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Context & Narrative

A5: Rework

Introduction

Tutor feedback on the original assignment is here, and the original assignment here. No rework was suggested, but a few months on I felt I could do a better job of post-processing the composite photos to provide a clearer image, allowing the detailed elements to be more easily read.

This post just provides the reworked image, with the context and other information remaining unchanged from the original assignment post.

Process

The difference in processing was using a different approach to capture sharpening of the Fuji x-trans sensor files (different to the typical bayer sensors), ensuring basic image adjustments were made before making the composite in Photoshop and finalising the processing of the composite image back in Lightroom, rather than in Photoshop. The final image has been left as colour, whereas the original submission was a monochrome image.

Image

A5 rework #1

Conclusion

As original submission.

A5 C&N: tutor feedback

I received positive feedback (pdf linked below) on assignment 5 (submission here) , and some overall feedback and advice for preparing for the upcoming assessment. This was highly appreciated.

My tutor recommended following up on a further piece of context:

‘I’d like you to take a look at the current work of a practitioner called Marc Henry. He has created a body of work that is entitled ‘Family Fictions’ where he has manipulated family photographs to include himself with the father he never actually met. I think the work was completed for an MA in Photography at UCLAN.’ [Update at 13.9.16 – made contact at the beginning of August but no response received by the time of assessment submission]

This has been followed up in a separate blog post.

While no rework was suggested for the image, when I looked back on it I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the post-processing. I wanted more clarity in the image and the 16:9 crop felt like a compromise to reduce the visual impact of the white cellar wall. Since completing the assignment my skill and and knowledge has developed and I therefore decided to reprocess the image. See rework here.

PDF of tutor feedback: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Andrew-Fitzgibbon-Assignment-05-Feedback-Report.pdf

A1 C&N – rework

Introduction

The original submission (November 2015) for assignment 1 is here and my tutor’s feedback on the work submitted here. This post deals with the rework of the assignment to improve technical aspects of the shoot and outcome. The concept behind the assignment is unchanged from the original submission.

Two specific aspects of the original shoot needed to be addressed: a) the quality of the night images was not the best because high winds made it unwise to use a tripod, so they were taken at high ISO and noise is evident and; b) there was inconsistency of view point between the pairs of day and night images.

Revised process

The camera used was a Fuji X100T with fixed 23mm lens (efl 35mm). The night images were shot as during the first session – all at ISO 400, and f/11 with long exposures (up to 15 seconds), using a solid tripod and a 2 second shutter-release delay set in camera. Unlike in the original submission, where Photoshop was used, Lightroom was used for processing, including black and white conversion and selective adjustments to the highlights and shadows in the images. The change in processing tool reflects my increase knowledge and competence in using Lightroom.

Once the final selects were made from the night images, reference copies were printed and taken on the street to assist in camera positioning for the day images.

The images

There are 3 pairs of day and night photos, reflecting the concept explained in the original version of this work; ‘my story is of night and day, of fear and normality.’

Click image to view as gallery slideshow

CONCLUSION

This is my updated conclusion, following the rework. Following the original work, I’d concluded that the concept was not as successfully executed as I’d hoped (see here for details).

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

Demonstration of technical skills – effective use of camera in low-light conditions, with high contrast street lights. Effective use of Lightroom in post-processing to emphasise darkness, shadows and street lamp highlights. In the rework, carrying reference pictures of the night shots to obtain more closely matching shots for the day images ensured greater consistency between the sets of images.

Quality of outcome – the concept is a good interpretation of the brief and the photographs in the context of the story are plausible.

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 – (at November 2015) 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.

Performing for the Camera – Tate Modern

Performing for the Camera, is a Tate Modern exhibition visited in June. It is broad in its range, including 500 photographs, covering the relationship between photo and performance – from historical photographs to the contemporary.

No photography was permitted, which diminishes the effectiveness of this write-up. However, the Tate website, Performing for the Camera, provides some visuals and videos. The exhibition is separated into rooms covering the following aspects:

  • Documenting performance. This included Yves Klein’s leap and live paint brushes – the documentation of performance. It was noted that photos are often the only remaining evidence of an ephemeral work and how it can be challenging to photograph the unpredictable whilst making creative decisions.
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl, Shunk and Kender

    For some of the work, one perhaps needed to be present at the event to truly appreciate the photograph – there was more interest in the photograph as a memento of performance art rather than as piece of photographic art itself. Heavily featured photographers were Harry Shunk (1924–2006) and Janos Kender (1938–2009).

  • Staging / collaborations purely to be photographed. Many images were featured from the Paul Nadar studio, the premises inherited from his father. Paul Nadar (1856 – 1939) was the son of the celebrated photographer Nadar. Various staged images were featured.
  • Photographic actions – included artists photographing their own creative processes eg Warhol with Grace Jones body painting, Ai Wai dropping a 2000 year old vase and Erwin Wurm’s one minute sculptures. The work of Francesca Woodman was also featured in this section – interestingly the prints were small in size; not appreciated through online viewing of work.
  • Performing Icons Cindy Sherman’s famous untitled film stills featured here; it was great to see these captivating images in print. David Wojnarowicz’s- series of
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com/
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com, David Wojnarowicz

    collaged faces, Rimbaud in New York,  stood out; the same face place in various scenes by its superimposition over original photographs. David Lamelas’s work, Rock Star, dealing with the conventions of rock photography provided inspiration for assignment 5 of this course (see here). The concept of Yasumasa Mormura’s requiem to Yves Klein through a recreation of the Leaping Man caught my attention – the idea of a photograph as a requiem!

  • Public relations  covered mass media techniques.
  • Self-portrait
  • Performing real life references recent social media projects.

I’ve ordered the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery, strangely at an £8 discount to the exhibition price, as it will make useful reference and serve to fill in the gaps that are missing by not being able take photos during the extensive exhibition.

References

Getty [website]. Harry Shunk and Shunk-Kender Archive. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/research/special_collections/notable/shunk_kender.html [accessed 3.7.16]

Getty [website]. Paul Nadar. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1586/paul-nadar-french-1856-1939/ [accessed 3.7.16]

Searle A (2016). The Guardian [online]. Performing for the Camera review – pain, passport photos and genital panic (15 February). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/15/performing-for-the-camera-review-tate-modern-exhibition  [accessed 3.6.16]

Tate Modern [website]. Performing for the Camera. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/performing-camera [accessed 3.6.16]

 

A5 C&N: submission to tutor

‘Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme … The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose’ (OCA C&N, p122)

The image for assignment 5, Making it up, is an autobiographical memory work about life-choices, and how the possibility of changing direction becomes more difficult as we age. The reasons for choosing this concept are described in a separate post (see here). Inspiration for the double self-portrait was drawn from Kahlo’s, The Two Fridas and, for the monochrome post processing, from David Lamelas’ Rock Star (Character Appropriation).

The process followed for making the image, including an explanation of the location, props, lighting and modelling is detailed in a separate post (see here). In summary:

  • The image includes two self-portraits: the rock musician-me (my aspiration as a young man) and the businessman-me (my actual career). Both subjects are contemplating what has happened as a result of life’s choices. The musician taking the higher ground (art and pleasure) and the businessman the lower ground (commerce and sometimes a grind). The cellar with its blocked door signifies entrapment or a blocked route.
  • The props reference my younger aspirations and life-style, and my current situation. A trade-off has been made between financial comfort and stability one one hand, and youthful dreams on the other. For example, the small pile of coins vs the money notes, or the cheap Somerset cider vs the expensive imported Russian vodka. Some semiotics are more personal – the leather hat refers to a similar one I wore when young (see old photo in process post); and Somerset cider (the place of my youth) against Russian vodka (a frequent place of business travel).
  • Studio lighting was used (illustrated in the separate post), but I didn’t manage to control the lighting completely in the way I’d hoped; possibly because of the confined space and reflective walls. It is an area with which I intend to experiment and practice.
  • The shoot was run with the intention of creating 4 separate images for blending in Photoshop: good exposures for dark floor and white walls for a blended backdrop, plus an exposure for each self-portrait. Within Photoshop, perspective correction was needed for the wide-angle lens (used because of confined space) and the monochrome conversion was with the Nik Silver-Efex plug-in. Ideally, I wanted pure black and white to reflect the music photography of my youth, but the walls were too bright in white and sepia toning became a compromise.
Image

The final image is below – this results from some rework following feedback from a fellow student (explained in the process post).

16by9 cellar (blog)

 

Conclusion

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

  • Demonstration of technical skills were demonstrated: a)  in the lighting of a dark confined space, but I found difficulty in controlling the light exactly as I’d envisioned (perhaps due to confined space and need of more experience); b) in the successful blending, correction and monochrome conversion of RAW files in Photoshop; and c) in meeting assignment brief of controlling and directing work – self-portraiture presents its own technical challenges and for a future project I’d like to work with others as model-subjects.
  • Quality of outcome – the overall image successfully conveys my intention. A point for improvement in constructed images is to visualise in detail how all elements will appear in the outcome. Specifically, I’d not sufficiently considered the visibility of the props in a dark space and with a monochrome conversion – on a screen-sized image these can be tricky to see. I intend to make a large print of the image to understand how the details are then conveyed.
  • Demonstration of creativity – a creative use of autobiographical self-portrait to express my concept and a disused cellar-space to create an oppressive atmosphere around the central concept.
  • Context – The context is noted in the three preparatory posts for this assignment (see – review of C&N studies, concept, process) but broadly, the context of the work is photography as memory work and the autobiographical self-portrait. There is a breadth and depth of context.

A5 C&N: process

This post follows my post on the concept for the assignment, Making it up (see here). It explores my detailed approach to the concept of life-choices and how, as one ages, it becomes more difficult to change direction.

The image will feature a double-self-portrait. One-me reflecting my younger aspirations and the other-me reflecting the way my life has turned out so far.

Props and symbols used in the image:

  • Rock musician-self: dressed casually with guitar and amp
  • Businessman-self: dressed smartly with laptop in lap
  • Location – cellar with blocked door to the outside. Cellar representing a sense of being closed off or trapped and the blocked door, the difficulty in finding a way out or forward.
  • Props related to musician-self: guitar manuscript book, glass of cider (the drink of my Somerset youth), a leather hat (similar to the one I wore as a teenager), a few coins on the floor (only a little money), electric guitar in hand (the same guitar bought for me by my mother when I was 16), plastic container of cider (tucked under my legs).
  • Props related to businessman-self: accountancy magazine, pile of money notes (enough money), passport expensive imported Russian vodka.

Moving the equipment in/out was tricky with the limited access, so I resolved to complete the shoot in one day.

Lighting:

The cellar is dark without electricity supply, with some daylight through a ventilation hole and a small door, if left open (it was once the butchery for the old farm-house where I live). To light, I ran an extension-lead around the outside of the house to power three studio lights recently bought on eBay. The lighting was more difficult than anticipated because of the small, enclosed space and remains of white lime-wash on the vaulted ceiling reflecting light in all directions. I eventually settled on this arrangement: large softbox directed at floor to avoid too much shadow on props; snoot directed at recessed, blocked doorway to illuminate a ‘way out’; and bare studio light directed at ceiling to illuminate the self-portrait subjects.

C&N-5---lighting-diag

The shoot:

  • Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 10-24mm lens – remote-controlled with Fuji iPhone app for self-portraits. Over 100 photos in total, including test-shots for lighting arrangements. Wide-angle was necessary because of the limited space in the cellar.
  • Musician-self: several poses attempted and props adjusted before arriving at final choice. Similar approach for businessman-self.
  • Empty scene (without self) including just props – here I was looking for good exposures of the floor (including props) and wall/ceiling for the details during Photoshop blending.

Post-processing:

  • Photoshop used throughout with Nik Silver-efex as a smart layer for black and white conversion.
  • Made background composite of floor/ceiling, using blend-if for correct blend of white ceiling and dark stone floor.Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 22.27.05
  • Used masks to overlay musician-self and businessman-self over background composite, including levels adjustment to each self. Followed by levels adjustment to combined images.
  • Created flat layer from composite layers, converted to smart-layer and applied Silver Efex Pro. An ‘adaptive wide angle’ filter was applied to the composites to correct the perspective.Within Efex, applied general and local adjustments to arrive at final image.
  • So, in total 4 images were used in the composite (RAW unprocessed files are shown below).

 

 

Raw files used in composite

The initial version of the final image was shared to the OCA 1 Facebook group and feedback received from a fellow student (thanks to Sue Eyre!) that the brightness of the walls distracted from the foreground details and the props were difficult to see.

C&N5 Andrew513879_blog

The feedback was valid and I’d clear become snow-blind to the image after looking at it for too long. Initially, some corrections were made by dodging and burning in Photoshop using layers.

DSCF9831-PS edit-Recovered

While this offered some improvements to visibility, it also created some difficulties: applying the dodge/burn on top of the Silver Efex Pro layer, caused saturation of the yellow tint and the foreground detail didn’t draw attention in the in the frame. This was down to the original composition focusing on capturing everything from the floor to the top of the arch – a mistake in framing in retrospect.

For the final image shown in the submission, I completely reworked the image. A cinematic 16:9 crop was applied to cut the head-room and bring the foreground up. During reprocessing, care was taken to reduce the brightness of the walls and bring more attention on the props through careful brightness and detail adjustments.

Contact sheets

Below are contact sheets containing a selection of the unprocessed RAW files from the shoot.

 

A5 C&N: preparation – concept

The brief for this assignment, Making it Up, can be summarised as follows:

‘Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme … The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose … The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image … For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s) … write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).’ (OCA C&N, p122)

This post follows one on my initial research and reflection (see here). I’ve been thinking about this assignment for some time before arriving at the idea of an autobiographical memory work. There are a number of things that have influenced me in this direction:

  1. Recent reading on photography and memory that was recommended by my tutor (see recommendations and links here), including Joan Gibbons’ Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance.
  2. A surprising, to me, enjoyment of autobiographical work developed during the course of C&N, particularly assignment 3 (see here). I’ve found this cathartic.
  3. Now I’ve turned 50, I’ve become more reflective on life and times; there is most likely more time behind than ahead, which makes me more mindful of how I spend my time, and how I’ve spent my time.
  4. An old friend recently posted the image below to Facebook. This caused me to reflect on a time in my life when music was everything and I could not imagine doing anything other than that. In fact, the 17-year-old me (with the hat), would have most likely been scornful of the career path I’ve taken in big business.

13240573_1045984738849917_2791346788179301117_n

My intention in the assignment is to reflect upon life-choices and how, as one ages, it becomes more difficult to change direction. Windows of opportunity for change seem to be reduced as responsibilities shift to nurturing future generations.

Regarding, approach to content of my image, I have two main influences: Kahlo’s, The Two Fridas (see here), which gave me the idea of combining two self-portraits to show two sides of one self; and David Lamelas – rock star, which I recently saw at the Tate Modern’s exhibition, Performing for the Camera, which give me the idea of processing my image in high-contrast black and white to echo my one-time rock musician ambitions.

References

Met Museum [website]. Rock Star (Character Appropriation). Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/287299 [accessed 4.6.16]

 

Paul Strand at the V&A

I visited the V&A (29 May) to see the exhibition, Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century. Unfortunately no photography was allowed, so I have no personal visual record of the exhibition space.

Source: vam.ac.uk
Source: vam.ac.uk

However, the V&A’s website features some images of the exhibition space. The website says this of the exhibition:

[Strand] was one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the 20th century whose images have defined the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today.

The exhibition presents around 200 objects spanning Strand’s entire career, including his breakthrough trials in abstraction and candid street portraits, close-ups of natural and machine forms, and extended explorations of the American Southwest, Mexico, New England, France, Italy, Scotland, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Romania.

Strand (1890-1976) was a one-time protegé of Alfred Stieglitz (see EYV blog post here), who we hear (from Georgia O’Keefe)  in the documentary Paul Strand: Under the Darkcloth, pushed Strand to find something new to the pictorialist style that was popular at the end of the 19th Century. This perhaps, pushed him to make the breakthrough work mentioned by the V&A.

A few of my notes as I viewed the exhibition:

  • Use of different print types has an impact on the feel of the B&W photos: platinum prints with their bronze hue and silver gelatin (which seemed to be predominate in later work), with its cooler feel. Is there a digital equivalent to these tones?
  • I note that Strand used of decoy lens on camera for street photos, feeling that as long as he photographed with integrity, no harm was done to his subjects.
  • From 1919, Strand used 8×10 camera for nature observations. Long exposure to soak up details. ‘Meditative exploration of nature’. This made me think about stopping down with a DSLR and using a tripod to capture details in nature – not something I generally do.
  • Framing – I noticed that Strand’s main subject is always clear in his compositions, but the intrusion of incoherent details in scenes adds to photographic qualities (referring to urban photos).
  • New Mexico 1930 – ‘enjoyed the challenge of making small pictures of big subjects’
  • Fine detail in observational prints draws in the eye. No shallow DOF. Straight photography.
  • Portraits close-cropped.
  • Mentioned wanted works to reach larger audience, but found cost difficult to manage. Later, from 1945 used photo books.
  • I didn’t previously appreciate that Strand lived in France for last 26 years of his life. Continuing to work on meditative studies in his garden until his death.

I found Strand’s work inspirational – the care, skill and craft in making his photos is clear to see. To make art like this, there can be no rushing!

Some bulky photo books of Strand’s work were available in the V&A bookshop (not good for the train journey back to Yorkshire!). I’ve instead ordered a used copy of Paul Strand: Sixty Years of Photographs (Aperture Monograph), from the USA via Amazon (surprisingly less expensive than buying in the UK, even with postage!). I’ll study Strand’s photos in more depth once the book arrives.

References

Atget Photography [website]. Paul Strand. Available from: http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Paul-Strand.html [accessed 3.6.15]

YouTube [website]. Paul Strand: Under the Darkcloth. Directed by Walker J (1989) Available from: https://youtu.be/dP5YTqqoAqA [accessed 3.6.15]

V&A [website]. Paul Strand an Introduction. Available from: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/paul-strand-an-introduction [accessed 3.6.15]

Wallpaper.com [website]. Photography and Film of the 20th Century. Available from: http://www.wallpaper.com/art/paul-strand-photography-and-film-for-the-20th-century-on-show-at-v-and-a-london [accessed 3.6.15]

Combining photos and sound

I’ve recently been impressed by combinations of photographs and soundscapes, for example the work of Laura El-Tantawy (see here) – I find the combination of stills and sounds almost hypnotic; perhaps the combined indexicality of photos and sound cause this?

In preparation for C&N assignment 5, I decided to work out the technical aspects of creating a combination of photo and sound. This post notes my findings.

Being an Apple user, the first thing I discovered is a lack of reasonably priced software for video editing. This is in contrast to PC users who seem to be blessed with a range of critically acclaimed software at a reasonable price (Google to see). I was determined not to spend £230 on Apple’s apparently excellent Final Cut Pro for my relatively simple requirements.

I started by experimenting with my existing software options: Photoshop and iMovies. The former worked well for simple combinations of photos and a soundtrack, but offered no level of control over panning over and into an image (just a preset option). iMovies was also limited, squarely aimed at casual home use to create quick movies using templates and presets. The only reasonably priced alternative, was Adobe Premiere Elements (£39 as a download from Amazon or, strangely £54 direct from Adobe) – Adobe’s Premiere Pro weighs in at a mighty £159 per year, every year, for ever; okay if one is generating revenue from video editing, but a bit much for the casual user. I would mostly likely opt for Apple’s Final Cut if I ever need something that sophisticated.

Premiere Elements offers a 30 day free trial (with ‘free trial’ watermarked over movies), but I used this to try before buying to make sure it could do what I needed. I’m please that it does what I need and much more. The video inserted into this post was created after watching some introductory instructional videos on YouTube and a bit of trial and error. It took quite some time, but that was mostly down to learning the new software and, next time, I’m confident that I could create something similar in 30 minutes or so.

References

Freesound [website]. Soundclips for personal, non-commerical use. Available from: http://freesound.org/ [accessed 25.5.16]

Steve Grisetti [YouTube channel]. For videos on using Premiere Elements. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/user/sgrisetti [accessed 25.5.16]

A4 C&N – rework

Introduction

This is a re-write of assignment 4, following my tutor’s recommendation that it should be phrased in an academic-style third person voice. There are also a few minor content adjustments. The feedback is here and the original assignment here. The self-reflection remains unchanged, as it doesn’t refer to the style of writing (see here).

Source of copy photo featured: spitalfieldslife.com

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice. The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis. (OCA C&N, p105)

A picture is worth a thousand words

The purpose of this essay is to illustrate how we might read or decode a photograph and the tools that can help us; ‘many people still doubt whether individual photographs can hold our attentions to the same extent as paintings or sculptures’ (Howarth, p7).

The photo selected for analysis was from the 60th Anniversary Edition of Steichen’s book The Family of Man, where it was referenced ‘France. Izis  Rapho Guillumette’ (p 138). The photographer was Israel Bidermanas (1911-1980), also known as Izis. There are many photos that could have been selected from the book, but I was drawn to this through a recent experience of looking at the tombstones in a Yorkshire Dales church yard, reflecting on the impact of war on a small community. During the research, it was discovered that rather than France, the photo was taken in St John’s Cemetery, Wapping, UK, prior to 1952 (Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas, p 61).

The photo denotes (or shows literally) a church yard of fallen tombstones, overgrown with weeds, and a boy centre image, standing on a stone, and encircled by fallen stones in the foreground and a tree canopy to the rear.  The light on the stones creates a strong leading line from the front to the back of the image, where a building is partially obscured by the trees. A shallow depth of field is used to focus attention on the boy, who is dressed in jacket and trousers, has unkempt hair and looks very thin. It is difficult to see details, but he appears to be teenaged and his clothes shabby. He looks into the distance, not at the camera, still, with his hands at his sides and toes pointed towards the ground as he balances on a stone. The photo is black and white and includes the full range of tones in between; there is effective use of deep shadows to add contrast and volume, perhaps indicative of Brassai’s influence, who encouraged Izis. There is a strong feeling of Barthes’ ‘this-has-been’; that the photo is old and the boy is now an old man or has joined the dead he stands over. But this is reading into the image, which follows next.

What connotations (‘between the lines’) can be drawn from the image? Fallen monuments (tombstones) act as signifiers of a fallen society. They signify a time lost, or perhaps neglect during the war years. The photo was taken in the early 1950s, so in the aftermath of World War II. The boy is standing among the dead, looking into the distance, perhaps mourning someone he has lost, taking solace in his closeness to the dead, or waiting for someone who did not return from the war. He is alone, lonely, isolated from the outside world under the canopy of trees. The placement of the boy’s feet hit hard (what Barthes called ‘punctum’) – they point towards the ground as if he is being pulled towards the sky; an angel standing over the dead, or a sign of his own mortality. There is a strong sense of loss and loneliness in the photo.

Next, to consider the photo within the contexts of the books it is shown (context influences the way photographs are read). In the Family of Man, a post-war humanist photography project, the photo introduces the subject of funerals in different cultures. It also acts metaphorically, relaying with Homer’s aphorism, ‘As the generation of leaves, so is that of men.’ (Steichen E, p138). In the Charmes de Londres (Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas), the photo appears alongside an extract from a poem in French by Jacque Prévert, Eau (ibid, p61). While the poem refers to the story of Hamlet and Ophelia, with the backdrop of war, it serves as intertextualisation for the photo, connoting the madness of war: using ‘broken bones’ as a motif, “Oh folie, os fêlés, Le Cimetierre est désert, les tombes dépareillees.” (ibid, p61); describing Hamlet’s madness; and giving us a sense of place, Shakespeare’s London. The poem describes grief and being closed off from others – as already read in the photograph.

What of Izis himself and his intention for the photo? His son is quoted as saying ‘Izis’s “poetic sadness” was rooted in personal tragedy.’  Notably, Izis was a Lithuanian-Jew and Lithuania is a country that was subject to rule by Imperial Russia, occupation by Nazi Germany, and rule by Soviet Russia. 195,000 of the 210,000 Lithuanian-Jews were murdered in the Holocaust (Brook). Izis fled Lithuania for Paris when he was 19, his parents were executed by the Nazis, and he endured a perilous existence in occupied France. How should one read the photo in this context? Was it a serendipitous photo of a boy in a church yard? It is more likely that it was arranged – the boy is not looking towards the intruding photographer but standing as if placed. The photograph can be read as a self-portrait with the boy representing Izis, connoting the loss of his people in the tangled undergrowth and fallen tombstones; a boy alone in the world, lost, looking into the distance for meaning.

It seems cruel that the legacy of Izis and his story is not as easy to uncover as those of his more famous contemporaries (Brassai et al), who supported him when he arrived destitute in France, over 85 years ago. His voice does not carry clearly through time: The Family of Man incorrectly placed his photograph; there is no dedicated biography; and Wikipedia, although not sourced here, is the only online space addressing him specifically.  His poetic sadness, the story of personal tragedy and the tragedy of his people may fade untimely, ‘like a generation of leaves’. Here, at least it can be seen that his masterful photograph is easily worth 1,000 words.

References

Barthes R (1979) Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography Vintage 2000 ed.

Cooke T & Kinnedberg C (ed.) (1997). The Photography Book (2014 edition). New York. Phaidon Press Inc.

Datab [online database]. Izis. Available from: http://datab.us/i/Izis [accessed 28.3.16]

Fatras [website]. La Succession Jacque Prévert. Available from: http://www.jacquesprevert.fr/en/succession/presentation/ [accessed 2.4.16]

Howarth S (2005). Singular images – essays on remarkable photographs. London, Tate Publishing.

Lausanne University Library [website]. Jacques PREVERT et IZIS, Grand Bal du Printemps, 1951. Available from: http://wp.unil.ch/livre-photo/guilde-du-livre/les-albums-sur-paris/grand-bal-de-printemps/#pn4 [accessed 2.4.16]

Mabillard, A. The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. Available from: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/playanalysis/opheliaplot.html [accessed 3.4.16]

Masters of Photography (2011) [blog]. Izis — Israëlis Bidermanas. Available from: http://mastersofphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/izis-israelis-bidermanas.html [accessed 28.3.16]

Parr M and Badger G (2004). The Photobook: A History, vol. 1. London: Phaidon. p. 222.

Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas (1952). Charmes de Londres (Edition de Monza, 1999). Paris, de Monza.

The Red List [website]. Izis (1911 – 1980). Available from: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-803-view-humanism-profile-izis.html [accessed 2.4.16]

Rosenblum N (1984). A world history of photography (revised edition). New York, Abbeville Publishing Group.

Brook D (2015). Slate online [website]. Double Genocide (26 July). Available from: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/07/lithuania_and_nazis_the_country_wants_to_forget_its_collaborationist_past.html [accessed 23.5.16]

Spitalfields Life (2014) [website]. Izis Bidermanas’ London. Available from: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2014/02/11/izis-london/ [accessed 28.3.16]

Steichen E (1955, copyright renewed 1983). The Family of Man (2015 edition). New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

Trussel [website]. Directory of Notable Photographers – Izis. Available from: http://www.trussel.com/maig/izis.htm [accessed 2.4.16]

Big Issue featured photo

I was pleased to be asked by the OCA to feature one of my photos in their promotional piece in the Big Issue North – the featured image is a scan of the magazine page, from issue no. 1132, 22 May 2016.

There was some learning in this for me, having never submitted a photo to a magazine. The instruction came that ‘the image provided should be 300 dpi’. But that was the only information – as dpi is a physical measurement, I would surely also need to know what dimensions? Unless there was some unspoken code of which I wasn’t aware.

Having failed to send a large image file through the OCA email (because of size constraints), I eventually shared the image through Dropbox. However, I later found the handy guidelines on the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) website – they are very detailed, but for future reference, I’ve concluded that an image formatted for A4 at 300dpi should be suitable for most purposes.

Reference

PPA [website]. pic4press. Available from: http://www.ppa.co.uk/resources/guides-and-standards/production/pic4press/ [accessed 23.5.16]

A5 C&N – preparation: review of C&N studies

In preparation for the final assignment of C&N, Making it up, I have made a survey of my course work, looking for ideas and inspiration for the assignment. While reading through, I’ve also taken the opportunity to perform any edits to earlier post; either for errors previously not spotted or to include images in any posts that appear too text-heavy in light of my current blogging practice.

Here I record notes of ideas and links to the original blog posts for easy reference:

  • Post processing – consider use of cinematic-style colour grading, particularly if darkened cellar is used as backdrop (see here for technique). See exercise on Scorsese, The Good Fellas (here) for example of cinematic lighting effects.
  • Experiment with combining sound-scape / music with images, eg In the Shadow of the Pyramids by Laura El-Tantawy; also revisit the work of Jason Evans (see here).
  • Reflect on personal memories – life-choices – as ideas for construction. Reference Bate, The Memory of Photography (see here). Is there something in old personal photos I can draw upon?
  • In Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance, by Joan Gibbons (see here) the topics of ego (within self-portrait) and the divide between private and public in auto-biographical works are discussed. What divides and self-representation of ego influence my own work?
  • ‘All photographs are momento mori (Sontag)’ – or literally, ‘remember you must die’ (discussed by Hirsch in Family Frames here). In a double self-portrait, could I superimpose an image of my younger self, or otherwise incorporate an image to reference ageing and experience?
  • For ideas on semiotics in the image refer to the book, This means this, this means that,  by Sean Hall (post here). Also, Barthes’ The Rhetoric of Image (see here)
  • Work of other photographers if this project is to include self-portraiture – revisit the book Auto Focus (see here).

Looking back over my blog makes me mindful that much ground has been covered in a seemingly short time.

Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas)

I read about Frida Kahlo’s  (1907-1954) image in Contemporary Art and Memory. It shows a double self-portrait reflecting the artist at different times in her life and references different Mexican fashion cultures.

The concept of the double self-portrait struck me as an interesting possibility for my own practice. For example, in my upcoming assignment on constructed image, I could model two different perspectives on my own life.

Reference

Khan Academy [website]. History of Mexican Art Between the Wars. Available from: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/art-between-wars/latin-american-modernism1/a/kahlo-the-two-fridas-las-dos-fridas. [Accessed 1.5.16]

Ex – recorded conversation

This exercise (OCA C&N, p122) requires a conversation to be recorded. A written record of that conversation made, without referring to the conversation. Then, the conversation to be listened to for discrepancies between the written record and recording. As a reflection, consider ‘the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures? ‘

Reflection

The written record and recording are linked in the references below.

Before reflecting on the exercise, I mention that I have considerable experience and knowledge of the reliability of re-enacted narratives, as part of my day-job involves corporate investigations and interviewing employees. It is enough to say that for untrained people, it is very difficult to accurately recall narrative details without assistance. The limitation of the human working memory is generally reckoned to be around 7 items, so without using memory techniques to relocate working memory to longer-term memory our ability to recall is not great.

The main difficulties with reenacted narratives, can be summarised as follows:

  • Selective recall – recall biased towards information that is of personal interest to the witness, either visually or because of preconceptions of events.
  • Restricted point of view – as much as one attempts to consider various perspectives on an event, some are beyond our individual experience or comprehension, or simply outside of our physical point of view. A recalled narrative from the perspective of a single individual alone is necessarily circumspect.
  • Limitation of recall based on memory alone – as discussed above our memories are not always reliable. Further our minds can reinterpret events in an attempt to make sense of them, perhaps creating memories that do not reflect actual events. The frailty of human memory is discussed in the context of art in Joan Gibbon’s book, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance (see separate post here).

In terms of application to constructed photography: to claim any degree of accurate reflection of original events would be extremely difficult during the course of normal photographic practice. The only potential exception I can think of are recreations of crime-scenes painstakingly made by trained police and forensic officers based on carefully gathered statements from several witnesses with different view points. One should rather recognise constructed photography as an interpretation of events, or even inspired by events, rather than presenting it as a true representation of events. This is perhaps why so many movies carry the caveat ‘The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.’ No matter whether they are inspired by true events, the legal difficulties that can ensue from misrepresentation of true events and life-stories can be serious.

I learned nothing new from this exercise because of my existing experience and knowledge of reenacted events. Though it does remind me of a useful mantra for investigators, ‘believe nothing, check everything’. In the case of photography, the ‘believe nothing’ applies but the desirability to check (if we accept the work as an interpretation of events only) or even the possibility of checking, makes the ‘check everything’ very difficult, or almost impossible.

References

Recording. Over-dinner conversation with children. Recorded by Andrew Fitzgibbon 21.5.16, on iPhone.

 

Tvtropes.org [website]. his Is a Work of Fiction. Available from: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThisIsAWorkOfFiction [accessed 22.5.16]

Appendix – written note of recording

This note was made one day after the original recording, without listing to the recording. It was very difficult to recall specific details or quote from the conversation. A few points make more impression of the memory, particularly the humorous or the extraordinary.

Note:

The conversation was between me and my two boys, aged 9 and 11. I joined them while they were eating pizza (unable to escape while eating). The older child, N did most of the talking, with the younger one E, chipping in the odd word of wisdom.

A discussion about football, using the new football net and an apparently spectacular shot by N from over 30 yards out that curled into the top-right corner.

On pizza – the merits of sharing a margarita  and pepperoni pizza between them. N says he is not keen on pepperoni (after having picked all the meat from the pizza). I say I thought he liked it. N says he is not just hungry. E pipes in that he is hungry [he always seems to be]. I offer to help N with his pizza.

A day on, the rest of the recorded conversation is somewhat hazy. Though I recall announcing it is finished, as dinner finished. E comments he didn’t realise it was being recorded. I leave them to listen back to the recording and hear laughter from the other room – the mystery and novelty of hearing your own voice recorded.

Experiments in colour

I’ve been watching and reflecting on colour; how are the subdued, complementary colours obtained in movies or television dramas? Or in the cinematic style of some photographers. There is something more happening in post-processing than fine tuning of colours and exposure adjustments. This post records my online research and an experiment in ‘colour grading’.

RGB

RGB is the colour-model mostly used in digital photography and video. It is an additive model (so compound colours are formed by adding primary – red, green, blue) based on light rays, not mixes of ink or paint. In contrast, artists (painters) recognise red, yellow, blue as primary colours – as we learn in school; and the print industry CMYK Color System (Cyan – Magenta – Yellow – Black), which reflects the base colour of inks used in printing. In a nutshell, there is more than one type of colour system and at first this can be confusing. Here is a useful RGB colour wheel from Bluelobsterart.com. Some things to note about this colour wheel and the information it shows.

  • rgb-color-wheel-lgThe primary colours of red, green, blue split the 360 degree spectrum in thirds. The wheel starts and finishes with red; one notices the same with the colour picker in LR and Photoshop.
  • The numbers show the amount of the primary colours contained within each colour on the wheel. They work on a scale of 0-255 (not a percentage). For example, the colour red comprises 255 red, zero green and zero blue. These same numbers are the ones shown in LR and Photoshop when one hovers over an image with the colour picker; the software is telling you how the colour is made up in the RGB system. 255 represent a fully saturated colour, 0 represents a fully desaturated (or no colour).
  • Without delving too much in to the theory of colour combining, colours on the opposite side of the wheel are complementary, meaning that they provide the strongest contrast when placed next to one another. For those with Adobe Creative Cloud membership, the colour.adobe website provides an RGB colour wheel that allows one to experiment with different colour schemes and save the results. The same capability is provided directly within Photoshop (windows/extensions/adobe colour themes).

Photoshop tools

Brief reminders from review of YouTube instructional videos referenced below. Basic methods are using curves adjustments (most control); selective colour adjustment layer; or a colour look-up adjustment layer (PS built-in preset).

  • Starting point should be to remove colour cast before applying colour grading (black / white points /
  • Colour balance – allows for adjustment of colour in each of the tonal ranges: highlights, mids, shadows etc.
  • Curves adjustments with layers – using luminosity blend mode for only lightness values (ie not affecting colour saturation) and using colour blend mode for colour only adjustments (ie not affecting brightness values).
  • Note that when adjusting curves of individual colour channels each channel is used to affect its own colour and it’s opposite (eg Red stripped out gives cyan).
  • Use of channels for selections / mask creation relating to specific colours (eg reds for skins).
  • Colour cast removal through layer filled with 50% opacity of opposite colour (invert colour selection on layer) – principle that opposite colours cancel one another out, making neutral colour. Level of opacity changes degree of adjustment.
  • Channel mixer – includes presets: find one that creates high contrast in the image and then reduce opacity if necessary to bring through adjusted colours.

Lightroom tools

Fewer options and flexibility in LR than PS, but effect can be added by using individual RGB channels, split toning, and selective adjustments.

Worked example

My starting point was this RAW file and my aim was to create image with a sinister gang-land feel to the colours (these young men were actually perfectly friendly!) :

Morocco raw

Below is a LR edit, cropped to 16:9. Key adjustments were adding blues to the shadows (curves channel adjustment); split toning to add more blue to shadows, and green tint (sickly) to the highlights. It was trick to control the application of adjustments precisely within LR but the colder shadows and brighter highlights (skin) successfully add contrast.

Finally the PS attempt (or three).

Click to view as gallery

Of the three approaches, the colour lookup method was the least successful – #2 – (an automated approach, rather than crafted). The curves approach – #3 – created the most colour contrast between the skin-tones and the background tones, reflecting the greater degree of control. All three of the PS attempts create a more cinematic, desaturated look than I achieved in the LR example.

Overall, there is a fair degree of craft in this work and, with practice and experience, one would expect improved results. What I take from this is that the practice of post-processing is as almost as importance to the practice of camera-work to creating a final vision.

References

Color.Adobe [website]. Available from: https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ [accessed 21.5.16]

Colormatters [website]. Color Systems. Available from: http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/color-systems-rgb-and-cmyk [accessed 21.5.16]

Phlearn [Youtube channel]. How To Apply Cinematic Color Grading To Your Photos. Available from: https://youtu.be/aaMfMZEFetc [accessed 21.5.16]

Photoshop Learning [Youtube channel]. Cinematic Color Grading (Movie Looke Effect) – Photoshop Tutorial. Available from: https://youtu.be/GFuenozbiE0 [accessed 21.5.16]

 

Archive ideas

The C&N course material instructed me to ‘look online at the Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye series The Fae Richards Photo Archive … The purpose of this fictional archive is to question the truthfulness of the archive and how history is recorded.’

Source: archivesandcreativepractice.com
Source: archivesandcreativepractice.com

Julia Bryan-Wilson’s article provides more information about the work. The photographs form part of a ‘queer archive’ – referencing two groups that have not been well documented in official archives; gay and black. They are a staged reconstruction of the life of the fictional character, Fae Richards, and were used as part of the plot in the film The Watermelon Woman. Dunye explains that she could not find sufficient material in official archives for the purpose of the film, so decided to create a fictional archive.

I’ve recently been reflecting on the archives to which I have ready access:

  • Pre-digital photographs of my own history – from childhood, travelling, marriage.
  • Digital photographs of my own history, accumulated on my computer hard-drive
  • My mother’s collection of old family photographs from her childhood and youth. And any stories she can recall of the people in the photos.

The latter photos have been on my mind – I envisage a project with my mother to digitise them and share them while the memories still remain and in case anything should happen to the only copies of these old images.

At the same time, I’m mindful of the time required to work with these old images; time that would be taken away from my current practice. I perhaps need to enlist the help of my family in the archiving process. To ensure that current work forms an effective archive, and saves time later, I need to have more discipline in my work flow.

Reference

Archives and creative practice [website]. Available from: http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/  [accessed 18.5.16]

Bryan-Wilson J & Dunye  C (2013). Imaginary Archives: A Dialogue, Art Journal, 72:2. Available from: http://arthistory.berkeley.edu/pdfs/faculty%20publications/Bryan-Wilson/jbwdunye.pdf [accessed 18.5.16]

Ex – The archive

[Nicky Bird’s] Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:
– Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
– Where does their meaning derive from?
– When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’? (OCA C&N, p118)

The presence of any work in a gallery gives it the status of acceptance by the art establishment and consequently an elevated status to anyone who values the judgement of that gallery. Sontag comments in On Photography about how the placement of photographs created for documentary purposes are elevated to art by their placement in art institutions. Bird’s found photos’ status is certainly elevated from that of unwanted photos on eBay; they would have quite possibly been thrown away had they not been sold, and Bird tells us that she was the only one bidding on the lots.

Source: Belfastexposed.org
Source: Belfastexposed.org

Bird explains in her Photoparley interview that she finds it interesting that the photos have lost their context, information about place, time and people, yet still represent the vernacular ‘family’ and connections might be drawn to contemporary viewers experiences of family. It seems that Bird finds meaning in seeking present-day connections with these old, orphaned photographs; for example through the explanations provided by the seller of how they came by the photos; the ‘question for seller’. Personally, I find similar interest in looking at them as I would of snapshots taken by friends and family – I am not disinterested, but there is a limit to my interest and I would not consider them art; there is generally little skill, quality, intention or craft in their work. In terms of meaning through the concept of orphaned photos and their connection to their present, there seems nothing uniquely interesting in this – we are all human beings and connected in that broad sense across time.

When they are sold their monetary value (and I assume it is monetary value at question as we are discussing an auction website) is possibly negative, after allowing for the cost of Bird’s time and the space occupied in the gallery. Bird doesn’t tell us on her website how much the work sold for – I’m unclear whether this is due to an artistic reason, or if the silence is due to a sense of disappointment; Belfast exposed tell us that the work sold for £205 when auctioned on eBay.

I find a contrast in the value of Question for Seller and the value of Vivian Maier’s archive that was purchased by John Maloof, which is so valuable it has been subject to legal disputes and attracted worldwide attention. I think the difference in value is that Question for Seller is mostly about concept and, in my view, not a particularly interesting one at that. Whereas Maier’s work was, while also comprising historical and orphaned photos, was of high quality. It has substance.

References

Belfast Exposed [website]. Past exhibition – Question for Seller. Available from: http://www.belfastexposed.org/exhibition/question_for_seller [accessed 16.5.16]

Nicky Bird [website]. Projects – question for seller. Available from: http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ [accessed 16.5.16]

Photoparley [website]. Nicky Bird – Interview. Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/ [accessed 16.5.16]

Vivian Maier [website]. Available from: http://www.vivianmaier.com [accessed 16.5.16]

A3 C&N – trial rework

In the feedback I received on assignment 3 (see here), there was a suggestion that I should try the coloured images in a high contrast black and white format. In this post, I discuss the output of that trial.

I’d retained the layered photoshop files in case of rework, so chose my preferred image and added additional layers for the black and white conversion – these were B&W tone, curves, dodge, burn layers. And, disabled the finishing layers for the coloured image. In addition, I added some blur to the impression of the passport covering my face – in retrospect it was perhaps a little too sharp for a tattoo-like mask. I also did this for the colour version of the image shown below.

While the black and white image offers improved contrast (ruddy complexion of my face is toned down) and dodging brings the eyes out more, the complexity and intrigue in the backdrop is lost somewhat – in particular the branded elements (eg Facebook) are not readily identified without the colour that makes up part of the brand identity.

In the end, I’ve decided to stick with the images as presented. I also checked the colour version of the image in the original submission against the adjusted image here and, in fact, prefer the original.

Douglas Huebler and the Voiding of Photographic Portraiture

In the feedback on assignment 3 (see here), it was suggested that I look at the work of Douglas Huebler; my tutor made the following observation: ‘the additional images of the head shots from the contact sheets also caught my eye. I wasn’t too sure about the ‘self-torturing’ or ‘hand gestures’ shots at first, but they then reminded me of a piece of work conducted by Douglas Huebler’.

The article by Gordon Hughes, discusses Huebler’s work, Variable Piece #101, which features 10 photos of the famous German photographer Bernd Becher, renowned for his straight images capturing industrial buildings and installations. Hughes unveils Huebler’s complex intentions behind the work, which to me seemed like an elaborate visual piece of irony.

I attempt to summarise briefly. Bechers’ own work was almost scientific in its approach, with categorisation and captioning of the work central to the approach; like an archivist. He was influenced by the work of August Sander, with is physiognomic categorisation of German people. Huebler’s work plays with Becher’s approach:

  • Becher is asked to pose for 10 different images, acting different roles (eg priest, lover, nice guy, criminal). After a period of two months without having shown the images, Huebler sent the photos to Becher and asked him to link each image to the original captions provided for the acting. Becher was unsuccessful – demonstrating that reading and categorising photographs is not necessarily a valid approach, even with ones own image.
  • The photos of Becher appear humorous, as he attempts to act out the roles requested of him. As Hughes explains, more like portraits from the New York school of Arbus et al than the straight photos of Sander, Becher’s inspiration. However, Huebler presents them as Becher’s own work was presented – closely cropped and front-on, like an official image for a passport or identification card. Again, playing with Becher’s serious presentation by including the humorous image in the same sort of format.

The more serious message in Huebler’s work seems to be to show that categorisation and systematic ordering and presentation of images does not necessarily make sense – he appears to seek to undermine the approach.

In terms of my own practice (the contact sheets to which my tutor refers); my intention was to show different emotional states (not particularly successfully with my acting ability!), which is different to a physiognomic approach which Huebler questions, but there are nonetheless the similar potential difficulties in reading the emotional states. There is perhaps an interesting future project in self-portraiture, using a similar approach to Huebler!

Reference

Hughes G (2007). Game Face: Douglas Huebler and the Voiding of Photographic Portraiture. Source: Art Journal, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Winter, 2007), pp. 52-69. College Art Association. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20068567 [accessed 16.5.16]

 

In the Shadow of the Pyramids by Laura El-Tantawy

A fellow student posted a link in our Facebook group to this video of Laura El-Tantawy’s In the Shadow of the Pyramids. 

My recent reading has focused on the connection between memory and photography and I’ve also been thinking increasingly about the shared indexicality of photography and sound recordings (including music). El-Tantawy’s work expresses the power of the combining the two media wonderfully.

References

In the Shadow of the Pyramids [website]. Available from:  http://www.intheshadowofthepyramids.com/index.php [accessed 15.5.16]

Vimeo[website]. Video of In the shadow of the Pyramids. Available from: vimeo.com/164410851 [accessed 15.5.16]

The Memory of Photography

The feedback I received on assignment 3 (see here) recommended that I read the paper by David Bate, The Memory of Photography. Here I note thoughts on the article and my perspective of photography as a mnemonic medium.

Bate’s paper is concerned with the relationship between photography, memory and history and covers 16 pages of heavily referenced material, drawing on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida and other frequently referenced sources including Barthes and Benjamin. Here, I attempt to focus on the thoughts of Bate himself:

  • Bate mentions that photo-archiving programs have given momentum to the question of ‘how to archive photographic images and what to do with them once deposited’. In fact something I am still struggling with for my own images – the administration involved in archiving images effectively seems to be something beyond my available time, yet I’m painfully aware that not doing this habitually will only end in chaos.
  • At some length Bate discusses how photography can be a device for remembering, the imperfections on human memory itself, and the imperfections of photos as mnemonic devices, with their selective framing of fractions of time and place. We should not 100% trust our own memories, nor should we trust photographs as reliable mnemonic devices. But I am unsure how many people would treat their memories as factually accurate, with expressions like ‘off the top of my head’ being common place and signifying cultural acceptance that memory is fallible.
  • Bate discusses how the invention of devices to aid memory has extended human ability, … ‘invention of writing, for example, is a collective form of “artificial memory” to accumulate what has already been thought, said or done, thus leaving space for other fresh thinking.’ He considers other types of memory devices and their history, including photography, saying, ‘It is a history that once humans embark upon seems to set them on a path of problems of accumulation’. There is only so much data we can process or is desirable for us to spend time processing (at the expense of acting in the world).
  • There is an exploration of how ‘photography is so crucially important [to memory], with a large caveat that the point of view of archives is not neutral. Perhaps very little, if any, information is neutral – there is always some personal or cultural perspective at play or omission of alternative perspectives. Objectivity itself is a fallacy. The description that archives ‘establish “the truth of social remembrance”, the “remembrance of events worthy of presentation” seems a good way of describing their role.
  • I quote at length here, a point that seems central to the position of photographs within memory:

Photographs are one of the most important technological inventions … photography is the machine that industrializes visual memory. The photo-graphic image is not just another memory device … but a machine for what I would call a meta-archive … The photograph has a capacity to incorporate and absorb many other already existing visual memory devices [monuments, statues etc] within photographic re-presentation … [photography’s]  capacity to store and reproduce other objects as a visual image.

  • Bate’s conclusion, offers some wise words, ‘As composite formations, photographs, like childhood memories, have a sharpness and innocence that belie meanings that have far more potential significance than is often attributed to them, which means that in terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie. ‘ Beware of the confusion caused in the mind through the indexicality of the photograph!
References

Bate D (2010) The Memory of Photography, Photographies, 3:2, 243-257. PDF available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17540763.2010.499609 [accessed 14.5.16]

Family Frames by Marianne Hirsch

In the feedback I received on assignment 3 (see here), it was recommended that I read Marianne Hirsch’s Family Frames. Here I note thoughts on how the book should influence my current practice.

I first read this book during the EYV course and my review1 concluded, ‘I will be unable to look at family photographs in the cursory way I have often done so in the past. While I found the writing style a little frustrating at times, wishing it was a little more direct, the investment in reading time was worthwhile.’ My review then went on to discuss some of the concepts in the book that I found important: post-memory, the conventions of family photography, ‘masks’ adopted by subjects of photos, the unconscious aspects that can be read into photographs, and the relationships between mothers and children.

On re-reading the book, I unsurprisingly found the writing style even more frustrating as I relived the experience. If I were to comment on one specific aspect, it would be the author’s detailed descriptions of the narrative of the photos she discusses in the book – long on ‘studium’ and short on ‘punctum’; making it a hard read to get to the valuable information within the text.

I will not repeat the detail of my review on my first reading of the book, but highlight here different aspects that struck me as I read:

  1. Hirsch comments (p14), ‘We live in a culture increasingly shaped by photographic images … technologies develop more rapidly than our ability to theorize … how can we explore the moral dimensions of the instruments shaping our personal and cultural memory?’ This is a profound question and reminds me of the power of photography to manipulate memory (either intentionally or accidentally); photos are not reality but our minds can be easily tricked into thinking of them as reality because of their indexical nature.
  2. ‘All photographs are momento mori (Sontag)’ – or literally, ‘remember you must die’ ; reminders of mortality. This is a grim but unescapable fact – how many times when people comment on photos of family and friends do they say, ‘don’t they look young then!’.
  3. ‘The key to the Family of Man’s [Steichen E] appeal lies in the familial gaze it focuses on the global sphere with the aim of revealing points of intersection between familial relation, on the one hand, and cross-racial and cross-national interaction on the other’ (p50). We all share a concept of family (perhaps the traditional human animal breeding unit) and the way that we look at our family, or between our family members, or others look into our family provides a universal similarity. On the other hand, Hirsch goes onto discuss how all the photographs in Family of Man are attributed to European or white-American photographers, so the ‘looking’ is not from multi-cultural perspective. And with poorer subjects, there can be a transactional element of selling their own image as they would sell handicraft to tourists.
  4. ‘The pretence of the family-snapshot photography is maintained through the unvarying perspective and distance of the camera; the figures always face frontally, filling the frame. The poses are deliberate and naive, and the lighting appears natural …’ (p94). This is a comment Hirsch makes when discussing the Meatyard’s Family album of Lucybelle Crater (1974). A photographer staging a work to resemble a family album by using the narrative typically found in family albums. Perhaps a trick for our memory of ‘what was’ in reality. This reminded me of the work of Dita Pepe, and Trish Morrissey’s work, Front (discussed in separate blog post here).
  5. In the final chapter of the book, Past Lives, Hirsch discusses memories preserved in memorial photography books or even reconstructed by images of people and place destroyed through war and conflict. There seems to be a need for people to know where they are from, to know something of their own history, how they fit into the world. This kind of photography helps to fulfil that need, even allowing the creation of memories that were not based on first-hand experience.

So, some fresh or additional perspectives gained from my second reading, which demonstrates the value of this book, despite my frustrations about the writing style. I’ll revisit the ideas noted here in preparation for an upcoming shoot of family portraits of a friend that I am doing in exchange for the family also acting as models for my own work.

References

1 Fitzgibbon A (2015). Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/family-frames-by-marianne-hirsch/ [accessed 13.5.16]

2 Hirsch M (1967) Family frames, photography narrative and postmemory Harvard University Press, reissued by the author 2012.

Feature Shoot [website] (2014). Dita Pepe. Available from: http://www.featureshoot.com/2014/08/dita-pepe/ [accessed 13.5.16]

Trish Morrissey [website]. Front. Available from: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html [accessed 13.5.16]

 

Split-tone in Lightroom

Lightroom’s split-tone tool is something I’ve only recently experimented with. For the record, I note here a few points on using the tool to tone black and white images, like the one featured here.

Here is a screen shot of the black and white photo, without the toning:

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 07.05.33

While we can see there is bright sunlight shinning through the trees, there is no indication of colour temperature; is it warm or cold in the landscape? The information is missing.

For some black and white images, this does not matter, but here I felt disappointment that the photo did not tell me more about the quality of the light. One option would have been to leave the image in colour – it would have shown a green field, trees with green leaves and shadows in silhouette, with a blue sky. However this would have detracted from the textural quality of the trees that attracted me to the scene.

Instead, I opted to add some warmth to the scene through LR’s split-toning. Things I found:

  • Pick similar tones for the high-lights and the shadows for a more natural feel.
  • Don’t extend the saturation beyond 50% unless you are deliberately going for an over-processed or surreal appearance.
  • The balance between the shadow toning and the highlight toning seems to work best at around 50%, though in this image there is more emphasis on the shadow tones (the highlights are mostly blown-out in any case)
  • Split toning can also work with coloured images (eg to add more warmth to sky highlights), but needs to be used very carefully to avoid a photo that looks very artificial!

The final image on my Flickr account:
High Malsis

 

References

Flickr [website]. Split tone group. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/groups/293038@N25/ [accessed 12.5.16].

 

 

Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance

My tutor encouraged me to do further research into the use of memory in art, as it is an area of interest emerging in my practice. This included reading Joan Gibbons’ book, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance.

The book provides insights into the subject of memory as it appears in contemporary art and also insights into the nature of memory itself. It is an exploration of they way a range of artists have reflected ideas of memory in their work. At first, I was puzzled about the reason for a lengthy book on this subject matter – surely memory permeates all human activity, so it goes without saying that memory plays a part in art, as in everything. Effectively, would the book just become a different way of categorising art?

However, for the most part, I found the book interesting and enlightening – how concepts of memory are reflected and challenged through art. How abstract ideas are translated into art works.

The book is split into the following chapters and within each the work of several artists are used to explain how the memory concepts are interpreted. The chapters (or memory concepts) are:

  • Autobiography (externalising personal memories/experience)
  • Traces (on memory and indexicality)
  • Revisions (reassembling of history – to give different or new perspectives on mainstream telling of history)
  • Postmemory (referencing Marianne Hirsh’s concept of history being interpreted or worked through by people not present at the original events)
  • Enactments and re-enactments
  • The ordering of knowledge (institutional representations and misrepresentations of memory)

The book discusses and interprets the work of artists in some depth. But here, I note some of the ideas that I find of interest for potential application in my own practice:

  • ‘The claims that are made and the stories that are told in the name of memory can alter people’s understanding of the world and, of course, alter the ways in which they act in or upon that world.’ (Location 174) This statement cuts to the root of the importance of story telling and its impact on the world. Art can be visual story-telling.
  • Within self-portrait, Gibbons discusses the work of Rembrandt, ‘Rembrandt may be said to present us with mementos of his ego-ideal … which act both as a conscience and as a counterpoint to the baser realities of his life. By extension, the ‘thinking’ self that Rembrandt portrays can serve as a kind of collective ego-ideal, and, as such, may be a key factor in his undeniable popularity.’ Self-promotion by showing people what they want to see. Perhaps this should not be underestimated in the in-life-time success of an artist. Gibbons uses the example of van Gogh’s self-portraits as a counterpoint to those of his fellow-countryman. Van Gogh painting his own tortured soul, rather than a ‘collective ego-ideal’.
  • The concept of ‘Nachträglichkeit’ is important. Gibbons explains as, ‘a psychical process mentioned many times by Sigmund Freud, whereby an original experience is reconstituted, retranscribed or rearranged in relation to ongoing circumstances’. So selective-memory or memories recalled to suit the perspective of the story-teller.
  • Gibbons suggest that in all autobiography, there is the ‘inescapable issue that applies to all manifestations of autobiography: the relationship of the private to the public, which brings with it the associated issue of the relationship of the personal to the political.’ There is the underlying tension of boundaries of what art artist chooses to share or exploit in their work and the subjectivity in determining what lies either side of the boundary.
  • In the context of indexicality and memory, Gibbons discusses the power of music and how some artists have combined visual and auditory art forms. She says, ‘Here, I would argue that the rhythmic and emotional charge of music and lyrics has a particularly tenacious hold on memory, which, as with photography, is due in a large part to its indexical nature.’ Music provides a trace of what we have heard and the artist making the music; as photography does for the visual. An area I would like to explore in my own work is the combination of photographs and music.
  • The concept of postmemory for me has become associated with traumatic events, notably work relating to the holocaust. Gibbons , explains ‘postmemory carries an obligation to continue that process of working through or over the event or experience and is not yet a process of reply … secondary memory is not just the work of an ‘observer-participant’ but a meeting of the primary participant and the secondary witness, who is better able to do the critical work on primary memory.’ This is very serious work that involves difficult ethical decisions and great sensitivity in dealing with traumatic experiences. Not something easily undertaken as part-time work (note to self).

I will take some of these concepts for my final C&N assignment for a constructed image.

Reference

Gibbons, J. (2007).  Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance. I.B.Tauris. Kindle edition

Alec Soth Gathered Leaves

A visit to Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves exhibition at the National Media Museum, Bradford:

Slide show of my photos of photos and gallery space (Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome).

I enjoyed this so much that I visited twice on the same day and will no doubt visit again before the exhibition is over.

The exhibition is a retrospective, spanning Soth’s career; hence ‘gathered leaves’ [of photo paper]. It tells us the story of Soth and the story of those whose images he captures, full of rich narrative.

The images sit between the dream-like and the realistic, which makes them fascinating and sometimes other-worldly. The compositions and prints are immaculately formed from Soth’s skill, using an 8X10 camera. One senses a deep engagement with his sitters – they look comfortable in front of the camera but do not seem self-conscious, it is as-if we are observing people in their natural state, with no pretence for the sake of the photograph.

In the exhibition are glass cabinets showing documents that inspired each of Soth’s projects and giving an idea of Soth’s level of engagement with his subjects. A nice touch are video displays of turning pages from the original photobooks.

As I walked through Bradford City Park after viewing the exhibition, with the intention of taking some candid street photos, I felt that this approach is somehow no longer enough for my practice. I want direct engagement with my subjects – a kind of interview with a camera.

Reference

National Media Museum [website]. Alec Soth Gathered Leaves. Available from: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/planavisit/exhibitions/alecsothgatheredleaves/about [accessed 8.5.16]

O’Hagan S (2015). The Guardian [website]. Alec Soth Gathered Leaves (October). Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/oct/06/alec-soth-gathered-leaves-photographer-uk-retrospective [accessed 8.5.16]

 

Stitching together a landscape

During a family weekend in the English Lakes, I decided to take some photos for a later technical exercise in Photoshop and Lightroom – stitching together individual images to create a large format landscape composite. Here are my notes on the process for future reference:

  • Equipment – sturdy tripod and camera, plus good walking boots.
  • Tripod – set level, so it can be rotated through the scene with the camera maintaining a horizontal line across all shots.
  • Set camera in portrait aspect to avoid elongated landscape when stitched.
  • Camera settings – set all to manual to avoid changes between each shot. In this case, I also used a bracket exposure.
  • Camera movement – move around a third of a frame between each shot. Too much and the image will not stitch well in LR/PS. For this image I took four sets of shots.
  • In LR – use photomerge/pano to combine the images of the same exposure. I used 4 at standard exposure for 1 pano and 4 at under exposure for a second pano (darker sky for details).
  • Blend the two panos in PS, using the sky for the under-exposed image.
  • Make post-processing adjustments either in PS or LR (mostly LR used in this case)

The final image is set as the featured image for this post. Thumbnails of individual shots are below.

landscape contacts

Lesson for next time is to set the middle exposure (for the bracket) to provide a more even exposure of the whole scene rather than worrying about blowing out the sky (the under-exposed shot should take care of that). Alternatively, use a grad filter.

A View From The Window: Photography, Recording Family Memories

Debra Livingston and Pam Dyer article provides a brief history of photography in everyday experience and the place of the family album in social and cultural histories. It is a short, 8 page piece and includes some photos to illustrate the points made in the text.

In this post, I focus on aspects of the article of particular interest to me and my current practice:

  • It is discussed how the ‘point and shoot’ camera enabled families to build collections of photographs ‘ … based on memories that describe a window into not only family life, but also insights into their culture, including changes over time’. In a snapshot shown, a glamorous passer-by walks into the frame providing a cultural/class contrast as unexpected narrative. It is also noted how ‘photographs preserve everyday objects, such as the clothes worn, and objects such as vases, chairs, carpets, and wallpaper …’  There is a risk that people cut out this context within the frame in search of carefully designed portraits (in studios, or portable studios), wiping away some of the narrative from images of their histories, diminishing the interest of the images when viewed in the future. It is worth remembering the value of the banal when framing a shot.
  • There is mention that the information photos provide  about the past lacks that of the original senses, but ‘photographs have transcended these inadequacies by stimulating memory and via the support of the written texts.’ The photograph stimulates memory, but is not memory; memories are unique to each of us and our individual perspectives and characters.
  • There is confusion between the photograph and reality – ‘events of the past often seen in family snapshots are reimagined and believed to be real by future viewers’. This relates to the apparent indexicality of photos – it is somehow not always easy to remember that they are not reality, they are easily confused with reality, our brains recognise the similar patterns as reality perhaps. We are tricked while watching 3D films, we are fooled by rollercoaster rides that take place within a room. Perhaps it is only our logic that can protect us from mistaken reality.
  • The article closes by considering the impact of digital, ‘people’s personal and collective memories are now reallocated in the virtual landscapes … what does remain, however, is the desire for the emotive and tactile experience of family memory evoked by treasured photographs’. The photobook, reproduced from the digital images, is identified as the replacement for the family.

It is too easy in the digital age to not get beyond putting photos on to a hard-drive, sharing them to social media, or a digital picture frame, or just printing the occasional image. Pre-digital, images had to be printed in some form to be viewed at all – it was a necessary part of the process. I am not in the habit of printing enough work – it is almost an afterthought, rather than a part of the process. The article is right – there is nothing like the ‘tactile’ experience of a printed photo and this is clearly evident in the pleasure people show when receiving printed work.

Moreover, I should take more care when composing photos to at least sometimes include the banal details that could later trigger precious memories.

Reference

Livingston, D. & Dyer, P. (2010). A View From The Window: Photography, Recording Family Memories. In Social Alternatives. Vol 29, No.3, 2010, p20-28. Queensland. University of Queensland Press

Research point – Gregory Crewdson

Source: featureshoot.com

‘Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.Watch this YouTube video [www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be] about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.’

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 21.41.39
Source: gagosian.com

Yes, I think there is more to the work than aesthetic beauty. Grewdson’s images are often surreal; looking at the selection on the website Cincyworldcinema, one with a man laying turf in a living room and another with an outdoor birthing/paddling pool (from the Twilight series). They make us question what is happening in the narrative. In his most recent work, the Catherdral of the Pines, we see works featuring scenes that at once appear everyday, but at the same time abnormal or strange. It is a cinematic quality where details are exaggerated – in the image to the left, the woman is unnaturally tense/rigid and the contrast between the bright light around the window and the dullness inside the room seems unreal, as if aliens are invading.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines psychological as ‘affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person’. Crewdson succeeds in making his work affect the mind because of the qualities described above – the surreal and the abnormal contained within the seemingly every-day. There is a sense that something unexpected has happened in the narratives; car doors are left open, cars are stopped haphazardly, kitchen sinks over-flow, a mother with her breast showing is lying across her daughter’s lap. The images could be considered disturbing.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

My main goal is for pictures to express something about the world, to tell a story of people or place. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making beauty your main goal, if that is what is important to you and that is what you want to express to your viewers. However, there is an argument to suggest that showing only beauty is one-dimensional or superficial and can become uninteresting or not challenging to the viewer. But, this doesn’t seem to stop the popularity of images of sunsets or semi-naked models on photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and 500px. So perhaps beauty is a worthy goal if popular appeal is what you seek. There is nothing wrong with it, it depends on your objective.

‘While some commentators regard Crewdson’s approach as an effective method of image-making, others it argue it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work.’  In my view Crewdson’s approach is just different, perhaps an evolution that is certainly beyond the financial means of the vast majority of photographers and could not succeed without commercial backing – the economics not only the approach, must be similar to cinema. In fact, Hipes tells us that Crewdson will be producing a movie in 2016, perhaps evolving further into a cinematographer. The difference between the works of the artists is that Crewdson’s makes no pretence of being a reflection of reality; it is cinematic and exaggerated, whereas the works of Wall and DiCorica offer the possibility that they may be showing something that has happened in reality.

References

Cincyworldcinema [website]. http://www.cincyworldcinema.org/crewdson.php [accessed 27.4.16]

Gagosian [website]. Gregory Crewdson. https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/gregory-crewdson–january-28-2016 [accessed 27.4.16]

Hipes P (2016). Deadline.com [website].  Photographer Gregory Crewdson Taking Shot At Movie Biz With ‘The Deepest Secret’ & Producer Marc Platt (27 January) . http://deadline.com/2016/01/gregory-crewdson-deepest-secret-movie-marc-platt-1201691754/ [accessed 27.4.16]

Kail E (2016). Featureshoot.com [website]. After 5 years away from the public eye gregory crewdson releases breathtaking new body of work (19 January).  http://www.featureshoot.com/2016/01/after-5-years-away-from-the-public-eye-gregory-crewdson-releases-breathtaking-new-body-of-work/ [accessed 27.4.16]

 

 

A4 C&N – tutor feedback

This post deals with my tutor’s feedback on assignment 4 (see here for assignment), with detailed feedback contained in pdfs referenced below.

Overall very positive feedback (noted in the text mark-up). There are a few points to address, which I intend to pickup in a revision to the original essay:

  • A few points to make clearer (eg I didn’t refer to the original MoMA catalogue of Family of Man, but the 70th anniversary edition!)
  • A few improvements to referencing, including staying clear of Wiki, even if to say it was the only place online I could find something mentioned.
  • Recommended writing in the 3rd person. (rewrite is here)
  • Tutor kindly provided a copy of a text created himself in response to self-portraits – for study and response through the blog.

So, a number of useful recommendations to further tighten my original essay and align it to a traditional academic style.

References

Tutor feedback (overall comments) – http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Andrew-Fitzgibbon-Assignment-04-Feedback-Report.pdf

Tutor feedback (text markup on essay) – http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Andrew-Fitzgibbon-Assignment-4.1.pdf

A3 C&N – tutor feedback

This post addresses my tutor’s feedback on assignment 3 (see here for assignment), with a pdf of the full feedback referenced below.

The feedback was positive and some points to consider were highlighted:

  • Access to the locked diary – I thought I’d given this but will check and revert.
  • Try out monochrome versions of the images (with additional contrast) (see here)
  • Research – look to embed some images into the text and comment on impact on own practice
  • Additional reading suggested (full references provided in pdf of feedback) around concepts on identity/memory for consideration in upcoming work:
    • Hirsch, M. 2012. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. (see here)
    • Gibbons, J. 2007. Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance. (see here)
    • Bate, D. 2010. The Memory of Photography. (see here)
    • Livingston, D. & Dyer, P. 2010. A View From The Window: Photography, Recording Family Memories. (see here)
    • Douglas Huebler, specifically the Variable Piece #101 (see here)

Useful feedback, which I’ll deal with and provide further links in this post.

References

Tutor feedback pdf – http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Andrew-Fitzgibbon-Assignment-03-Feedback-Report.pdf

This means this this means that

I read Sean Hall’s book on semiotics on the recommendation of other OCA students. It is not on the C&N reading list, but perhaps should be.

Semiotics is about how we make sense of the world through our reading of signs. It is a profound subject as it deals with the working of human perception – decoding our own thinking, looking into our own thoughts. For photographers, it helps us analyse photographs and understand the reasons we may read or feel about photos; understanding that could otherwise remain subconscious. It helps us understand how readers of our own images may see them. It helps us in designing tableaux of constructed images.

Hall’s work is in eight chapters: signs and signing; ways of meaning; conceptual structures; visual structures; textual structures; matters of interpretation; framing meaning; and stories. Each chapter begins with a textual explanation and is then followed by a series of images accompanied by a question. The reader is encouraged to consider the question before reading the author’s interpretation that follows. I found the format engaging and perfect for the subject matter – the reading of signs.

I’ve read some comments on social media that the book is ‘simple’. I would suggest that its presentation is simple and clear but the messages are profound and engaging. A book for my permanent collection that will no doubt be revisited over and over.

Reference

Hall Sean (2012). This Means This This Means That – A user’s guide to semiotics (2nd edition). London, Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Ex – setting the scene

In this exercise we are asked to view a short clip from the Martin Scorsese movie, Goodfellas (1990) and comment on what it tells us about the main character and how it tells us.

Money features several times, during gratuitous tipping of people the character encounters, from having his car parked and throughout his back-door route into the night-club. The money is placed firmly in hands. It tells us the man has means, but it also tells us he buys his way in where others must wait in line. A disregard for everyday etiquette.

The character is well-known – people are keen to greet him and shake his hand, they watch him as he move through the scene (gazes directed towards him).

The man is well-dressed in a serious suit – black with a white shirt and his female companion is also well dressed and presented. Clothing shows affluence.

Once they descend the steps, they pass through a door into a long red corridor – it is a deep, almost blood-red. This could signify danger, with the body guards at various points, or passion with the two lovers kissing towards the end of the corridor. There is ambiguity that creates tension.

The couple pass through the kitchens. They are out-of-place but nobody questions them or is surprised to see them. Their abnormality is normal – it is something unsurprising. The absence of gaze suggests that what appears unusual is a regular occurrence – the character has authority to be there.

Once inside the club, the couple unthinkingly jump the queue – they are not expected or expecting to wait. The man has power. He is greeted and a table placed and set up right in front of the stage for him. The guests nearby, welcome him and shake his hand, another sends over a bottle of wine (signifying a gift). There is red light also inside the club, continuing the ambiguity between menace and passion – the deference demonstration of power on one hand, and the beautiful woman at the man’s arm on the other.

Reference

www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [accessed 23.4.16]

 

WordPress – categories and menus

I’ve restructured my blog in response to assessor feedback on EYV that they found it tricky to navigate. It remains a single blog for all courses, but now reads as if it were a single blog for C&N. A few notes on how this is done for future reference:

  • The WP database is structured around the categories – set up a separate category structure/hierarchy for each course and post every blog entry against the relevant category. Posts can then be extracted and displayed on a blog, using the categories as filters.
  • Set the blog home page as a fixed page (eg an introduction to the blog) – otherwise it defaults to blog posts (all of them that you’ve ever created) – under ‘appearance/customise’.
  • Create a menu structure for the blog using the categories, under ‘appearance/menus’ (see screen dump).  The menu ‘navigation labels’ can be changed from the category labels that they take on initially to something more understandable. WordPress allows multiple menus to be saved using different names – so for subsequent courses, just create fresh menus based around the categories for those courses.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 18.53.11

  • An archives menu and sub-menus can also be created to view posts from previous courses, without distracting the assessors.
  • It is likely the a subsequent course will be started before the current course is assessed. The menu for the subsequent course can be put in a separate tab (like the archive) and then moved to the fore once assessment is over.

EYV ‘feed forward’

This post deals with feedback from my successful EYV assessment. In so far as it needs to be addressed within the C&N course. In brief:

  • The information in the blog could be more clearly laid out – eg not immediately clear to access the ‘research & reflection’ section. The recommendation was to use a separate learning log for each course. Some confusion was perhaps caused with C&N materials appearing in the current posts feed. Rather than creating a separate blog, I’ve solved this by simplifying the menu structure so that only the course to be assessed is visible to the viewer and using standard drop-down menus that echo the course modules – creating menus from relevant categories and using a fixed home page (about) so the reader is not directed to posts of subsequent courses. There is no need for a separate Word Press database, just a clearer way of displaying relevant content.
  • ‘Pay attention to the relationship between the image and the text in the learning log’ – I think this may relate to reworked assignments, where I did not necessarily include relevant text from the first attempt at the assignment, making it difficult to clearly get a feel for the final assignment. Something to address in C&N.
  • ‘At the moment my blog is quite text-heavy’. I think this was in response for my tutor’s request to demonstrate that I am fully engaged in theoretical aspects and reference relevant photographers. I’ll need to take a fresh view on how much text to include based on this feedback.

End.

 

A4 C&N – self-reflection

Here I reflect on assignment 4 of C&N, A picture is worth a 1000 words, prior to submission my tutor (assignment link here).

I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment and learned a lot from it – before analysing the photo I was drawn to it intuitively, but through analysis I was able to understand some of the reasons for its appeal and articulate them. There were moments when I felt I was tapping into things that would have otherwise remained subconscious, particularly when considering ‘punctum’. The application of theory gives it tangible value and affirms its significance.

I faced a practical difficulty when writing the essay as I unthinkingly worked on it directly in WordPress, which has a weak spelling/grammar check engine and doesn’t allow for effective tracking of changes / versioning. It wasn’t much helped by Apple Pages when I copy/pasted there for assistance – although it helpfully provided a word count on the body of the essay only, the spelling/grammar check seems fairly weak and errors needed to be identified by painstaking proof reading. The lesson was learned and I’ve now installed a copy of Word on my Mac (Microsoft Office helpfully discounted to £9.95 through my employer).

Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

  • Demonstration of technical skills – I effectively applied concepts and tools of reading photographs to the analysis and wrote a well-structured essay.
  • Quality of outcome – surprisingly, the limit of 1,000 words made the essay feel a little contrived – demonstrating technical skills within that limit felt a little forced. However, I think the essay makes an interesting read and my contemporaries also seemed to find it a good read.
  • Demonstration of creativity – There were various levels of research into the image that uncovered context that was not immediately apparent. I’ve used this information creatively to write an interesting story about the photo, but also about Izis the man.
  • Context – The context is noted in the two preparation posts for this assignment (see prep 1 and prep 2) and also referenced in the assignment itself. There is a breadth and depth of context. However, one area I deliberately omitted was a comparison between the work of Izis and his contemporaries – there simply wasn’t space within the 1,000 word limit and I felt it was more important to focus on the reading of the one photograph, the photographer and its immediate context, rather than brining in the dimension of the work of others.

Finally, I note the value of peer review of the draft of my essay – there is nothing like having a fresh pair of eyes (or several) and feedback through the Facebook page and directly to my blog helped significantly in guiding me to a stronger outcome.

A4 C&N – submission to tutor

Source of photo copy: spitalfieldslife.com

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice. The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis. (OCA C&N, p105)

A picture is worth a thousand words

The purpose of this essay is to illustrate how we might read or decode a photograph and the tools that can help us; ‘many people still doubt whether individual photographs can hold our attentions to the same extent as paintings or sculptures’ (Howarth, p7).

I selected my photo for analysis from the 1955 book Family of Man, where it was referenced ‘France. Izis  Rapho Guillumette’ (p 138). The photographer is Israel Bidermanas (1911-1980), also known as Izis. There are many photos I could have chosen from the book, but I was drawn to this one as I had recently been looking at the tombstones in a rural Yorkshire Dales church yard, reflecting on the impact of war on a small community. During my research, I discovered that rather than France, the photo was taken in St John’s Cemetery, Wapping, UK, prior to 1952 (Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas, p 61).

The photo denotes (or shows literally) a church yard of fallen tombstones, overgrown with weeds, and a boy centre image, standing on a stone, and encircled by fallen stones in the foreground and a tree canopy to the rear.  The light on the stones creates a strong leading line from the front to the back of the image, where a building is partially obscured by the trees. A shallow depth of field is used to focus our attention of the boy, who is dressed in jacket and trousers, has unkempt hair and looks very thin. It’s difficult to see details, but he appears to be teenaged and his clothes shabby. He looks into the distance, not at the camera, still, with his hands at his sides and toes pointed toward the ground as he balances on a stone. The photo is black and white and includes the full range of tones in between; there is effective use of blocked-up shadows to add contrast and volume, perhaps indicative of Brassai’s influence, who encouraged Izis. I have a strong feeling of Barthes’ ‘this-has-been’; that the photo is old and the boy is now an old man or has joined the dead he stands over. But this is reading into the image, which is next.

What connotations (‘between the lines’) can be drawn from the image? Fallen monuments (tombstones) act as signifiers of a fallen society. They signify a time lost, or perhaps destruction through war. The photo was taken in the early 1950s, so in the aftermath of World War II. The boy is standing among the dead, looking into the distance, perhaps mourning someone he has lost, taking solace in his closeness to the dead, or waiting for someone who did not return from the war. He is alone, lonely, isolated from the outside world under the canopy of trees. The placement of the boy’s feet hit me hard (what Barthes called ‘punctum’) – they point towards the ground as if he is being pulled towards the sky; an angel standing over the dead, or a sign of his own mortality. I have a strong sense of loss and loneliness from the photo.

Next, I consider the photo within the contexts of the books it is shown (context influences the way we read photographs). In the Family of Man, a post-war humanist photography project, the photo introduces the subject of funerals in different cultures. It also acts metaphorically, relaying with Homer’s aphorism, ‘As the generation of leaves, so is that of men.’ (Steichen E, p138). In the Charmes de Londres (Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas), the photo appears alongside an extract from a poem in French by Jacque Prévert, Eau (ibid, p61). While the poem refers to the story of Hamlet and Ophelia, with the backdrop of war, it serves as intertextualisation for the photo, connoting the madness of war: using ‘broken bones’ as a motif, “Oh folie,
os fêlés, Le Cimetierre est désert, les tombes dépareillees.” (ibid, p61); describing Hamlet’s madness; and giving us a sense of place, Shakespeare’s London. The poem describes grief and being closed off from others – as we already have read into the photograph.

What of Izis himself and his intention for the photo? His son is quoted as saying ‘Izis’s “poetic sadness” was rooted in personal tragedy.’  Notably, Izis was a Lithuanian-Jew and Lithuania is a country that was subject to rule by Imperial Russia, occupation by Nazi Germany, and rule by Soviet Russia. 195,000 of the 210,000 Lithuanian-Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Izis fled Lithuania for Paris when he was 19, his parents were executed by the Nazis, and he endured a perilous existence in occupied France. How can we read the photo in this context? Was it a serendipitous photo of a boy in a church yard? It is more likely that it was arranged – the boy is not looking towards the intruding photographer but standing as if placed. The photograph can be read as a self-portrait with the boy representing Izis, connoting the loss of his people in the tangled undergrowth and fallen tombstones; a boy alone in the world, lost, looking into the distance for meaning.

It seems to me cruel that the legacy of Izis and his story is not as easy to uncover as his more famous contemporaries (Brassai et al), who supported him when he arrived destitute in France, over 85 years ago. His voice does not carry clearly through time: the Family of Man incorrectly placed his photograph; there is no dedicated biography; and Wikipedia is the only online space addressing him specifically.  His poetic sadness, the story of personal tragedy and the tragedy of his people may fade untimely, ‘like a generation of leaves’. I have at least shown that his masterful photograph is easily worth 1,000 words.

References

Barthes R (1979)  Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography Vintage 2000 ed. 

Cooke T & Kinnedberg C (ed.) (1997). The Photography Book (2014 edition). New York. Phaidon Press Inc.

Datab [online database]. Izis. Available from: http://datab.us/i/Izis [accessed 28.3.16]

Fatras [website]. La Succession Jacque Prévert. Available from: http://www.jacquesprevert.fr/en/succession/presentation/ [accessed 2.4.16]

Howarth S (2005). Singular images – essays on remarkable photographs. London, Tate Publishing.

Lausanne University Library [website]. Jacques PREVERT et IZIS, Grand Bal du Printemps, 1951. Available from: http://wp.unil.ch/livre-photo/guilde-du-livre/les-albums-sur-paris/grand-bal-de-printemps/#pn4 [accessed 2.4.16]

Mabillard, A. The Hamlet and Ophelia SubplotShakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. Available from: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/playanalysis/opheliaplot.html [accessed 3.4.16]

Masters of Photography (2011) [blog]. Izis — Israëlis Bidermanas. Available from: http://mastersofphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/izis-israelis-bidermanas.html [accessed 28.3.16]

Parr M and Badger G (2004). The Photobook: A History, vol. 1. London: Phaidon. p. 222.

Prévert J and Izis-Bidermanas (1952). Charmes de Londres (Edition de Monza, 1999). Paris, de Monza.

The Red List [website]. Izis (1911 – 1980). Available from: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-803-view-humanism-profile-izis.html [accessed 2.4.16]

Rosenblum N (1984). A world history of photography (revised edition). New York, Abbeville Publishing Group.

Spitalfields Life (2014) [website]. Izis Bidermanas’ London. Available from: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2014/02/11/izis-london/ [accessed 28.3.16]

Steichen E (1955, copyright renewed 1983). The Family of Man (2015 edition). New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

Trussel [website]. Directory of Notable Photographers – Izis. Available from: http://www.trussel.com/maig/izis.htm [accessed 2.4.16]

Wikipedia [website]. History of Lithuania. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Lithuania [accessed 3.4.16]

Wikipedia [website]. The Holocaust in Lithuania. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Lithuania [accessed 2.4.16]

Wikipedia [website]. Izis Bidermanas. Available from:https//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izis_Bidermanas [accessed 4.4.16]

A4 C&N – preparation 2

This post follows on from my initial preparation (see here). Some additional context for the upcoming essay:

  • The book Chames de Londres arrived. I found it strange – Izis’s black and white photographs are used as backgrounds to a monty-pythonesque montage of colour images, including cherubs, plants, horses, people, and even a light-house covering Nelson’s column (perhaps not to the French’s liking). It is really quite tasteless in today’s context. On further investigation, it seems that the collage could be the work of the poet and co-author of the book Jacque Prévert; Fatras, an organisation that looks after his legacy, indicates the Prévert created many collages. Perhaps when the book was first published in 1952, the inclusion of colour was a rare novelty. I’m glad it cost me only £2.80. The book confirms the location of the grave yard photo as St John’s cemetery in Wapping, England and not France as captioned in The Family of Man. The book is contains poems (mostly from Prévert) and photographs. The poem alongside the photograph is:

Oh folie
os fêlés
Le Cimetierre est désert
les tombes dépareillees.
Orphéons et fanfares jouez-nous encore un fois
cet air fou d’autrefois
cet air si dechirant enluminant le temps.
Oh folie
os fêlés.
Dans sa boîte cranienne
au couvercle doré
un prince s’est enfermé
Dans sa cage cérébrale
il ne cesse de tourner
Une folle fille d’Eros
voudrait le délivrer
Si la cage est fragile
les barreaux sont solides
elle a beau les secouer.
Oh Folie d’Ophélie
os fêlés d’Hamlet.

My French is poor, but with the some help from Google translate, I understand the gist of the poem. It is about madness, with a backdrop of a deserted cemetery and mismatched graves, with the broken bones of a mad Hamlet. I consulted with a friend, who is a French graduate and discussed further … initially, ‘So it is about Hamlet being shut away in his folie/madness and she can try to get in but the bars on the cage (His head) are solid.’ I suggested it was a metaphor for the madness of ward, and she replied, ‘No you are right it is about madness and war and grief and being closed off from others’. The poem in the book is an extract from a longer poem that refers to the river thames with blood running through it (http://www.wikipoemes.com/poemes/jacques-prevert/charmes-de-londres.php).

  • It is difficult to read the photographs in the book because of the absurdist collages covering them. The pictures show everyday street scenes in London, and would be a wonderful document without the corruption. They are reminiscent of the work of Brassai, who was a mentor to Izis. The library of Lausanne shows some of Izis’s images online from the book Grand Bal du Printemps. A screen dump of one is reproduced below.
Source: Université de Lausanne
Source: Université de Lausanne
  • In my previous post, I learnt about ‘‘Izis’s “poetic sadness” was rooted in personal tragedy.’  I wanted to understand more about the Lithuanian-jews, Izis’s people. A well-referenced article on Wikipedia gives enough information for this purpose. ‘Prior to the German invasion, the population of Jews was estimated to be about 210,000 … the number of Lithuanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust [was] 195,000 to 196,000′. Over 95% of Izis’ people exterminated. The Red List, tells us the Izis’s parents were assassinated by the Nazis.

There is important context to the photograph – it’s place in time is soon after World War 2, most likely taken between 1945 and 1952 when the first edition of the book was published. In the aftermath of a time of unspeakable tragedy, particularly for Izis with the genocide of his people and murder of his parents. Prévert’s poem connotes this with reference to madness, broken bones, and mismatched tombs.

References

Lausanne University Library [website]. Jacques PREVERT et IZIS, Grand Bal du Printemps, 1951. Available from: http://wp.unil.ch/livre-photo/guilde-du-livre/les-albums-sur-paris/grand-bal-de-printemps/#pn4 [accessed 2.4.16]

Fatras [website]. La Succession Jacque Prévert. Available from: http://www.jacquesprevert.fr/en/succession/presentation/ [accessed 2.4.16]

Prévert J Izis-Bidermanas (1952). Charmes de Londres (Edition de Monza, 1999). Paris, de Monza.

The Red List [website]. Izis (1911 – 1980). Available from: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-803-view-humanism-profile-izis.html [accessed 2.4.16]

Trussel [website]. Directory of Notable Photographers – Izis. Available from: http://www.trussel.com/maig/izis.htm [accessed 2.4.16]

Wikipedia [website]. The Holocaust in Lithuania. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Lithuania [accessed 2.4.16]

Flickr cover image

A note for future reference and perhaps refinement. I’ve started over again with Flickr and I wanted to change my url and the only way to do this is scrap your account and start over. But how do you take control over the placement of the Flickr header image? After some trial and error and hunting the internet, this method produced the best results (though still not perfect):

  • Create a black canvas in PS with dimensions of 2048×768 pixels.
  • Size the desired image to 2048×328 pixel dimensions and place it centrally in the black canvas. So you end up with something like this:

flickr

 

 

 

 

  • Export as a jpg, with the long-side of the file size to 2048 pixel to resize the image to something upload-friendly.

The end result on my Flickr page can be seen here (link). It is perhaps not the best choice of image as Flickr seems to overlay the image and make it duller – when it comes to an update, I’ll try something brighter.

I’ll also keep a look out for better solutions!

 

Art Photography Now – book review

At the time of reading, Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now is over a decade old – so good for picking up a used copy at a heavy discount (my copy is ex University of the Arts London). The book features the work of 80 artists through 261 pictures.

In the introduction Bright discusses how she arrived at the organisation for her survey of the work; a structure being necessary for her analysis and for the book to form a useful body of reference for the reader. The introduction also includes an overview of the development of photography as an art medium. The organisation of the book is a great success, within genre sections, that allow each chapter to provide a survey of the genre.  Bright also includes and overview or short history of each genre at the beginning of each section. Then, for each artist, a brief introduction the them and their work, followed by an explanation from the artist on a selected piece of their own work.

The sections included are: portrait, landscape, narrative, object, fashion, document and city, all prefaced with Bright’s analysis of the genre. Bright’s analyses as well as the photos and photographers make excellent reference for research related to the genres. Further reading is also referenced in an appendix to the book.

A welcome addition to my collection of books, which will serve me well in future research!

References

Bright S (2005). Art Photography Now. London. Thames & Hudson Ltd.

A4 C&N – preparation 1

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice. The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis. (OCA C&N, p105)

To choose my picture, I looked through The Family of Man for a suitable photo that also appealed to my interest. There were many photos that I could have happily chosen, but I was drawn to one simply captioned as ‘France. Izis  Rapho Guillumette’ (p138), showing a teenage boy standing among toppled gravestones in a church yard. Other than ‘France’, none of the other names were familiar to me, so research was essential. As well as being a poignant post-war photo, the picture struck a chord with me as over the previous weekend, I been looking at the tomb-stones in the ancient church of Linton, in the Yorkshire Dales and the loss of life to war in an already small rural community struck me as a great tragedy.

Izis was the preferred name of Israel Bidermanas (1911-1980). I found a few biographical facts on the blog Masters of Photography. As a young man of 19, he fled his native Lithuania (then under Tsarist Russia) and arrived in Paris destitute. Datab identifies Izis as Luthianian-Jewish, which is highly significant at that time. He belonged ‘French humanist movement that focused on scenes of everyday Parisian life, but he never achieved the fame of his contemporaries Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis and Brassai.’  Isiz’s son Manuel is quoted as saying ‘Izis’s “poetic sadness” was rooted in personal tragedy.’  Cooke and Kinnedberg describe Isiz as one of the ‘great poetic photographers of the post-war years (ibid, p246).

As Izis did not achieve the fame of his contemporaries, it was not easy to find online resources to discover more about the photograph itself. However, the Spitalfields Life blog features the image and places it in London, not France as captioned by Steichen. Specifically, the blog references the book Charmes de Londres (by Jacques Prévert and Izis Bidermanas), which delivers a ‘vivid and poetic vision of the shabby old capital in the threadbare post-war years.’  It places the photo in In the cemetery of St John, Wapping. I have located online a £2.80 used copy of the book and await with anticipation to see if it will provide more information.  I’ve also emailed the blog in the hope of some source information.

The photo is shown below (source: spitalfieldslife.com)

source: spitalfieldslife.com
source: spitalfieldslife.com
References

Cooke T & Kinnedberg C (ed.) (1997). The Photography Book (2014 edition). New York. Phaidon Press Inc.

Datab [online database]. Izis. Available from: http://datab.us/i/Izis [accessed 28.3.16]

Masters of Photography (2011) [blog]. Izis — Israëlis Bidermanas. Available from: http://mastersofphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/izis-israelis-bidermanas.html [accessed 28.3.16]

Rosenblum N (1984). A world history of photography (revised edition). New York, Abbeville Publishing Group.

Spitalfields Life (2014) [website]. Izis Bidermanas’ London. Available from: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2014/02/11/izis-london/ [accessed 28.3.16]

Steichen E (1955, copyright renewed 1983). The Family of Man (2015 edition). New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

William Eggleston’s Guide – Szarkowski’s essay

Source of featured image: guardian.com

I read John Szarkowski’s 1966 book, The Photographer’s Eye with interest (blog post here) and had previously looked into the 1976 William Eggleston’s Guide (the Guide) (blog post here) to study Eggleston’s work, but I hadn’t then paid much attention to Szarkowski’s essay in the Guide.

I was interested to read the later essay to understand whether there was any shift in Szarkowski’s approach to analysis, which was firmly rooted in the narrative of the photos and not concerned with context. The essay in the Guide understandably dedicates a good deal of page-space to a discussion of the merits of colour photographs in relation to black and white – it accompanied what was the first exhibition of colour photographs in MoMA. However, I was more interested in the analysis of Eggleston’s work itself.

Szarkowski is quick to dismiss any thoughts of wide discussion of context, ‘it would be convenient if one could claim, or suggest, that this book of photographs answers, or contributes to the answer of , some large social or cultural question … The fact is that Eggleston’s pictures do not seem concerned with large questions of this sort’. Instead, Szarkowski focuses on the aesthetics of the form and content of the photos and the precision with which the two are combined. There is also a discussion of ‘the thing itself’ or the subject matter for the images.

So Szarkowski does not explore the broader context of the work, which I find interesting in itself as he curated the exhibition at MoMA and one would imagine that Eggleston would have been happy to share contextual information, given the auspicious occasion. However, Szarkowski says ‘pictures do not seem concerned with large questions’ as if he has not discussed with Eggleston, or otherwise the notably difficult Eggleston did not cooperate with a response. I find some support for the latter possibility in later interviews with Eggleston, in particular in a discussion with Sean O’Hagan, in which  Eggleston says:

‘A picture is what it is,’ he says when I ask him why he no longer wishes to talk about individual photographs, ‘and I’ve never noticed that it helps to talk about them, or answer specific questions about them, much less volunteer information in words. It wouldn’t make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them. People always want to know when something was taken, where it was taken, and, God knows, why it was taken. It gets really ridiculous. I mean, they’re right there, whatever they are.’

I’ve made a note to myself to not attempt any formal reading of Eggleston’s photographs – researching context could prove to be difficult!

References

Aitken D (2013). The Source – William Eggleston (video interview). Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/doug-aitken-source-william-eggleston [accessed 28.3.16]

Eggleston W (1976). William Eggleston’s Guide (2002 edition)New York, The Museum of Modern Art.

MoMA Press release (1976). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2016/01/william-eggleston-ny-moma-press-release-1976.html [accessed 28.3.16]

O’Hagan S (2004). The Guardian [online]. Out of the ordinary. Available from: ://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/jul/25/photography1 [accessed 28.3.16]

Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs – Diane Arbus

Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). (OCA C&N, p104)

In her essay, Liz Jobey analyses Diane Arbus’ photo, A young Brookland family going for a Sunday outing N.Y.C (1966). The photo is shown as the featured image to this post (source: christies.com). Here I reflect upon Jobey’s approach to the analysis, rather than summarise her essay.

Jobey begins by considering what the story of the family might be, and mentions how she is drawn to seek parallels in other art forms she has experienced (intertextuality). She also considers the story of how they became to be photographed – the story of the story.

She moves onto to consider what is denoted in the photograph (the positioning, the physical relationships, the body-language, the clothes and the expression) and possible interpretations or connotations of the image (for example the woman is trying to preserve the style of her prime, though it is already passing).

Jobey reflects on the image in the broader context of the family snapshot – how does it compare to typical images that form that genre. She taps into the apparent emotional state of the subjects, an ‘unhappy family snapshot’ and references Arbus’s own words, ‘They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way’.

Next Jobey moves beyond her impressions of the photograph to discuss additional context (presumably from her research) gleaned from correspondence between Arbus and the deputy editor of the Sunday Times, who was using the image as a feature. This information provides us with some facts about the subjects to allow us to validate or adapt our reading of the image.

Arbus herself and the context of Arbus’s other work then becomes the focus of Jobey’s analysis. This is supported by quotations from Arbus and others (eg Szarkowski). It is an exploration and questioning of Arbus’s intentions for her work. In this analysis, the disturbing nature of Arbus’s work is discussed and Sontag referenced to support the discussion.

There is then an analysis of the sociological context, with Arbus being ‘part of a generation of liberal Americans that was casting doubt on post-war optimism’. For this aspect, Tobey again references other artists of the time. Tobey asserts that Arbus valued ‘freaks’ because they managed to survive outside the traditional society, that was becoming a source of alienation for Arbus and her contemporaries.

Tobey finishes with a powerful conclusion about the image:

It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon like any other. But her portrait tells otherwise; its power comes from the ordinariness they refute.

The essay provides an insight into the breadth and depth of research than can be brought to bear on a single image and its context. It illustrates the value in taking multiple perspectives when reading an image and while there are no definitive readings, the possibilities can be enthralling.

References

Howarth, S. (2005) Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. London: Tate Publishing. Extract on Diane Arbus by Liz Jobey. Available from: http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/ph4can_singular_images.pdf [last accessed 27.3.16]

Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes

In Roland Barthes’ ( ) essay, The Rhetoric of Image, he explores, ‘How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?’, through a detailed analysis of a Panzani advertisement (see featured image), which is a French food brand. For his analysis he uses the tools of semiotics, which has its origins in the study of language and, at the same time, argues that this theory of linguistics (‘digital’ information) can equally well be applied to images (‘analogue’ information).

The essay is widely available online (as well as in the book referenced) and my intention is not to summarise it here, but to note the main insights I gained through reading the essay:

  • The essay is an excellent example of semiotics in action – a source of practical reference when seeking to understand the theory. He examines the signifiers (images and text) and the signified (meanings) in the context of the sign (the advertisement).
  • In the advertisement, Barthes finds ‘three messages:a linguistic message,a coded iconic message [connoted – implied or suggested],and a non-coded iconic message [denoted – literal or described]. Iconic refers to the use of a visual icon, as distinct from textual descriptor.
  • The linguistic message is not simply used as a literal description of the product, but also to connote the Italianess of the product through the use of words (although it is a French brand and a French advertisement). I also note the Italian tricolours used to shape the white lettering. So, font as imagery.
  • The coded elements of the visual relate to the power of suggestion, for example the open string basket – home-spun, market  freshness etc, and the echos of still-life, the traditional, in the composition (an ‘aesthetic signified’). Whereas the non-coded relate more to the indexical attributes of the photo – how does the product look, what should I buy.
  • Barthes explains that ‘all images are polysemous [carry multiple meanings at the same time]; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds’. This is where textual content comes in, to direct understanding or to place boundaries on interpretation. The purpose of text is to guide us through the two-fold iconic message; Barthes states, ‘[through] anchorage and rely … [it] helps me to choose the correct perception, permits me to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding… the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others’.

A useful essay!

References

Barthes R. (1964) Rhetoric of the Image. From Image Music Text edition (1977). London, Fontana Press.

 

Ex – advertising image

Rip out an advertising image from a newspaper supplement and circle and write on as many parts of the image as you can. Comment on what it is, what it says about the product and why you think it’s there … (OCA C&N, p 101)

click to view larger image.

Ad from British Horse Society Magazine
Ad from British Horse Society Magazine

Drawing on this ad helped me to better read it – note taking for images? The ad is for horse wormers – horses can be delicate creatures and worms can have serious consequences. Observations:

  • The main element is a trojan horse, connoting war and hidden danger. War echoes the call to ACT NOW (urgency) against worms (the hidden danger).
  • The ad is visually well-balanced – I see 1/3rd and 3s throughout; in dividing the textual information and the image areas; between the ground and the sky; and in the vertical alignment of elements. It has a clean, organised feel.
  • The diagonal line of the horse’s back directs the eye to the brand name of the product.
  • The image moves from dark, threatening skies, through ACT NOW, and lighter, calmer scene in the foreground, underpinned by the product information. Things were bad, but if we use the product, everything will be okay.
  • The icons illustrating the action steps for the product provide a bridge between the image and the text – helping the eye transition between the two parts of the ad.

Ex – Erwitt

… look carefully at Erwitt’s image [ see below] and write some notes about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure contribute to this meaning? (OCA C&N, p98)

Source: holdenluntz.com,
Source: holdenluntz.com, by Elliot Erwitt
Structure
  • There is a strong sense of threes in the image: the horizontal scene is split between the foreground, which shows details of the ground and fallen leaves; the mid-ground which is nearly burnt out to white and contrasting with the subjects; and the background hints at the broader setting of a park with trees and sunlight. On the vertical we have three subjects placed in the frame as a group; 3 sets of legs and placed on the second third of the horizontal scene, firmly in the frame.
  • Full shades of monochrome are represented, from white in the background and in contrast to the subjects to the black of the lady’s boots. Giving the sense of a complete image.
  • There are 3 pairs – so within the 3s there is another level of symmetry in 2s.
  • There is a strong depiction of scale – from very large (dog), through standard sized (human), to small dog.
  • The stand-out feature (or punctum if we must) is that the small dog is wearing a hat. This is not usual by most standards.
Meaning

The image speaks about the companionship between woman and dog and differences among friends. It shows togetherness, while being different. It is topped off by the absurdity of the small dog wearing a hat. The symmetry and balance in form of the composition echo the signs of togetherness I read in the subjects themselves.

Book review – Snaps by Elliot Erwitt

I love this book. Elliot Erwitt’s (b1928) photos are full of humour and humanity. And, the introductory writing by Murray Sayle and Charles Flowers gives interesting insights on Erwitt as a man and photographer. However, it is unlikely that Erwitt would approve of an art of photography student analysing his work:

Overall, Erwitt believes photography criticism is pretentious and particularly lambasts the idea of photography courses: “A waste of time,” he scoffs. “A visual sense is something you either have or you don’t.” (This is despite studying photography and film himself.) (O’Mahony).

A quotation I took to the OCA student Facebook page for discussion – unanimous disagreement with Erwitt’s statement amongst the biased audience.

Back to the book. It is called ‘snaps’ because it includes Erwitt’s personal rather than commercial work and it is the term he uses for this aspect of his work with his ‘hobby’ camera, a 50mm Leica. There are 200 photos covering 4 decades, organised in pairs to create visual puns. All photos are in black and white – Erwitt expresses a view that colour provides too much information. The work is arranged into chapters around themes of activities; for example, read, rest and point, look.

The work has a feeling of spontaneity, moments plucked from everyday life and celebrated through the lens.There is a lightness and humour, refreshing in the troubled times of 2016. It focuses on the brighter side of life and O’Mahony tells us that some have been critical of Erwitt’s work for this; ‘there have been whispers that his work is “light-weight”, “flippant”, even “inconsequential”.’ The consequence of the work for me is that it makes me smile, it is like a well-drawn comedy sketch. Even in his famous image of the confrontation between Krushchev and Nixon in Moscow in 1959 (Erwitt, p139) there is a heavy touch of absurdity.

Technically, the work is masterful; full of rich tones of light and shade, composed to draw in the viewer’s eye and make every part of the image count. There is purpose and economy about the work. Wonderful.

References

Erwitt E (2001). Snaps. 2013 abridged edition. New York, Phaidon Press Inc.

O’Mahony J (2003). Guardian [online]. Elliot Erwitt best in show. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/dec/27/photography [accessed 17.3.16]

A3 C&N – submission to tutor

Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.

(OCA C&N, p89)

Introduction

The genre of self-portraiture was not something I’d explored prior to part three of the course. As well as the research and exercises recommended in part three, Susan Bright’s book Auto Focus (see here) and her tour of sub-genres in self-portraiture brought the subject to life for me. Bright’s book included the work of Aneta Grzeszykowska, who it is explained, uses self-portraiture as a tool for realising wider ideas, a kind of sketch pad or story-board.

The idea for this assignment came directly from the diary I kept for this part of the course. The diary is included in a separate post (password protected) here, and an analysis of my thoughts on diary is included in the post that details the preparation for the assignment here.  Through this work I intend to show a feeling of struggle to maintain a sense of self-identity in the tangible world when spending significant amounts of time represented virtually and as a ‘travelling man’. The work is at once auto-biographical and a masquerade. In the images, I show a sequence of acceptance, denial, and despair.

All images were shot using a Fuji X-T1, with a Fujinon 35mm (efl 53mm) / f1.4 and a home-studio set-up. The backgrounds are composites based on scanned documents and screen-dumps from my computer. Photoshop was used for processing. Details are also in the separate post detailing my preparation.

Images
Conclusion

I enjoyed this exploration of my own emotions through self-portraiture and think that it is a genre I will return to in my personal work.

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

  • Demonstration of technical skills – I effectively used a home-studio set-up to capture the head-shots and demonstrated some new post-production techniques in Photoshop, which I’d been working on during this chapter.
  • Quality of outcome – I’m happy that the outcome achieves what I aimed for in the images. I worked through a number of different approaches to arrive at the final processing treatment for the images.
  • Demonstration of creativity – I believe I have used a creative approach to illustrating the personal frustrations sometimes experienced of working in a virtual world as a ‘travelling man’.
  • Context – I have been active in recording context in my learning log and it is linked from this assignment..
References

Bright S (2010). Auto Focus – the self-portrait in contemporary photography. London, Thames & Hudson.

A3 C&N – contact sheets

A write-up of my approach to preparation and making the final images is posted separately (see here). This post contains contact sheets of the final selects I used in making the Photoshop composites, and separate contact sheets for the picks from the over 350 pictures I made of myself for this assignment (I am a very poor actor indeed – but perhaps would finder it easier next time!).  All photographs are unadjusted RAW images.

Selects for composites (including scanned documents and screenshots)

 

Final selects

Picks from images of head

Picks-1

Picks-2

A3 C&N – preparation and diary review

Assignment 3 is an open brief, ‘Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit.’ (OCA C&N, p89). Part Three, ‘putting yourself in the picture’, was not an area to which I was particularly looking forward, but I have very much enjoyed it and gained an insight into a genre which is new to me.

Diary

The journey began with my diary. The full diary is in a separate password protected post (see here) – OCA people should contact me separately for the password. Keeping the diary helped me to reflect on the things I do each day and on my identity – for the most part we are made by what we do and how we pass our time in the world.

A strong feeling I had while writing and on reflecting was how much the use of my time is dictated by my work and how restricted time and energy can be for other, often more enjoyable things. A large part of my work involves international travel and, when not travelling, planning for future journeys, or communicating with colleagues in distance countries by phone or email. While I have a rewarding job, I have a sense of my identity being taken over by travel and virtual communication – there is little time to put roots in a real community or develop local connections, hobbies or friendships.

In my world of international travel and communication, my identity is often projected virtually, through the computer – even ‘phone calls’ are over a computer network. As well as being anchored to a digital identity, I am tied to my passport, which validates my identity when travelling.

Concept development

I wanted my self-portrait to illustrate an identity crises – my real identity subsumed in the digital and travelling world – as Morris Gallagher (fellow student) was later to describe it, ‘the travelling-man’.

I had been experimenting with contextualising my own face as an exercise (see here) and for this assignment decide to attempt to combine a realistic photographic representation of myself with a virtual representation of my self, as a passport. For the backdrop to the image, I wanted to represent other digital aspects of my identity as a wall behind me – a replacement for the blank background of the photo booth used for ID photographs.

Influences

Susan Bright’s book Autofocus (for review see here) brought the self-portrait genre to life for me. I drew on influences as the self-portrait as auto-biography and the self-portrait as masquerade. I would act out the auto-biographical emotions (somehow!) and use a composite masquerade in my work. The book features the work of Aneta Grzeszykowska, who explains how she uses self-portrait as a tool for realising wider ideas, a kind of sketch pad or story-board.

The use of composites in fantasy-style self-portraits was a technical inspiration – I didn’t want to create an image in that genre, but something applying the techniques to create an image that could be perceived as real, even if a little unlikely. A degree of ambiguity that would raise curiosity in the viewer. I’d undertaken a couple of pieces of research in this area –  (links to separate posts) Natalie Dybisz’s book, self-portrait photography and web-based research on photographers working with self-portrait.

Process

I had two sets of images to capture, one for my own face and a second for the background composite and the superimposition of a passport on my face.

For my own face, I set up a white-screen backdrop, a soft-box (over flash light) for a key-light, and a bounced flash with reflector for a fill-light. I set my camera (Fuji X-T1) to automatically shoot a series of 10 shots, with a 2 second gap in between, sat on a stool and posed. I checked the outcome at the end of each series and experimented with my pose and expression. In all, I took over 350 shots and I realised that I will never have a career as an actor! My original intention was to find one image for the self-portrait, but while photographing myself I came up with the idea of a sequence of three showing a progression between, acceptance, denial and despair.

For the passport images (front cover, inside cover and a visa page), I used a 300 dpi colour photocopies and resized the images in Photoshop. For the images of digital ID (Facebook, Email, Twitter), I used high-resolution screen shots from my retina Macbook Pro, also resized in Photoshop.

The images used on the composite are included in a separate ‘contacts’ post – see here.

I made the composites in Photoshop. Key steps noted here:

  • Background – collage using layers of images and masks to reveal certain elements of the inside of my passport (background image). The ‘normal’ overlay mode was used for each layer but with reduced opacity.
  • Passport/tattoo-like effect. Crown Coat of Arms was isolated using a colour range selection and a fresh layer created with the coat of arms (CoA). CoA was transformed to fit the front of the face, spherised within a selection of the face outline, and then a dispersion filter applied (based on an image created from the front of the face). After some experimentation, I found the most effective over-lay type was ‘linear-burn’ – this created a tattoo-like effect and the possibility of being considered realistic.
  • Finishing – I used levels adjustments to align the tonality across the layers, a white opaque over-lay to unify the layers, and a separate empty layer to add shadow to the background where my head would have cast shadow.
Refinement

I asked for feedback from fellow students through the OCA Facebook page (see separate post here), which was generally positive. However, I made a few refinements to the images after letting the images rest for a few days – I noticed that the ‘tattoos’ were not consistently aligned on the faces; mattered once I’d decided to make three images instead of one. Also the original background did not show clearly enough all components of the collage.

References

Culture.PL [website]. Aneta Grzeszykowska. Available from: http://culture.pl/en/artist/aneta-grzeszykowska#dziela [accessed 13.3.16]

A3 C&N – student feedback

I posted some working drafts of my images to the OCA 1 Facebook page  to ask for comments on how the images were read. The discussion is replicated below. Of particular interest were the readings not in my original intention – comments on Britishness and Brexit; strangely, given the current political climate, I did not think of these readings. The next time I post a similar question, it would be interesting to attempt to anticipate readings that are not within my original intention!

Facebook discussion

Feedback please good people. Attached are the images I’m planning to use for my C&N self-portrait assignment. I won’t share my intention in advance, but would be interested to hear how you read them as well as any comments on the images themselves. Thank you!

Andrew Fitzgibbon's photo.

 

 

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20 CommentsSeen by 70

Comments
Peter Walker I really like these, I’m sensing trying show sence of frustration perhaps the difficulties of travel.
One point I would bring up is photocopy of passport – there used to copyright issues colour copying then even recording Id when opening banking accounts, double check you not doing anything untoward by mistake.

Peter Walker Or the frustration of being British, which is a daily struggle as an expat.

Andrew Fitzgibbon Thanks for raising the copyright question – I’ve looked into it and the sensitive area seems to be around using the Crown coat of arms, though more in a commercial context or passing-off as royalty. Though even for commercial purposes the Queen has apparently waived the need for permission in the run up to her 90th birthday celebrations!

Rob Townsend Good shots. I read it as either a straightforward ‘identity crisis’ smile emoticon or maybe more specifically a comment on government surveillance.

Steve Davis I thought frustration related to travel. Maybe you feel you’d like to travel more. Then I thought about the british passport and wondered if the frustration was more to do with nationality not travel.

Chas Bedford My first thought was Number Six’s rant, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!”

Catherine Banks “I’m British through and through – I think”. Or – “My face is my passport to …”

Holly Woodward A life ruled by travel, or alternatively identity crisis.

Simon Chirgwin A couple of possibles: frustration at being defined by the Lion and the Unicorn that are there on your face like a Maori tattoo; tiredness with too much international travel; and from my experience of time spent in the FSU and the Russian visa in the bSee more

Jayne Arksey I thought it was frustration due to something to do with bring British. Felt like you were trying to get the passport, therefore being British off your face.

Kat Kyriakides Wow!! These are fantastic. Great job ? I get a feeling of not being able to escape the lack of freedom these days. I see a visa in the background. Travelling used to be something that was freeing. But these days we are watched where ever we go.

Lynda Wearn I really like these. Trying to make a point about identity, nationality or frustration with red tape – I see there is a visa in the background all in all brilliant though

Kate Aston Trapped in an airport lounge or the security queue?

Lee Hard Very good idea I also get the travel/frustration/freedom thing…

Paul Storer Or maybe the feeling you don’t exist unless you have a passport – I haven’t got one and it’s becoming so hard to prove my identity without it

Dawn Langley It made me wonder about choice and whether you were being sent places because of work or some other commitment rather than choosing too. The anguish of being torn between travel and home maybe…

Kate Aston Trying to separate yourself from your digital identity?

Morris Gallagher I read it that your true identity has been overcome by ‘Travelling man’ which is very frustrating

Andrew Fitzgibbon You are spot on with my intention! And there are a few layers to the meaning that I don’t think it’s possible to see without context.

Lynda Kuit #2 almost seems like you are trying to take off your “mask of Britishness”. Great images!

Nuala Mahon “In bits due to being on the road”. BTW there is a great video in Digital Photography about breakign up bits of an image which might add even more punch – Poor you…..

Kate Aston Brexit? Should I stay or should I go…

Andrew Fitzgibbon Thanks everyone – there’s an element of most of your readings in my intention (apart from the Britishness angle). I’ll post the full write-up when done in case anyone would like to read.