Articles Tagged with: Inspiration

Photography Resolutions 2017


So a new year. No doubt you’re thinking about what you want to develop and experience in 2017.

I’ve never been a stickler for the usual resolutions of diet and detox, but I do make a check list of things that are going to keep expanding my creativity and craft across the next 12 months.

Even so, I hold these things lightly. If they don’t all happen, that’s ok – the important ones will rise to the surface.

Maybe some of these will chime with you.

Keep A Lighting Notebook/Scrapbook.

The more I photograph, the more aware I become of the beauty and complexity of light. It is after all the basic ‘building block’ of photography. Thing is, there’s always room to learn more about it. Both natural light and the artificial variety. It’s an infinitely endless subject: how light changes through a given time and across different surfaces, how to manipulate it to best effect both indoors and out. This year it’s time to delve even deeper into light through natural observation, lighting diagrams and practical experiments. So I’m keeping a lighting notebook where I can collect my observations, and the observations of other photographers and artists, through notes, cuttings and ‘sketch’ photo’s. And translate that learning to my photography.


There’s probably lots of you out there who have physically exhibited your work in some way. I’ve never done it. But it’s one way to get out of the comfort zone. For a start it will mean printing much more of my photo output than I normally do. I usually only see my work in print when it’s been shot for client use. Plus we all know how easy it is these days to only see photographs on a screen of some kind. And it has to be said that a physical print is so much more satisfying. Indeed, it will make me more conscious of the techniques I’m using to make and  develop images. There’s also the gift of meeting an audience/community face-to-face and having the opportunity to observe the response to your images: are they are speaking to people or not? Something that’s impossible to truly gauge via social media ‘likes’.

Give away more.

It’s not always about the bottom line. There’s always room to give something away. It’s important. I’ve always done it and 2017 will be the year I do more of it. Over deliver. Offer skills and learning to someone for free. Give away a shoot every so often. I’ve noticed that whenever I do give something away something else comes along that gives back to me – a new opportunity, a booking, whatever! Funny how that works. So, give it away in 2017 – your time, your skills, whatever you’re comfortable with . . .

Draw, paint and collage more.

This is about experimentation. Throwing out any notion of a ‘final’ product and instead going with the unexpected. Playing. Following what is suggested and being open to it. Especially by putting unrelated things together or combining differing types of media. In the long run I find it helps generate ideas, and develops my image-making in unexpected ways. Often I’m using prints of my own work to cut-up or alter in some way. Other sources are magazines and newspapers, things found on the street, and random bits of text or notes that come to mind.

Travel more.

I’ve just come back from a flying visit to Berlin in Germany. And it made me realise something: when you’re a sole trader/freelancer travel for travel’s sake often gets forgotten. Sure we get to do it for work from time to time, but that’s not the same. Deliberately heading out on a journey is good for the mind, body and emotions. Deliberately setting out with an eye to embrace the new and unknown is also part and parcel of photographic and creative learning. Exposure to diversity, difference and change. Paramount experiences for this photographer.

Develop personal projects.

In 2016, I started developing a number of projects in collaboration with other photographers and crafts-people. The process has been a wonderful thing: challenging, inspiring etc. It expands critical skills as we look at our own work in the context of working alongside fellow practitioners. It improves technical and organisational skills. When you drill down into a project theme it’s surprising what that process fulfils in terms of expanding the creative ideas you have, the subjects you’re interested in, and altering the approach to the way you work. It also reduces the sense of isolation we can often feel as photographers.

Get to know local people and  businesses.

Since moving to Brighton in early 2016, I’ve made an effort to devote time to getting to know local people and businesses. Their experiences, likes and dislikes. Seeking out where we chime together and where we differ. Not necessarily because they might become clients, but because relationship development is one of the key strengths of being a photographer. Especially in such divisive times. Maybe it’s part of the natural curiosity photographers have? Also, on a personal level, I’m an introvert so it’s a good way for me to challenge how that affects my relationships. Making a concerted effort to get out and meet people locally in 2017 will, I hope, make it a less divisive and more relational year. One that is likely to reap benefits that aren’t only about the bottom line.

Choose Yourself.

Authenticity. Being yourself. Not doing what other people are doing or following a ‘formula’. It’s the only way to keep us away from the distinct move toward homogeneity that we see in the world in various forms at the moment. I’m a huge fan of James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself. It got me through the early years of my calling as a photographer when I was floundering in the dark. It taught me to keep putting one foot in front of the other and listen to my instinct. Not that the need for that ever fully stops. I find myself going back to Altucher’s book regularly to keep me inspired and motivated about who I am and what I’m doing. If you’ve never heard of James Altucher, check him out here or better still read the book.

Replace a certain four-letter word.

What word is that? W-O-R-K. This resolution is one that I’m really conscious of and already practising. Partly because it’s a promise that both my wife and I made to each other on New Years Day. But mainly because we want to re-frame what we do in our businesses as forms of exploration or play. And as words are powerful things, especially the word ‘work’ with all it’s connotations of duty, routine and drudgery, it’s an empowering thing to challenge. So words like craft, calling, skill, practice, and activity are going to replace that four letter word.

So those are my little declarations to the self as the year begins. Be great to hear what yours are.

Happy New Year…

All images © James Bellorini 2016. All rights reserved.

I’m a commercial and editorial photographer. I started shooting full-time in 2013. Subsequently I have worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organisations/brands. Recent clients include: The National Theatre, Innovision, UKTI, Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. In September 2015 I joined the Redeye Network’s Lightbox programme for emerging photographers and I’m a founding member of the photography collective RISE. 


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If you’re anything like me – a freelancer working for yourself – then you probably don’t get to collaborate that often. I mean I spend about 80% of my time working on my own. That’s the nature of the game I guess. Photography is, in the main, a solo pursuit.

Sure, when I’m on a shoot I’m with my clients and subjects (which are mini-collaborations in themselves), but even then I’m often working alone before the shoot and then behind the camera (unless the budget allows for an assistant).

When I’m editing it’s hours (days more often) in front of the computer with just Photoshop, Deezer and coffee to keep me company.

The plus sides of working this way are that you just get on and work. There’s rarely anyone to wait for or delegate to. Any decisions that need to be made on the whole can be made in the time it takes to brew another cup of coffee then go ahead and take action.

The flip side is that often we can get overly used to regular ways of thinking and routines which can get stale, safe and comfortable. And over time that can lead to reduced energy and creativity.

As we all know, the best ways to learn and grow are to get outside our comfort zones and challenge those feelings of safety and comfort.

That’s why I jump at the chance to collaborate with people as often as I can.

It’s why when talented make-up artist and stylist Lucille Dee ( asked me to work on a shoot with burlesque performer Lady Marmaduke (check out her Facebook page here) in order to showcase how Lucille uses Urban Decay cosmetics ( and get some publicity shots for Lady M, I said yes straight away.

And it was, as I anticipated, a breath of fresh air for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was working with people engaged in their passions, what’s hugely important to them and, above all, they do it with dedication and always to the best of their abilities.

Secondly, I was called upon to work with minimal preparation. Lucille was organizing all the styling and looks, the props and the location (Patterns bar/club on Brighton seafront). Plus my schedule wouldn’t allow for a recce of the location in advance, so I’d have to make decisions about kit from what info I could glean from Lucille in advance and a quick search of the venue’s website. Then trust the equipment I had with me on the day, rather than carting every item of kit with me ‘just in case’.

Finally, I’d not worked with the subject/model Lady Marmaduke before – and that is always an immediate challenge: breaking the ice, making them feel confident and comfortable, and building trust and complicity between you.

There were a lot of potential pit-falls.

But one thing I find that when you dive in: things happen. You reinforce your skills and learn new ones.

And it’s one of the beauties of working with other creative people: there’s a freshness that comes from combined ideas and effort; working things out in real time with an idea or two in mind to kick start from, seeing where you are led along the way often influenced by unforeseen elements in the shoot.

Take for example the two wildly coloured images (above and right): these were shot in the ladies toilets and lit by three small overhead lights (a red, green and blue) that are part of the decor. It was actually very dark in there. However the light was so exciting to us that we had to try and find a way to make it work. To me they came out pretty good I think (with a bit of post-production work thrown in).

Or in the more ‘panoramic’ dressing room image below: actually a reflection photographed in a huge wall mounted mirror that gave a more of a wide-angle view than we could get if we’d tried shooting it in the normal, straight-on way.

And there’s other things to enjoy: other people’s ideas, their time-frames, what they propose in the moment all must be taken into account and worked with. So by remaining flexible and not ‘stuck’ to every one of your own ideas, then collaboration is ultimately challenging and fun.

That’s great.

And best of all it shows in the end results.

One of the additional benefits of collaboration of course is that you build your network and even start building potential teams that you could work with again and again. And who knows where that could lead?

So, if you’ve never collaborated on a project of any size, then have a go. It’s worth it.

And if like me you have, then do it again whenever you can. I know I will.

If you have experiences of collaborating I’d love to hear about them and what you’ve learnt.

The tech stuff:
All images shot on  Canon 5D MKIII with Canon 35mm, 50mm & 85mm lenses and a 110cm EXPRO hand held reflector. Edit & post-processing done in my usual mix (collaboration?) of Adobe Photoshop and Alien Skin Exposure 7.

All images © James Bellorini 2016. All rights reserved.

James is an editorial and documentary photographer working for the commercial and consumer markets. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organizations/brands. Recent clients include: Innovision, UKTI, Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. In September 2015 he joined the Redeye Network’s Lightbox programme for emerging photographers. 


A Certain Uncertainty - On Staying Curious

Leaving Lewiston – Maine, USA


I guess that most of us are curious about something. What makes you curious?

What gets into you enough that you want to know more about it until it’s almost obsessive?

Curiosity is one of my main motivators. Actually it’s the main one if I think about.

I’m curious about a ridiculous amount of things: London’s Oxford Street, Iceland (the country not the shop…although who knows!), smartphones, the comics of the Luna brothers, making the ultimate smoothie, visual composition (I get a bit obsessive about this one), videography, New Mexico, blogging, Caravaggio … the list goes on and on actually.

As a photographer curiosity is part of my everyday process. My internal dialogue when I’m shooting goes something like this: ‘Who’s that? What are they doing? What’s their story? What’s that place over there? What’s happening? How can I get under the skin of this? Have I understood as much as I can right now?’

Our lives are in many ways vehicles for finding ways to answer those kinds of questions. I happen to use a camera to do it; for you it might be something completely different. I don’t always succeed. But even being willing to be on the journey is part of being curious.

There are many demands on us these days, demands that often keep us locked into our habits. Habits that can be hard to break. As a result being curious is often quite a battle. Curiosity means remaining open to the unknown: the stranger, the new journey, experiencing a different culture, or a change to our routine.

So curiosity is something that is necessary to growth (witness the eternal children’s question: WHY?) and scary at the same time (isn’t that just always the way with growth?!!).

I’m not a ‘trained’ photographer in any academic sense of the word. I’ve developed any practice (such as it is) through simply shooting, making mistakes (a lot of those!), re-shooting, reading reading reading, and listening to the advice of those who’ve been there before me. As a consequence nearly everything I do is a form of learning driven by curiosity: to understand more of what I am seeing and how I see it. That never ceases.

And yeah it’s a blessing and a curse. Staying curious is like developing an internal restlessness, it provides energy and forward motion certainly; but on the other hand it’s a case of learning to be comfortable in the centre of the unknown. Not always easy but perhaps creatively worthwhile.

That in turn takes time. And patience – something that our Western culture no longer seems to hold very highly. I mean to really achieve the full fruition of one’s curiosity takes a lifetime and, as we know, we are all becoming prone to the need for hyper-fast results that are often short-lived. And I’m just as prone to that as anyone so don’t let me give the impression of any superiority here. I’m just as fond of my social media feed fix as the next person!

But curiosity (married with patience) is a good thing. They manifest themselves as resisting the temptations to leave something too soon or to stop asking the important questions. Its another one of those small acts of rebellion I’ve talked about before (you can find another one here).

After all isn’t our natural curiosity a desire to journey deeper into our selves? To understand our motivations for living?

Woah! Got a bit philosophical there but I think it’s true. In my case it is anyway.

The more curious (and patient) I am the more I see that ALL of life is there to be engaged with. The ‘ugly’, the beautiful, all manner of ideas, truths, relationships, collaborations, the new and the decayed etc. So, by extension, photography becomes not just about taking pictures but about attempting to hear the dialogue the world is having with us. The unique conversation.

At the same time it is an opportunity to stretch the self technically and creatively. And always to ‘fail better’ as the great Samuel Beckett once wrote. Always, and with permission to do so.

There’s a few things that I think are fun to explore when it comes to remaining curious. In no particular order:

  • Make-believe/temporary re-invention. This comes from my background working in the theatre and performing arts, but viewing the world through different eyes, pretending to be someone or something else is a fun way to see and feel differently. For example, my favourite is to pretend to be a Martian visiting earth for the first time – what do I see that I find interesting? What am I drawn to today that yesterday I would not have noticed because it seemed so commonplace and yet today, well, it looks…..? 
  • Daily dispatch. This is something that I learnt from reading the wise and playful Austin Kleon whose books Show Your Work and Steal Like An Artist are invaluable mini credos for the creatively curious. Put simply a daily dispatch is exactly what it says on the tin: something about your work or process that you put out somewhere every day. 
  • Notebook. Digital or pen and paper. The Google Keep app is an absolute gem for digital thinking. But whatever you use, our thoughts and the process of writing about them remind us what we’re curious about or what we might become curious about without influence. And that limit of influence is important because it’s easy to get sucked into what others (media, fashion, peers etc) deem as important. If we get beyond that we find out what we are truly curious about i.e. what our hearts are curious about which leads to all sorts of good stuff.
  • Working imagery/videos (or recognising that everything is work-in-progress). So perfectionism is a creativity killer – we all know that right? You can be awash with curiosity and that will motivate the journey, the need for answers, but (take it from me, I’ve been there) perfectionism can quash that feeling dead. Re-framing everything as work-in-progress is a great way to free that up and keep it alive. I now do this by approaching my work in this way as much as I can (admittedly that’s harder with client work but it’s about finding some balance). This goes back to the Samuel Beckett quote above: permission to ‘fail better’ which I take as meaning that there is no such thing as failure where creativity is concerned.
  • Scrapbook. I wrote about this recently here. But scrapbooks to me are an essential part of the curiosity tool-kit. Similarly to the previous point, they maintain a sense of work-in-progress and flexibility – for example, putting unrelated cuttings next to each other without any particular agenda is an indelibly curiosity driven thing to do. Maybe curiosity is something akin to knowing there are rules but breaking them any way? Which leads me on to the next point:
  • Throwing out the normsThat’s the personal norms, and even the social ones too perhaps. Not in any way that damages others, but the ones that might hold you back. Our comfort zones again and again. And believe me there are times when I wish I could go back a decade or so and retake certain paths in my life so that I wasn’t quite so stuck in certain places. It doesn’t get easier as you get older but harder to break those comfort zones. So take the chances when they come. Or be prepared to fight harder to stay curious as you ‘mature’.
  • Knowing the self in connection to communityIsolation is a sure-fire way to dim curiosity. And it’s very easy to become isolated especially if, like me, you’re a freelancer working on your own. Being part of a community/communities, or seeking out ones that you might connect with is a great way to feed and inspire curiosity. They are places for questions to be asked, for ideas to be thrown around, and for new ones to arise. If you find you’re spending too much time alone in front of the computer or in your work-space then find a like-minded community and go talk. 
  • Listen to music. I don’t need to say much about this do I? Music feeds our brains in ways we are only just beginning to understand and for that reason alone it has to have some impact on our natural curiosity. Something about music for me feeds that curiosity energy.

Please tell me what you’re curious about – I bet there are some real curiosities out there.

Image © James Bellorini

James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organizations/brands. Recent clients include: Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Sonisphere UK, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. In September 2015 he joined the Redeye Network’s Lightbox programme for emerging photographers. 


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What do you do with your old magazines or newspapers? Or (if like me you’re a photographer) your discarded contact sheets and unused prints that won’t ever see the light of day? Or even random bits of printed matter that catch your eye lying around on the street? Well call me old-fashioned, but I still gather them into what once upon a time we used to call scrapbooks.

I wasn’t even sure if scrapbooks still existed when I began writing this post (although I suppose Pinterest is a digital version of sorts), but a quick search on Amazon threw up a slew of very fancy versions so I guess they are still ‘a thing’.

Anyway, if you don’t know what one is, basically the idea is to collect your scraps and cutouts, get jiggy with glue and/or tape, and paste them into your book how you want. It’s lo-fi curation at it’s most hands on and tactile. But more than that it’s also a great form of creative freewheeling and play.

I tend to cut up a lot of my own work and use it quite brutally. In fact, as you can see from the images above, I often score and scratch the surfaces with a knife and then paint over them. Maybe that’s a healthy form of deconstruction?

I also give vent to verbal imagery and thoughts that don’t follow any logic or might rise as a suggestion from what I’ve pasted together. A kind of automatic writing.

And yes I confess to appropriating some found imagery and using it in contexts that wouldn’t normally be their home, so apologies if anyone out there is offended. I’m not making any money from them but using them because they are usually visually striking or speak to me in some way.

Anyway if cutting things up and sticking them in over-sized books appeals to you, I recommend it as a creative tool. It helps ‘out of the box’ thinking, breaks down ideas that have been stuck, preconceptions, or points to new directions. It also helps remove preciousness or perfectionism which in my case can only be a good thing.

Mostly though the value of a scrapbook is simply in the doing, the cutting and pasting, a form of collecting and ‘doodling’. The joy is enough.

Why am I highlighting this today in terms of my image making?

Well, recently I’ve given myself permission to try to unlearn elements of my practice as a photographer (and my ‘learned’ historic creativity in general) – to try to see again after half a lifetime of believing I was ‘seeing’. I’m hoping this will alter and improve my creative output. The scrapbook process is really helpful here. It’s pure playing. Trying to leap over or around logic and reason. And it often throws up unexpected things: unique juxtapositions, project ideas, a ‘hook’ or theme, who knows. 

One thing I have noticed is that a scrapbook distills the symbols and visual elements that I find appealing. It generates a kind of personal lexicon or dictionary and that is great to mine elsewhere in my work.

So forgive my indulgence in showing some pages here from my scrapbooks, but I hope that this might be impetus enough to send you on a quest to start (or keep going with) your own.

Actually there’s a great book called Photographer’s Sketchbooks published by Thames & Hudson that’s worth checking out – I’m not alone!!

So is there anyone else out there that indulges this passion for scrapbooks? I’d love to hear from you or better still share some of your pages if you can.

All images © James Bellorini 2015

James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organisations/brands. Recent clients include: Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Sonisphere UK, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc.  



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I pledge my allegiance to the camera – though don’t try to make me a single-system patriot. May I be free to be a photographic Don Juan and use Canon, Leica, Fuji and Mamiya and/or whatever else comes to hand depending on the requirements of my work or my creative promptings.

I pledge my allegiance to both digital photography and old-school analogue photography – may they both remind me that light is my master and guide.

I pledge to always be reminded that a camera is an object of great wonder and joy to me – that it is an incredible tool that has the power to change our perception of the world, the way we look at it, and the people we meet.

I pledge my allegiance to photography as a medium – that it makes me who I am; and that as an introvert when I have a camera in my hand I have a reason to meet, talk, and engage.

I pledge my allegiance to ‘the moment’.

I pledge my allegiance to the power of photography to freeze time and literally make history.

I pledge my allegiance to photography being the most democratic of mediums  – that anyone can take pictures and enjoy it.

I pledge to honor that democracy by being as open to the world as possible. That I greet it and the people I meet without prejudice or preconception.

I pledge my allegiance to knowing that light is my teacher; and that form and matter my subject.

I pledge to abide by the formula: open mind + open heart + open eyes = photographer.

I pledge to learn the inverse square law by heart and to actually understand it practically (apologies for the photo jargon – an explanation for the layperson here).

I pledge my allegiance to people and diversity: all that richness of life, culture and visual information.

I pledge to continue working harder than I ever thought possible before I started working as a full-time photographer.

I pledge to daily ignore my G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome (sorry more jargon – more explanation here).

I pledge to never stop learning about this wondrous, frustrating, inspirational and obsessive craft.

I pledge to always have a camera of some kind on me wherever and whenever I am.

I pledge to honor the clients who have seen fit to believe enough in me to keep coming back. And I pledge to honor those I haven’t even met yet.

I pledge to say thank you to all those close enough to me that they have to put up with all the tears of joy and sorrow that being a professional photographer makes me shed.

And finally, I’m proud to say I’m a photographer and a world citizen. I can’t help it, they’re in my blood.

All images © James Bellorini 2015. All rights reserved.

James is an editorial and documentary photographer working for the commercial and consumer markets. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organizations/brands. Recent clients include: Innovision, UKTI, Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. 



I spend a lot of my time photographing culture, music, arts and entertainment so this is one of a series of infrequent posts looking at books, movies, visual culture, music etc. that IMO are worth spending time with in some way. My gut reactions and songs of praise or pillory.

Picture This: Some films for photographers (and other interested parties).

On the look-out for inspiration for your photography or creativity? Or maybe a Christmas stocking filler for the photographer in your life? Or just want to sit down and watch something a bit different? Try these films for photographers:



(download only)

Director: Cheryl Dunn

84 minutes

This (as it’s geographic focus would suggest) is a sparky, volatile documentary about New Yorks’ multitude of street photographers. It’s also about the appeal of the city as a hunting ground for all manner of these photographic animals (including Joel Myerowitz, Bruce Gilden, Jill Freedman, Martha Cooper, Jamel Shabazz etc etc). As Joel Myerowitz infers, street photography is about stepping out into chaos and saying “show me”. It’s a way “of learning to read your culture, which is a great fascination for photographers.” If you have a fascination for (or are engaged in) street photography in all it’s forms then this is a great romp through the thoughts and experiences of these photographic obsessives whose canvas is the ribald and unwieldy streets and people of the Big Apple. It’s also a reminder that photography and photographers must never let the world around them lose its excitement. Nor should their enthusiasm or curiosity for it ever be dimmed or compromised.



(download only)

Director: Tomas Leach

75 minutes

In some ways this film and FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (see below) are companion pieces. To me at least. They both take a look at American photographers who were once unknown or overlooked, yet whose work stands as testament to the ability of the photographic image to bestride time and still speak decades later. Leiter’s ability was ‘recognised’ in his early career as he worked as a fashion photographer for the likes of Harper’s Bazaar in the 50’s and 60’s. But it has only been in the past 5 years or so that his entire catalogue of work (including street photography and nudes) has been seen as part of a unique and very beautiful vision. Both films are filled with an air of gentle melancholy, though harder to maintain in this instance due to Saul Leiter’s humorous, curmudgeonly character. If ever there was a photographer or artist who never wanted to be acknowledged for what he did, Leiter is your man. He actually has an avid disdain for the spotlight. He has no real concept of the notion of ‘pioneer’ (which many have christened him in light of his now famous early colour work – which, if you’ve never seen you really ought to as it is extraordinary). Like Vivian Maier, there’s a serenity and resistance to haste in Leiter’s work and character that speak of life and art made with very different motivations to those that prevail today. It’s a short film, and more a meditation on age and memory than on photography directly, but fascinating nonetheless. Worth buying this alongside Leiter’s book ‘Early Colour‘.

Anton Corbijn Inside Out


DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).

Director: Klaartje Quirijns

90 minutes
A revealing documentary about prolific Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn. Corbijn is famous for his work with U2, G-Star Raw and Joy Division, as well as directing movies such as The American with George Clooney. This documentary centres on the fact that for Corbijn (as it is for many of us) his personal journey is a quest for answers. In Corbijn’s case this journey began with the exchange of ideas between photography and music. But it is also about “The pain of creation. A feeling of struggle, working something out,” as he puts it himself. It’s a fascinating look into his history, motivations and working practice including the driven, hard work that he puts in. I found it enlightening that even a photographer of this stature gets nervous before client viewings (mind you the clients are Metallica and Lou Reed so perhaps it’s understandable!!). More than this though, what comes across is the consumption of life to the photographic impulse. Of giving photography and image-making everything (perhaps too much?) and the obsession with detail. Of course, these things are the absolute reasons why photographers do what they do and why Corbijn is so respected.


Under The Skin movie poster4 UNDER THE SKIN

DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).

Director: Jonathan Glazer

104 minutes
If there’s one film out of the six here, this is the one that will probably have the most profound effect on the viewer (although number 5 is also a runner for that too, but in a different way). In fact, I can’t write this without saying that it’s one of the best and at the same time most disturbing films I have seen in a long time. The last time I had the same visceral response to a movie was watching the original OLDBOY (by Park Chan-Wook). Directed by Jonathan Glazer (SEXY BEAST) with Scarlet Johansson in a potentially career-defining role (she’s got ‘balls’ – if you’ve seen the film, pardon the pun – choosing a role like this). If you have any interest in visual storytelling, then this film as a must (IMO). Under the skin by name, under the skin by nature. It stirs up questions about the nature of beauty and our perceptions of what is beautiful. For photographers that’s important stuff: I’d go so far as to say it’s the proverbial ‘meat’ of what we do. We live in an age where the criteria for what we consider beautiful are indelibly linked with our commercial and consumer mindsets – whether that’s physical, geographic or emotional beauty – they’ve all become prejudiced by cultural mindsets that actually aren’t very real. It’s amazing to see work like this being made in 21st Century – both forward looking and reflecting on the past of such film-makers as Nic Roeg (e.g. Don’t Look Now – in fact to watch these cinematic siblings back to back would probably be close to permanently traumatizing your nervous system!!). There’s a strong cinema verite feel within the extraordinary surreal/horror elements of this film and, for me, it is here that one can discover it’s inspiration: that beauty and ‘ugliness’, truth and the lies are always and only ever about personal perception. The real ‘beauty’ of our every day existence is present in documentary detail in parts of this movie which I would suggest parallel aspects of the EVERYBODY STREET documentary above: shopping malls, street intimacy, queues, unspoken thoughts, beggars, oily streets. This film is definitely not ‘safe’. Be prepared.


DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).

Director: Sebastian Junger

79 minutes
Where UNDER THE SKIN is frightening because of the physical terror inherent in beauty, WHICH WAY is frightening because of the very real psychological terror of warfare. Tim Hetherington was a young photojournalist committed to “build bridges to people” who ultimately gave his life in the pursuit of doing just that through his photography and film-making. This documentary is seriously frightening. It shows us the dark and chaotic world of civil wars in Liberia and Libya, as well as tragic events in Afghanistan. Again we see a photographer who completely submerges himself in his subject matter to the point where the photography ends and the human takes over, investigating their environment in a highly personal way as an extension of their beliefs and, dare I say it, soul. It is an utterly moving and tragic portrayal of a man of rare integrity and courage.


6 FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (not sure this is available on DVD but I found it on iTunes for download).

Director: Charles Siskel & John Maloof

84 minutes


If you haven’t heard the story of Vivian Maier then you’ve probably been spending time on another planet. It’s been reported on nearly every major news network around the world over the past couple of years. It’s a fascinating and sad story of an undiscovered ‘amateur’ photographer whose catalogue of incredible street photography was discovered by chance and published to (literally) overnight global acclaim. Personally I find it hard to watch this documentary without shedding a tear. For me that’s a response to Vivian Maier’s unaffected and honest devotion to capturing her days and the people around her. She did it with such a sense of engagement with life that resulted in some truly timeless images. Add all this to the fact that she was never acknowledged for her work in her lifetime and that’s what gets to me. So much art and so many incredible artists remain ignored in their lifetimes. Yet the creative urge never dims within them. As a film it runs out of steam about half way through, however the work shines and there’s something about the unaffected way that Ms Maier went about making images that remains an inspiration.



The Shock of the Old: the inspiration of the Leica rangefinder.

In this post I want to look a little bit at how I’ve recently turned to the ‘past’ for inspiration. In this case Leica inspiration.

For about a year I’ve had an ongoing battle justifying to myself whether or not I should buy into the Leica ‘M’ rangefinder brand. I had dreamed of owning one for the majority of my life. Somewhere back in time, I had promised myself that one day I would own my very own Leica. I knew all about the heritage, history and hefty costs of the system.  And recent developments in CSC systems, including the great Fuji X system, had compromised any clear decision-making process.

But life is short and I have been fortunate enough recently to be in a position where I could finally take the ‘leap’ into the system and purchase a barely used M Type 240 digital rangefinder at a bargain price.

Thankfully, all my preconceptions of working with this system have been proven correct. If not surpassed. The experience of photographing with this camera is, for me, truly inspiring. I have experienced what I would term a ‘shock of the old’.

Leica Inspiration - Paris To Venice Train

French dawn (from Paris To Venice Train sequence). Leica M (240) with 50mm Summicron lens.

Why old?

Well, at heart this is still the same camera Leica came out with originally in the early 1950’s. It’s built around the same accurate focusing mechanism (a manual rangefinder) and has everything a photographer needs boiled down to the bare minimum: i.e. set it and forget it.

That’s not to say the camera in itself is technically retrograde in any way. It isn’t.

But the process of approaching photography with this system leans toward the retro. It immediately brings back sensations and experiences I had when I first picked up a camera in the mid-1980’s and began to take pictures. In those days it was my Father’s Canon AE1 with an amazing 50mm f1.4 lens that I borrowed. Time stood still. I felt like I was able to see under the skin of the world. What a beautiful endeavor: to put a frame around something and freeze it for all time!! In a sense every camera I have used since has been a device with which I have tried to replicate that experience. Some have come close. But none have brought me those same sensations as the Leica has.

It’s not just the technical aspects of using a Leica rangefinder: the engagement with subject through the viewfinder, the simplicity of the camera hardware, the quality of lenses (homegrown and third-party). All these things make photography with this system a sublime experience and, as ever with a camera that is a true working tool, it gets out of the way and lets me concentrate on what I’m looking at. But more than that, it is the emotional state it puts me into. In me it engenders an eagerness to see the world afresh daily. To exploit all the possibilities of light and story. And these things remind me of what really lie at the heart of photography for me. No matter what your experience level or supposed ‘standard’ it’s the emotional connection we have with the world around us and how we express that connection that makes for photographic joy and passion.

I gave a talk last week to a group of people from all sorts of backgrounds (artists, entrepreneurs, business people) about the nature of creativity and it’s correlation to play and playfulness. My focus was on how and why we re-discover the innocence we experienced as children when allowed to create without the hindrances of judgement, critical appraisal and peer pressure. When we are able to express humbly from the soul with a real sense of fun, freedom and adventure. The Leica has so far encouraged in me that state of being. It is willing to go with me however I want to go. It is a ‘yes’ device.

I’m not saying other camera’s might not be. But this one does it for me.

It also challenges me. Challenges any technical knowledge that had become ‘wooly’ due to other cameras doing too much of the thinking for me.

So for those of you who have ever considered buying into the Leica family and can afford to, I recommend it from with all my heart. But for those of you who can’t or do not want to, then try treading the Manual road again this week. Switch the auto-focus off, take control of the shutter speed and aperture and enjoy the freshness and real ‘seeing’ this brings – acknowledge that you are making images not just taking them, that you are making creative and playful decisions. Or maybe you still have a 35mm film camera – dust it off, take it for a whirl and see if that changes the way you approach your image-making. Then see where that takes you just for the fun of it. Creativity is, after all, about experimentation in a nurturing atmosphere: a space without reproach or market trends. We as photographers (or whatever your background) have to make ourselves get away from the constant requirements of our businesses and touch base with what it was that originally spoke to us about photography.

All images © James Bellorini 2014

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