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A1 C&N – submission to tutor

Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true … ensure the images are candid and ‘taken from real life’

Introduction

My story is of day and night, of fear and normality. A small Yorkshire market town is gripped by a fear of the night, with a vicious criminal on the loose after a series of violent muggings on the town’s dark streets. The streets are abandoned at night, no one leaves the safety of their home. There is a self-imposed curfew. By day, everything appears as normal, the streets are full of local residents and visiting tourists. The only thing that dampens their spirits is the northern English winter.

I considered other ideas for this assignment (see here), but found that the requirement for ‘candid’ photos narrowed the range of possibilities for creating different versions of the same story.

In a Yorkshire winter, I cannot help but be influenced by Bill Brandt’s work around the Northern mill towns; his ‘snicket in Halifax’ captures the dark atmosphere of the place. No matter that it is shot in black and white, there is very little colour anyway on dark winter days and nights. During my research for C&N part 1, I was drawn to the work of French photographer Thierry Girard (see post here) and his approach to showing the spirit of a place, without regard for the need for spectacle or a beauty aesthetic. While creating my two sides of the story, I also aim to show something of the spirit of the place I was photographing with a banality that would add to the realism of the story – no spectacle, just everyday life.

Process

All photos were taken with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (efl 53mm). I chose to process the images in black and white to reflect the desaturated winter colours in the town and the sinister story line.

My first shoot was of the night photographs. This was technically challenging as the weather was so windy that the safe use of my tripod was difficult. Because of this limitation, I used auto-ISO with a targeted minimum shutter speed of 1/125s – one can see that the lens was wide open for most of the images. The ISO stretched to 6400 on occasions, but was mostly settled around 1000. I paid careful attention to the histogram and adjusted the exposure to avoid blown highlights. I made my picks and selects from the night photographs before returning another time for the daytime photographs, which I wanted to be in the same locations.

For the day-time photographs, I did some research on candid photography and suggested camera settings. I wanted to embrace technology and move on from attempting to capture a single decisive moment. My research is in a separate post (see here). Again I set auto-ISO but also made use of continuous autofocus (to capture people moving across the scene) and low-speed drive mode to take short bursts of 3 or 4 shots of a scene as it unfolded. Again the weather conditions were poor (see umbrellas) and most of the shots were taken from beneath my own umbrella to protect my non-weather resistant lens.

In total I took 169 photographs for this assignment. There is a separate post of contact sheets for the picks only (i.e. including those making the final select, and those with potential eliminated) – see here.

Most post-processing was performed in Photoshop, including the black and white conversion, but any imagine manipulation was limited to minor tidying. Some images were processed in Lightroom alone – I am developing a habit of using Photoshop, even when not necessary, to improve my speed and familiarity. For the night time images, I used a black opaque layer to mask the whole image before uncloaking the lighter areas and highlights with a layer mask and soft brush; the purpose was to increase the contrast between light and dark areas, to add visual and emotional tension, alluding to what might be hidden in the shadows. I also used neutral grey layers for dodging and burning.

The images

Night and day. Fear and normality.

Click to open larger images

Conclusion

The concept was not as successfully executed as I’d hoped – the difficulty of using my tripod at night because of high winds impacted the image quality of the night photos, and the rain reducing the crowds in what is usually a very busy town slightly undermined the story in some images. On the other hand, it was a good experience in dealing with technical challenges in poor weather and light conditions.

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

Demonstration of technical skills – effective use of camera hand-held in poor light and weather conditions. Explored the use of Photoshop black layers to add contrast to night images. Shots are generally well composed but in retrospect I should have carried reference pictures of the night shots to obtain more closely matching shots for the day images (or taken more care to memorise them).

Quality of outcome – the concept is a good interpretation of the brief and the photographs in the context of the story are plausible . I think the presentation could have been improved by more consistent framing between the two sets of photographs

Demonstration of creativity – I avoided the temptation to look for the unusual or extraordinary in the street scenes and took straight images in an attempt to express the spirit of the town and reflect the story context; an ordinary perspective to add credibility to the story.

Context -I’ve been very active in my learning log for part one of C&N, with 24 pieces of research and reflection and 6 coursework activities ( see index here) and feel that I’ve gained a good grasp of the principles of context and narrative within photography.

References

Brandt B. Introduction by Ian Jeffery. Photographs 1928 – 1983. London, Thames and Hudson Limited, 1993

Howarth S and McLaren S (2010). Street photography now. Featuring Thierry Girard. Paperback ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

 

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