Thursday, 2 December 2010


Pleas head over to thanks

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

STEPHEN HUDSON and experimental production

Readers of the blog will remember my meeting with Stephen Hudson from 'Uncle Jeff' a while back and how i was interested in the way musicians are using alternative marketing and distribution models to get their music heard.
I had a conversation recently with Stephen about the production of his solo CD 'TALLULAH?" which has been hand made by Stephen himself and is a great example of the success a physical artifact can have combined with digital capabilities. Below are Stephens thoughts and feedback on the project as well as images from the original shoot with Stephen and the CD itself.

Stephen Hudson:
The idea behind making them myself became a necessity because of what i wanted the
single to look like. 'Tallulah?' starts with a piano riff and I've had the red toy piano since I was a baby,
doing my first solo release after frustrations with bands and music in general felt like a fresh start and a rebirth, so for me personally the image has resonance and I also thought i could use it to make the packaging look really cool.

I wasn't sure any company would do them in that shape (especially not in a short run)
so worked out that with an A3 sheet of card, bits and bats bought off the internet, a lot of spray mount,  hardwork work and blisters, I'd be able to do a short run of 100 myself.

'Stephen Hudson' ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

This was ideal because I think its ever so important to have something that looks special and means something to the person at your gig buying it- because the CDs are an unusual design, and I'd invested time and effort making them myself, I thought that this would come across with the single.  Hardly anyone buys physical CDs anymore, and if you're a small-scale, independent band or solo performer like I am, the people who do have usually made the effort to come and do so at a gig you're playing and deserve something special and collectable, over a scribbled CDr in a plastic wallet.

I'd also learned the hard way with my band and our first EP, when we bought a run of a 1000 CDs with a company pressing them and printing the card wallets. Because we didn't have a distribution deal and we didn't tour constantly, we still have boxes of them around our houses. It feels awesome when we get people buying the EP over the internet from different places around the world, but its a very slow trickle and it would feel far better if we'd done a run of 200 ourselves.

'The Good Ship' ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

One obstacle I'm facing with sending out the single this time, isn't the packaging itself, but the jiffy bag it comes in. I worry that the CD looks really good, but it might not get opened.

As far as feedback from other people goes, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People have told me that it looks better than what you would find in a shop,
and most people can't believe I've made them myself.  A quote from the Lancaster Guardian "the CD would be better placed on your bookshelf, which fits in with the quirky nature of
the label's (Barnbox) other releases and the music on the record itself".  I was pretty chuffed with that!

The single is available for purchase from the iTunes store and Barnbox records HERE

Friday, 20 August 2010

Why is free a four letter word?

Ive just had a Blackstar blog post by John Harrington pop up again on Twitter, apparently it has been ReTweeted 705 times, and is titled '12 Excuses for shooting photos for free and why they're bogus'

This post is less '12 reasons you should work for free' and more 'One reason I worked for free and how it turned out' I think the argument presented on the Blackstar post is perhaps a little frank and narrow minded. There are great things to come out of shooting for free IF IT IS THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY.


Around 3 years ago i had left University and set up as a freelance photographer. I had a few local clients that were paying well enough but I really wanted to work on architectural case studies. I contacted a magazine I wished to work for and asked about getting work with them, as expected they weren't to keen on paying a relatively inexperienced photographer the same as they would to a regular contributor.

I told them i would work for expenses, this went down better.

A few weeks later and i got a call to shoot an assignment for the magazine based on this 'offer'. I shot the assignment as if it were a fully payed job and cut no corners in preparation or production. Three years on and a large percentage of my income is from that same magazine.


Sure this is just anecdotal evidence and I am aware of that, just as I am aware that John's article is similarly based on anecdotes and opinion; not fact. I believe there is a lot to be learned from '12 Excuses for shooting photos for free and why they're bogus' especially in having the confidence in your own photography and to not be taken advantage of, but if the potential return out-ways the investment and you are clear in what you are willing to do then why should free be discarded as an amateur's tool.

It is not as some responses pointed out - about doing a job cheaper than a 'pro' but about showing you can do a better job than others. I would be keen to hear John's opinion on mail-outs, business cards and portfolio's, which are all tools to entice potential clients, why should a free shoot in the right circumstances, and the right terms not be considered a promotional tool.

Why is free a four letter word?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Pinhole photography

I am doing a small pinhole project with my students in a couple of weeks and so am patching up my old cans and boxes! Here are a few of the images i produced on the first round.

Is anyone else experimenting with pinhole photography at the moment?


Saturday, 15 May 2010

Books 'on' the road

I have been fascinated by images of the road since I was a kid and would take pictures looking back out of the Mondeo on family holidays with my APS camera. And so it seems to fit that while studying at university I immersed myself in all the road photography i could find. Any image framed by the wing mirror or frame of a car window and i was hooked. In particular I was looking at

Jeff Brouws
Stephen Shore
Garry Winnogrand
Ed Ruscha
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Michael Eastman
Wim Wenders
Joel Sternfeld

As with all things photography, the more you like, the more you look at the history of the images and of the subject. So below are a few of the books that have given me a much greater understanding of the road, the American dream (Life and death) and the architecture and towns that the road influenced.

'Learning from Las Vegas' by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour 

Las Vegas is a great example of the 'Sprawl' - a town or city that has sprung up on the road out of necessity. When driving first became a popular persuit, people would drive just to drive but need places along the highway to stop, refuel, drink and eat. Las Vegas is much like a very very large and elaborate truck stop. In this book Venturi looks at how the road has influenced the architectural landscape of Las Vegas and how Las Vegas has influenced other roadside architecture. 
Venturi touches on many topics with both color and black and white images to illustrate the architecture in question. 

"We shall describe how we come by the automobile-oriented commercial architecture of urban sprawl as our source for a civic and residential architecture of meaning, viable now, as the turn-of-the-century industrial vocabulary was 40 years ago"

"Signs inflect towards the highway"

"Learning from the existing landscape is a way of being revolutionary"

 'Main Street to Miracle Mile' by Chester H Liebs

Liebs' 1985 book was the first to truly treat the roadside architecture of America as a subject to contemplate and to study. The book travels along a time-line of road architecture from curb-side gas pumps to roadside gas stations, diners, hotels and motels. Plenty of images to accompany Liebs' analysis and thoughts make this a great introduction/overview to roadside architecture. 

"During the nineteenth century, a gradual, yet profound, revolution in travel was taking place, forever altering human understanding of time, distance and perception of landscape"

"Now, as the twentieth century creaks toward its final decade, the excitement of driving anywhere, anytime, has dimmed, and the automobile has assumed its place as an an accepted component in the daily routine"

'20th-Century Sprawl - Highways and Reshaping of the American Landscape' by Owen D. Gutfreund

Perhaps the 'driest' of books n this post but a great background on the birth of sprawl construction as well as planning and financial issues behind the introduction of national highways and byways.The book is full of real case studies of new road and housing developments across America. 

'Mall Maker - victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream' by M Jeffrey Hardwick

An Austrian immigrant and the inventor of both the indoor shopping center and  a key piece of popular American car culture. This is predominantly a biography telling the story of Gruen and how the malls that he pioneered came to be. An incredibly interesting look at just one aspect road related architecture.

"The shopping mall is both the most visible and the most contentious symbol of American prosperity"

"We are convinced that the real shopping center will be the most profitable type of chain store location yet developed, for the simple reason that it will include features to induce people to drive considerable distances to enjoy its vantages"

'The Geography of Nowhere - the Rise and Decline of America's Man-made Landscape' by James Howard-Kunstler

How the road and all that it came to influence has created a 'Geoography of Nowhere' among suburban America, an aesthetically bland and characterless landscape of roads, malls and gas stations. But this book also looks at the causes of these occurences and pays a lot of attention to the works of J.B Jackson and Robert Venturi to name a few. For those that have enjoyed work from Jeff Brouws, this is a must read. 

"America. Ever-busy, ever-building, ever-in-motion, ever-throwing-out the old for the new..."

"Now that we have built the sprawling system of far-flung houses, offices, and discount marts connected by freeways, we can't afford to live in it"

Also of significant note is Jeff Brouws' essay 'Approaching Nowhere' in 'Approaching Nowhere'

Monday, 10 May 2010

New Images

Wow! February 18th was the last post on this blog and to get things rolling again I thought i would show some of my own images that I have taken over the last few months locally and further afield. Let me know what you think and I shall upload more soon as well as some 'less-lazy' blog posts!


'Superbowl' Blackpool, England ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

'Home' Sandridge, Hertfordshire ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

'Snow on Tree' Harpenden, Hertfordshire ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

'Carisbrooke Rd' Harpenden, Hertfordshire ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON
'Rothampstead' Harpenden, Hertfordshire ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

'24' New York, NY ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

'Lighting' Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire ©2010 MATT JOHNSTON

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Few Quotes

Just a few photography quotes from revisiting Anne-Celine Jaeger's 'Image Makers, Image Takers'

"Sometimes i'll leave the house with a fully loaded camera and end up with nothing. It's just about being there. Anywhere. Even the most uninteresting ugly or boring places can for an instant become magical to me" - WILLIAM EGGLESTON

"In a sense my main manifesto is documenting the newfound wealth of the West, because to me, it's the biggest subject - bigger than or just as big as war and fame" - MARTIN PARR

"I'm uncomfortable taking pictures, especially if people are grieving, or hurt, or hungry. At such times i have to remind myself that I'm a photographer and that is my job" - EUGENE RICHARDS

"One main philosophy i have is that i want my photos to either be an extension of what you know already know about a subject, or for them to go in a totally different direction and create something new. Only then do you actually contribute something" - ANTON CORBIJN

"At first, I trembled every time i took a picture. My confidence grew, but it took a long time. I still get nervous today. When i shoot for assignments I'm notorious amongst my assistants for sweating" - ALEC SOTH

On finding subjects
"With people, it's usually an instantaneous thing. It might be the colour of someone's shirt, Like with Rebecca, the girl holding the baby in Niagra. Often it is a colour response. Also with that particular picture, the girl's face just had a quality that i responded to" - ALEC SOTH

"I rely on my instinct. If i like something on impulse, I'll grab it. It's an emotional reaction, at times linked to burning curiosity" - GERHARD STEIDL (publisher)