on the side of making images.

Is there any type of photography, or any particular subjects, you've done little of or have never done that you would like to explore more?

How about scantily clad women on Caribbean beaches or mountain streams with a waterfall in the background with tropical birds chirping away and rays of light shining on the center of attraction? (smile). No, I don’t think so. I think I would like to continue to find nature’s gems from a landscape perspective with a new, not-yet-purchased wide-angle lens (10-20mm) and close-up macro photography of natural objects.

Whenever I pick up my macro lens and start looking at a subject, it opens up a new and hidden world because the way a macro lens sees the world is quite different. I recently uploaded some "bokeh" (noticeable depth-of-field with smooth, out-of-focus background elements) images with the macro lens, and thus far they are like my other abstracts – keenly admired by a few, but not by the majority.

Click on the following link to see more Tony Hadley's photographs:

Tony Hadley Photo Gallery at Photo.net

5 comments:

  1. Joe: thank you for selecting me to be featured on your blog. I have received many e-mails from both Photo.net and non-Photo.net members congratulating us both on the article. All The Best, Tony Hadley

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  2. What a nicely done interview, with Tony. As another denizen of the hinterlands of photo.net I have become quite familiar with Tony's exceptional photographic and artistic work.

    I too prefer to break-with-tradition and do that from which I derive satisfaction, knowing that there are others that will find pleasure in my work. Like Tony, I try not to let those who do not care for my work affect what I do, or how I feel about the images I create.

    I feel a sort of creative bond with Tony, as well as with a few other `maverics' on photo.net. I suspect that we all feel that the image we create is far more important than the means by which it was created, or whether or not it falls into some traditional niche.

    Thank you Joe for providing this insight into the world of Tony Hadley.

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  3. Tony,
    I followed the thread from your PN page to here.I learned quite a bit about you. Me too, I am also very fond of trying to methaphorically understand (or seeing subliminal messages as you put it) through fractals. These pictures tell you something, one day people will understand but for now, they are blind...I would not hold my breath, it will be after our time. Great pieces of info on this blog. I support your efforts and perspective 100%
    Pascal

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  4. As a fellow member of photonet your images are a source of inspiration to me. I enjoyed this post since it provides a glimpse of the person behind the camara. Alfredo

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    Replies
    1. Dave, Pascal and Alfredo - thanks for stopping by. I tend to be a bit shy about revealing personal info about myself so I guess you have Joe to thank for that.

      Tony Hadley

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