Will Cheung at the DPS: a review of Will Cheung’s lecture to Durham Photographic Society, 17th January 2013 by John Cogan
A welcome return to a full hall and an appreciative audience for William Cheung, enthusiastic photographer and proselytiser for getting out there and using the camera. Will smiles. This he does a great deal and his humour and relaxed view of life imbues his narrative with a pace and a texture that carries you along, regardless. Every so often he will drop a factlet in: use StarstaX for the sky-at-night images. Use such and such an ISO with such and such a shutter speed, and all these mount up over the two hours and, should we feel inclined to collect them over the evening we’d have the makings of a book.
Projects… how many of the great photographers set themselves little projects? Many, if not most. Think Elliot Erwitt and his dogs and you have the archetype project. So, now we know that Will will grab any shot he can of an umbrella umbrellaring or a rubbish bin binning, a photographer photographing or an iPad user padding… The image that is lodged in my memory is the one of the iPad user holding his iPad up to the Arc de Triomphe… the way Will positioned himself so that the man was framed in the empty space of the distant Arc and yet all the Arc was rendered clearly in the screen of the iPad… It had not occurred to me that an iPad could be regarded as a medium or large format camera, but there goes all Hasselblad’s future sales (to me, at least).
What will we remember from the 290 or so images we were shown? Perhaps a few; maybe a couple of rubbish bins and the lady with the purple umbrella against the purple shop front? Let the dust settle, time intervene and then what? For many of us it might not be the way the images stick in the mind, unlike Dianne Owen’s creations, Hunter Kennedy’s imported mist or Des Clinton’s Roma people and his monastic monochrome images, but the power of the camera to be versatile and ever-present. Nothing escapes Will, or that’s how it seems. The empty men’s toilet, the woman and the Viagra sign, anything can be an image. Making 1000 images a day with his Nikon D3s is a paradigm for any street photographer. The street, the town and its characters, wild life brought close with a 400mm lens all become grist to Will’s mill. The common theme is detail, with only a modicum of space. Yet, his star shots and the panoramic views, reveal something else. These are memories caught by a technician, a creator of images who knows exactly where he’s going and what the outcome will be.
To make something seem simple is the mark of a skilled craftsperson. The deceptive simplicity of Will’s work belies an underlying wealth of skills garnered over many years of work. Constantly returning to his camera, which he keeps available and ready to go at all times, only serves to reinforce the power of the eye. Joseph Koudelka, the Czech photographer and Magnum member, would spend time after breakfast shooting off 3 rolls of 36 frame Tri-X on anything and everything he could see around him. It was his exercise for his eye, his visual press-ups and this would seem to be a similar process that Will goes through but his sequence of reps is to be found in people texting or bending in contorted positions with a Canon Eos D650 glued to their right eye.
Enthusiasm, commitment and regarding photography as a fun thing, a commitment to life, are part of the way Will presented photography to us on. And the nibbles of details we’ve been fed: he uses a B + W 70 filter; shoots at f8 or f11 whenever possible and guesses the distance when out on the street; is happy to set his ISO at 12800 for dark environments so he can hand-hold his camera; frames in the camera so he doesn’t need to crop too excessively in Lightroom; he uses Nik Silver Efex Pro 2; he recommends waders for when involved anywhere near water; his tripod is a battered old Traveller dug out of the garage; on assignment he tends to take one body and three lenses; his photographs of the New York boxers were taken with a 50mm f1.4 lens at ISO800 and he desaturates his colour images in Lightroom controlling each filter individually. For a man so apparently laid-back his control over the process of creating a final image is immaculate and all-pervading. Nothing is ever left to chance. Failure is accepted and he has grown into his style to the point where it is now as comfortable to him as a favourite cardigan. It takes a great deal of time and being true to the image to become recognisable for a unique way of presenting an image.
Do I have a favourite image, one that I wish I’d made? Yes! Amongst the rapidly shown collection towards the end of the evening there was one of a man carrying a ladder. That struck me as being very much in the style of Marc Riboud. But, my favourite is one of the seal, covered in sand and looking very grumpy. The seal seems myopic as it looks you straight in the eye… there is a wonderful mixture of belligerence and confusion. If any image of an animal conveys its confusion in a world it once believed it owned before humans became too intrusive it is this one. Taken with on a Nikon D700 with a 400mm lens and made with great respect for the subject… a master class in how to do it!
Will Cheung’s web site is:- www.williamcheung.co.uk
John Cogan ARPS