FRAMES Artist-in-Residence October 2021: Paul Sanders

PART 1 – OCTOBER 5, 2021

Tomasz Trzebiatowski in conversation with Paul Sanders, introducing our first Artist-in-Residence, talking about his approach to photography in general and about ideas for this particular photography project.

Leave your questions to Paul in the comment section below and he will do his best to answer them all.

PART 2 – OCTOBER 10,2021

Let me say that when Tomasz asked me to do this I was instantly excited by the idea – but now in the cold light of day as I write this first piece I am terrified.

I never take commissions to photograph anything, I find the pressure unbelievable and that stops me seeing in an authentic way – I try to imagine what the client wants, in this case Tomasz.

So I have decided to ignore that I have been asked to do this and just go with the flow.

If I make an image that works then great but if I don’t, that is ok too – this is my philosophy throughout my work.

As someone who approaches their subjects and photography with a mindful perspective I like to spend time watching and feeling what I photograph. I look for gesture mostly or suggestion in the subjects that present themselves to me.

Having not flown in 18 months – I used to do around 40-50 flights a year I suddenly found myself heading off to Scotland to co-lead a workshop.

Currently I am in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland about to start a photography retreat that I am co-leading with Margaret Soraya. We will be here until the middle of next week – I will then head to Devon in the south west of the UK for another workshop – but more about that next time.

The week up to now has been odd, in fact I haven’t photographed anything properly! What a great start to my time with you.

I’ve done four talks this week – two at The Park Cameras imaging festival – for Fujifilm and one to a camera club.

Also I have done a couple of online workshops – one for the mental health charity West Kent Mind. I co-present these with WKM trustee and friend Steve Sunnucks – himself a very fine photographer.

These online sessions for WKM are incredible I get so much pleasure out of helping and encouraging the clients, what I really love is how they relate the images to their story at the time of releasing the shutter, they have now interest in the technical side purely the expression and interpretation of they brief. By encouraging them and empowering them to have confidence in their uniqueness they have used photography to start to integrate with society again. Honestly these people bring me to tears some weeks.

I’m also in talks with the Dover based charity ‘Positive View’ about doing something with them to support young people with mental health challenges or life disadvantages – this type of work is so important, we all need to learn to support others rather than look at the personal gain from our photography.

I think realistically my life is about 90% presenting talks, leading workshops and admin with the last 10% being actually photographing things.

So down to business, I photographed a thistle a few weeks ago, very simply in my mini studio. I have a deep love of still life despite being known as a landscape photographer, I think still life is my first love. I don’t use flash – I don’t understand it. I like the continuous light of a light box. I have three in my set up one at each side and one behind I then use black card to eliminate light or shape it – I’ll share the behind the scenes set up when I get home.

I chose the thistle because at the time my head felt like it was full of fluff – I suffer with fibromyalgia which causes chronic pain throughout my body, exhaustion and brain fog. The thistle seemed to suggest the pain and fog in one to me.

I really enjoy it when subjects keep developing and offering new perspectives on themselves and me, the power of equivalence in a subject can be incredible.

Equivalence  is basically using the subject as a metaphor for how you feel about something – not necessarily the subject itself. I use this all the time, it allows me to express how I really feel about things without having to say how I feel.

If you look at the work of Minor White, Steiglitz, Harry Callaghan etc you’ll see plenty of examples – this style of photography as for me it also takes the emphasis off the gear and technical side which I really like.

Anyway having left the thistle in situ – to behest I really just forgot to tidy up! I returned to my studio before flying yesterday and noticed how much the little chap had changed. I just love how the thistle has exploded with seeds, I never thought it would happen or that there would be so many.

Once I see something in a subject I like to let it rest, and just keep coming back to it sometimes a few days other times a few hours later. For me it is important to have a period of contemplation, understanding and space with the subject.

So the thistle and its seeds are possibly going to be one of the images I hope to present at the end of this – whether it works or not.

I think it is important not to delete or ignore the images that don’t work because they help you learn more about yourself and more about the subject. I’ll often return to unsuccessful images reflecting on why I misinterpreted  the moment or misunderstood the subject.

One thing I never do is blame the subject for not being good enough, or myself, the key is if things don’t work out it is usually misunderstanding why I was photographing something or trying to make it say something that it doesn’t want to say.

So that’s the start of my residency I hope you have enjoyed a look inside my head. Please feel free to ask questions or comment – but please be nice.

PART 3 – OCTOBER 17,2021
PART 4 – OCTOBER 23,2021
Paul Sanders (Photo by Adrian Beasley)

I’m not sure if it is just me but this Artist-in-Residence is flying by!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been away in Scotland as you saw from the video I did last week. This week I have just returned from working with photographer and Photoshop guru Adrian Beasley in Devon, in the southwest of the UK.

Workshops are where I make my living, there is very little money in selling prints for many photographers – myself included – unless you are Michael Kenna that business plan is unfeasible.

The Devon workshop was purely phone photography, four days of learning to see, sketching, editing and printing all using phones. The freedom that gives creatively is incredible. Freedom is something that we all need to use as a way of unleashing our spirit into our work and you can only do that by a daily practice of seeing in awareness.

I personally enjoy supporting clients as they learn to see in their own way, listening to their own creative voice instead of their inner critic. Watching people play with their creative expression, the childlike joy on their faces and exclamations of delight at hither-too untried ideas is inspiring for me. As a creative I find inspiration in the creativity of others. Nothing is more powerful than witnessing someone else success and sharing that joy for and with them rather than being bitter, jealous or trying to outdo them.

People often say it’s not real photography if you use a phone – which is a bit like saying to Leonardo Da Vinci that his sketchbooks aren’t worthy of attention.

I sketch ideas with my phone, it is truly one of the most important aspects of my creative life, to play, to experiment and I do it all on my phone. The more I play with the ideas on my phone the easier it is to see when I approach something with my other equipment.

I like being frivolous with my seeing, taking joy in the simple things which is something we should all do more of.

Last week I watched in true wonder at the way everyone embraced the sessions and locations in different ways, rather than interlocking tripods people felt free to try things which was empowering, I saw the confidence of clients grow, not only in their vision but also in their personality.

Rather than being inhibited by the kit, free yourself, that’s what I do – in fact that is really all I do.

Take these trees I noticed them as we pulled into the car park and to be honest I could have spent the whole time we at Valley of Rocks near Lynton just with them.

However when you are with a group you have to put their needs before your own so we experimented with sea scapes, rock textures and various other ideas but the trees were calling to me. One of the clients mentioned the trees to me as we approached the car park saying how wonderful they looked. So we started exploring them, playing with the texture, the shape and looking at the story of four trees who had grow embedded in a stone wall, shaped by the prevailing wind, hunkered down behind each other. Their constant battle against the elements revealed in their broken branches, ripped bark and twisted grace.

Very soon the whole group started getting involved exploring the trees in our own way, there was room as none of us had tripods, we lay down, stood on tiptoes, wedged the phones into tight gaps, what an amazing celebration of visual freedom.

Details are a wonderful gift to us all and you don’t have to travel far to find, I love just enjoying the way things sit together or are shaped and corroded by the elements, I don’t try to make them into anything, I am happy to let them just be and reveal their own beauty.

Of course weather plays a huge part in photography, personally I love the mist and rain but weather can cause huge problems with using bigger kit, rain on lenses, weatherproofing, rain on filters, wind shaking the camera or blowing over the tripod. With a phone it is so much calmer – literally no stress about kit, just wear a good coat with pockets and you can photograph without any weather angst or annoyance –  in fact it becomes fun!

Because I like simplicity phones are a wonderful way to sketch out ideas for long exposures too – no filters, no exposure calculations just compose point and shoot – certainly that is the case with my iPhone. I use the “live’ mode to create the feel of long exposure which to be honest does a great job. But for me – someone who doesn’t shoot intentional camera movement I love giving myself permission to step outside of my normal work to play with the subjects and movement.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well basically don’t take your photography so seriously that you forget to enjoy it. By sitting permanently in the same place you won’t grow or experience ideas that help you evolve as an artist.

Learn to have fun, learn to play, learn from your children and grandchildren, a childlike sense of wonder at the world around is the key to creative growth. All images taken using an iPhone 12 Pro shot in silvertone on the native camera or processed in Snapseed.

Comments (44):

  1. Paula Tremba

    October 5, 2021 at 20:28

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! Paul inspires and motivates me to slow down and wait. Looking forward to next week and beyond.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 6, 2021 at 14:05

      Thank you Paula, I hope you enjoy this project

  2. Jo Hancock

    October 5, 2021 at 20:58

    Showing your images that don’t work seems valuable as well. Looking forward to seeing your work.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 6, 2021 at 14:04

      Believe me there are many that don’t work usually because I’ve tried too hard or misunderstood the subject

  3. Cory Ingram

    October 5, 2021 at 23:40

    I really appreciate this offering and look forward to the next. It may be nice to offer the option for zoom to allow for facilitated conversation at the end. Also offering the images for viewing on the sight as a sort of gallery would be generous. Many thanks.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 6, 2021 at 14:04

      I’ll have a chat with Tomasz about the zoom idea – I like it

  4. Richard Hutson

    October 6, 2021 at 02:11

    I’m going to really enjoy this creative journey with you. I like the way you think about photography !

    • Paul Sanders

      October 6, 2021 at 14:03

      Thank you Richard, I’m quite nervous about it – I don’t normally allow access to my head
      Let’s hope I make sense

  5. Roxy Schiavone

    October 6, 2021 at 12:49

    Dear Mr. Sanders, It was a pleasure learning about your ongoing journey in developing your photographic style. You mentioned Minor White, and yes, I can see his influence in the photos you displayed in this video. I have been a photography hobbyist for over fifty years, and have won an award or two for my black and white work. Somehow, perhaps, instinctively, I have gravitated more toward minimalistic subjects, and preferring the square format, where I set, 1:1, for my aspect ratio in my camera.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 6, 2021 at 14:02

      Hi Roxy
      Thank you, I do love the style and vision of Minor White, his writing is well worth reading if you get chance.
      Personally I find the minimal approach very pleasing being able to distill the subject and voice of the image down to a few key things is a wonderful gift.
      Well done on you competition wins

  6. Cynthia+Gladis

    October 6, 2021 at 20:27

    This was quite enjoyable, thank you! As someone who loves to go exploring with a camera I can relate to your style of working, and your images are gorgeous. I look forward to more in the coming weeks. I also enjoyed seeing the images while listening to the interview. I assumed they were all taken in the UK until I saw the great image of the Empire State Building! So now I must back up and ask if the image from the train station with the “To Trains” sign was taken at U.S.’s Liberty State Park in the old train station. If not, the station you photographed has its “doppelganger” there! Cheers.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 9, 2021 at 18:08

      Thank you
      Yes the To The Trains is the station in Liberty State Park
      I love New York and New Jersey such incredible places and I always find and feel a deep connection there

      • Cynthia+Gladis

        October 9, 2021 at 18:14

        Cool! I hope to see more of your take on my “stomping grounds!”

  7. Will Parsons

    October 8, 2021 at 21:43

    Hi Paul,
    Really enjoyed listening and viewing this video clip. Your style and uniqueness has encouraged me to look at subjects differently and be more patient before shooting. The white spaces in your images I find are almost more riveting than the subject a s I want to know what’s there!

    • Paul Sanders

      October 9, 2021 at 18:06

      Thank you so much
      I love space, it allows the subject to breathe but also gives room for the story to grow and curiosity to build

  8. Mike Matthews

    October 10, 2021 at 13:37

    Thanks for 18 minutes of inspiration! I’m one of those photographers that are a bit lost and wondering where to go next. Black & White has always fascinated me and I haven’t been able to get enthusiastic about colour recently so now, having looked through my B&W images, I know what’s next. Thanks Paul.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 11, 2021 at 13:52

      That’s fantastic Mike – it’s a fun learning curve

  9. Terry Price

    October 10, 2021 at 17:08

    Thank you for sharing and taking us on this contemplative journey, Paul. We are grateful. I am reading your words and admiring your photos and techniques on this World Mental Health Day which seems just right. I have learned a great deal from your and Jen’s online workshop and am continuing to allow time for reflection and for images to come to me. It is a process, for me, to calm the ego and let the subconscious have room and space to breathe through my mindfulness and presence. I am so encouraged by how many seem to be joining in these separate journeys, together. Again, thank you for all you do and for being brave with your vulnerability. It emboldens us to do the same. Have a lovely and peaceful day. Best, Terry

    • Paul Sanders

      October 11, 2021 at 13:52

      Thank you Terry, it’s so lovely to hear that it’s having an effect on your life.
      I truly appreciate your kind words

  10. Jane Alynn

    October 10, 2021 at 18:55

    I so appreciated your philosophy of image-making. When I started out, so many decades ago, Minor White was one of my main inspirations. I was a psychotherapist and zen arts practitioner, teaching workshops that incorporated White’s ideas of seeing and equivalence. I later became a poet, which further deepened my photographic philosophy, seeing not only what is but seeing the metaphors, or what else something is. This approach to photography appeals to me because it is slow and eschews preconception, insisting I wait and be patient enough for the subject to present itself to me. Thanks for your candid responses.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 11, 2021 at 13:50

      I write poetry too, I love the experience of the moment whatever it brings. I find myself drawn more towards to zen arts philosophy too.

      Can I see your poetry anywhere Jane?

      • Jane Alynn

        October 11, 2021 at 17:08

        Chapbook Threads of Dust is out of print, but Necessity of Flight (Cherry Grove Collections) is probably still available from the publisher and Amazon. Thank you so much for asking. I hope to stay in touch with your work. I think we have many points of intersection.

        • Paul Sanders

          October 23, 2021 at 22:28

          I have your book on order Jane can’t wait to get it

          • Jane Alynn

            October 24, 2021 at 05:02

            Paul, deep bow. Thank you so much. I feel honored to share my work with you. Regarding Part 4, I so appreciate your highlighting freedom and play. I have long used Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts as a reference. You might also find it enlightening. Seeing your images, I love the attention to detail. You inspire me to return to work of an earlier time when I was photographing visual detail. Thanks for your presence.

  11. Adrian Hill

    October 10, 2021 at 21:28

    Enjoyed your talk. You’ve given voice to my own philosophy on picture making. Thank you. Love the work you make also.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 11, 2021 at 13:47

      Thank you Adrian appreciate you taking the time to message me

  12. Ralph Vasquez

    October 11, 2021 at 02:15

    I am exploring black and white with film and also converting in digital. I like the B&W tones of your imagines. Thanks for the inspiration and I’m looking forward to next week.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 11, 2021 at 13:49

      Thank you.
      BW is such fun exploring the translation of Colour to tone
      Enjoy it

  13. Dominique Martel

    October 15, 2021 at 05:03

    This is so great learning your creation process. I also really enjoyed the video. Knowing you for landscape and that still life is a passion of yours was really interesting. I’m interested to know which light box you use, how’s your setup, etc. I so love the thistle on the black background, great picture!

  14. Paul Sanders

    October 15, 2021 at 14:18

    Hi Dominique
    Thank you, I’m grateful you enjoy my work.
    Still life forms a large part of my photography I really enjoy it.

    I bought an A1 sized LED light box from Amazon – I’m not sure of the make – it is Chinese I also have two A3 light boxes by the same company

    I’ll share a set up picture next week so you can see

    Best wishes


  15. Jeff Zias

    October 17, 2021 at 17:55

    Thank you for sharing the deeper “why” behind everything you do. I love your distinctions, for example, “with” rather than “of”.

    I see your style of guidance as an approach having been called “the inner game of X”, or the “Tao of X”, etc. This feels like the true gold – shared learning and insight that can only come from someone who has dedicated themselves fully to a worthy, important subject. I can’t wait to continue learning from you!

    • Paul Sanders

      October 18, 2021 at 07:50

      Thank you Jeff
      The turning point for me was realizing that I see the world my way and that way is good enough for me to really enjoy it and appreciate how I relate to the world. I stopped looking for outside validation but looked for internal contentment
      I’m really pleased you’re enjoying the series

  16. Lynne Blount

    October 17, 2021 at 18:57

    I really enjoyed both your photographs and your ‘impromtu’ video. In this mad world we live in your approach makes total sense to me. I too loved the trees you passed and I often have to stop and absorb their beauty when I am out and about. I haven’t been very successful with my lightbox pictures perhaps because they are not ‘out in the wild’ but in my study or in my kitchen. I can’t seem to get the emotional response I get so readily outside. I think what I have learned from you is the need to find equivalence indoors with objects close to my heart from outdoors. I must find the right subject matter rather than just experiment with whatever mundane object I can find around me, a habit formed during the lock downs. I am very much looking forward to your next presentation Paul thank you.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 18, 2021 at 07:47

      Thank you Lynne – finding the connection is difficult but with practice it becomes easier
      Often I find myself looking and a subject fir a long time before it strikes me that I’m seeing something special
      Be patient with yourself and the subject
      Simplify too – for my still life work I often start with something a bit over complicated or showing the subject from the wrong side. I like to hold the subject in my hands feeling the textures and weight turning it over and over gradually the reason you’re interested starts to come through
      Hope that helps and it’s lovely to hear from again

  17. Richard Hutson

    October 17, 2021 at 21:51

    Paul, I really do like the connection you made with the trees in this photograph. To me, they look very rhythmic like they are dancing. Thank you for letting us into your head.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 17, 2021 at 22:23

      Thank you Richard, they do look like they’re dancing don’t they
      I’ve never really let people in like this so it’s interesting and challenging for me but it’s making me even more aware
      Best wishes


  18. Dominique Martel

    October 17, 2021 at 22:05

    I just watched the video of part 3 twice. Really fascinating hearing you talking about making a connection, making a protograph with the subject and not of the subject. I’ll try to think about that next time. And the picture itself is really great, I love it. What a difference it makes in black and white vs in color.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Paul Sanders

      October 17, 2021 at 22:57

      Thank you Dominque I really enjoy seeing this way and paying attention to what the subject suggests is crucial for me. Glad you enjoyed it

  19. Jane Alynn

    October 17, 2021 at 22:20

    I listened appreciatively to how you responded to the question, “What do you take pictures of”? I also noted (note to self) to “take time to let something dwell within you” before clicking the shutter. Thank you!

    • Paul Sanders

      October 17, 2021 at 22:57

      Thank you Jane I really pleased you found it interesting

  20. Joyce P. Lopez

    October 18, 2021 at 03:34

    Besides your TERRIFIC work, thank you for letting us know about your thinking-so important-but so often not revealed from photographers. Are you doing any teaching via Zoom for those of us not nearby? And thank you Tomasz for the idea about doing this. Your creativity knows no bounds!

  21. Paul Sanders

    October 18, 2021 at 07:41

    Hi Joyce
    Thank you 🙏
    I will be doing some zoom mindful photography sessions from November
    I’ll announce them via my newsletter and on Instagram Facebook etc

  22. Joyce P. Lopez

    October 25, 2021 at 02:26

    Thanks for your talk, images and sharing how you photograph. AND for sharing that you have FM. I have never seen that revealed especially by a man, and as I have it too, it is encouraging to see you dealing with it perhaps in the scenes you choose to shoot. Be well and I look forward to seeing your courses.

    • Paul Sanders

      October 25, 2021 at 07:39

      Thank you Joyce – FM is a constant battle I’m lucky that I’m able to get out on my good days. Photography is a great distraction from the pain and tiredness
      I hope your FM isn’t too debilitating


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