I received my feedback on assignment 2 in record time – I think just a few days. The speed took me by surprise, but it is much appreciated – allows quick adjustment of approach to ongoing work when needed.
The full feedback is linked below. In summary – my tutor enjoyed the work and offered some welcome praise, so just keep up what I’m doing – I think I’m getting the hang of the approach to this OCA degree! For now, at least.
There was also a recommendation to look at the work of Jason Evans, who works has worked in the music industry for many years, which I have done in a separate post.
Photographing the unseen. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? (OCA C&N)
During my research, I saw several potential subjects for this assignment (see here) – I narrowed it down to two options; a representation of my deceased father through his carpentry tools, or the signification of the auditory perception of music.
I decided upon music, with guitar being a personal life-time interest. I explored this specific topic as part of further research (see here), including Pop-Art and photography and mass culture (Daido Moriyama for example). A fellow student suggested that I consider the type of font used in the textual overlays in the image (trail image posted to Facebook). Excellent suggestion, which I considered (see here).
All photos were shot with a Fuji X-T1 with a 60mm f/ 2.4 macro lens. They were taken indoors, with natural light from windows, with high ISO – given my intended post-processing and feel I was aiming for – images with refined detail were not necessary. I shot 100 photos for the project and the final images (pre-post production) are shown here. The time input to post-production was far greater than in taking the photos.
Music as an auditory experience is unseen. There are many signifiers of music, including musicians playing music and people enjoying concerts but these are often indexical representation of the musicians themselves or the experience of attending a concert. I wanted to find a representation of music that suggested music without literally representing its performance. A way of drawing the viewer into the image as music draws listeners into a sound-scape.
I was inspired by the way Daido Moriyama’s work makes the viewer work to see what is happening in the image – high contrast and dark tonalities are along way from straight representations. His Farewell to Photography reminds me of the message in Barthes’ The Death of the Author – but, get out of the way of the photograph and let the viewer make up their own mind. Flusser suggested ‘… one can outwit the camera’s rigidity … smuggle intentions into its program that are not predicted by it … force the camera to create the unpredictable … show contempt for the camera’. Playing with manual settings is one way, another way is to take control away from the camera in post-production.
My work attempts to represent music through layers of subjects that are associated with music but become difficult to read visually because of their post-production treatment. Underlying each image is a musical score (the written language of music) and the textures of a vinyl LP (including dust speckles). Over-laying the musical performance subjects is text that is mostly indecipherable – we know there are words there but we can’t always hear what they are saying. The font used is AHDN (a hard day’s night) and is another signifier of music. The words are quotations from musicians, talking about their feelings for music.
The personal interest in this subject made this assignment very enjoyable – reminding me of David Hurn’s words of wisdom ‘… photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result.’
Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:
Demonstration of technical skills – the technical aspects of this work were mostly in post-production; the use of multiple-layers with clipping mask to adjust levels, masking of elements of each layer and discovering the use of textual content and rasterisation in the tool.
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 my approach steers away from an obvious interpretation of the topic (eg behind the scenes) and brings an interesting approach to visually signifying the sound of music.
Context – I have been active in recording context in my learning log and it is linked from this assignment..
Flusser V (1983). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Kindle Edition. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.
Hurn D & Jay B (2008). On being a photographer. Anacortes, Lenswork Publishing.
The images below were used in Photoshop post-production. #5 and #10 were used as background layers in all the final images. Two main considerations in the selects – after I shot the images, I decided to settle on a consistent landscape aspect (all portrait shots were therefore ignored). From all the images, I wanted a variety of subjects – I could have worked on all guitar images, but this would have then just spoke about ‘guitars’, rather than a wider interest in music.
The images below are RAW converted to JPEG without post-processing, which was all done in Photoshop.
Examples of other photos shot
These are RAW files converted to JPEG with no post-processing adjustment.
In my previous post, I examined ideas for ‘photographing the unseen’ and finally decided on the subject of music (with sound being unseen) – see here. In this post, I dig into the possibilities for the project.
I will use my own collection of musical instruments and accessories as subjects, but how to photography them to signal the sound of music? The music that mainly interests me is that of mass-culture, rock and pop music. Classical music has a different aesthetic.
Visual effects as signals
Mass culture has many ways of portraying music, some which are so embedded in our visual culture that there is an automatic association with music. For example, the early pop videos with their unsubtle visual effects (colour and light distortions), and the MTV videos first launched in the late 1970s; Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles was one early example. It features high contrast video, posterised effects and montage.
Posters for concerts and album art work to a significant extent still use the same unsubtle, attention-grabbing approach to visuals. Often text is mixed with the images. Bill Board Magazine features what it considers to be the 50 best album covers of all time, which reflects the eye-catching style.
Pop Art drew its inspiration from, amongst other things, pop music. The Tate website provides a fascinating introduction to the genre, including a discussion of the differences between the British and American versions, apparently with the British being ‘more academic’ in approach, with a ‘focus on questions of representation, with irony and parody’ (Tate, website). The site also features Peter Blake talking about his work, and his use of photo-montage.
Photography Today (Durden, p 12) discusses photography and mass culture, specifically the work of William Klein, Andy Warhol and Daido Moriyama (bye-bye photography). In all the work there is a poster-like quality – high contrast, low-detail, and abstraction. This avoids the straight / literal interpretation of a subject, inviting the viewer to find meaning; rather than read detailed information. While this style doesn’t specifically reference music as mass-culture, it could be part of an overall group of signals referencing music.
I’ve already explored the use of ‘extreme curves’ adjustments in anticipation of this project (see here), which can be used to disrupt the indexicality of the photographic image and also signal the extreme contrasts found in music art. These kind of adjustments echo the effects applied to distort sound waves (for example processed electric guitar signals).
I also wanted to explore techniques for using text and creating montage within Photoshop; I found YouTube videos that demonstrate various techniques (saved to my Photoshop playlist – here):
How to use vanishing point tool to add text with same perspective as elements of image.
How to create hand-written text that fits a curved element – using free-transform and warp tools and blur / mask layer to add imperfections to the text and make it appear natural.
How to use displacement tool to have text take the form of the plane of an image element.
Using layers to create photo-montage.
I will explore some of these techniques during post-production.
Overall direction of project
Here I set the overall direction for my project, which will most likely evolve as my work progresses:
Range of close-up / abstract shots of musical instruments and accessories.
Selections of text / quotations relating to music
Experimentation in post-processing to disturb indexicality of images and visual signals towards pop/mass culture connected with music
Use of text superimposed on images to act in relay and evoke sense of concert/album posters.
Overall images should not represent personalities or clearly defined images of instruments – they must suggest music, not representation of the objects used to make music.
There are two options for this assignment and I have chosen ‘photographing the unseen’. The literal contradiction between photographing and the unseen grabbed my attention. How could this be interpreted and what ideas could I come up with?
I’ve spent a few weeks reflecting on this and doing some research into other photographers’ work. I’ve started using Evernote to jot down my thoughts in a photo-diary while on the go (iPhone) and conveniently picking them up later while at my laptop.
I interpret ‘unseen’ in the context of what is normally seen by the naked human eye; a necessary perspective to give the interpretation boundaries. The possibilities are many:
Emotions or feelings – these do not exist in the physical world but they can be sensed and signified by the physical appearance of those experiencing the emotion. A smile connotes happiness for example. There are a long list of emotions that could be considered as ideas for a photography project; sadness, fear, love, joy, tiredness and so on. However, arguably there is a direct relation between emotions and their expression physical world – almost literal.
Other sense – smells are not seen but experienced through our olfactory system. They have a powerful connection with our memories, a smell can take us back to a distant time when we first experienced it. For example, any time I catch a smell of the ‘Old Spice’ scent, I’m instantly reminded of my grandfather, who’s long passed. There are also shared experiences of smell linked to place; for example coffee shops, the sea, the meat counter, newly cut grass. A potential project would be to photograph subjects that have a strong connection with smell.
Other sense – sounds – sound is all around us, with complete silence almost unattainable. It is often paired with vision but one can see but not hear, or hear but not see. Sound is transmitted in wave forms (as is light) but beyond vision. We can only see the effect of sound (vibration) or the subjects generating sound. Ryan Buller does this to great effect by photographing the effect of sound on wet paint (see – https://fstoppers.com/strobe-light/ryan-buller-visualizes-and-photographs-sound-5123 [accessed 24.1.16]). Photography of musicians and music events is pervasive, a popular spectacle. However, this is arguably more representative of a social event or personalities than the sound of music. I have a passion for music and own a number of electric and acoustic guitars, with various accessories. I like the idea of seeking an approach to representing music that falls somewhere between the observation of its physical effects and the straight representation of people making music or concert-going.
Beyond visual capability – we are incapable of seeing some physical things because of the limitations of our own eyesight, as explored by the BBC in what are the limits of human vision. For example, a) we have poor night vision, but a camera with a long exposure or high ISO can see things we cannot with the naked eye. b) we cannot see objects that move beyond a certain speed relative to our own position – a speeding bullet, which can be captured by a high-speed camera. Or, c) objects that are too small to see with the naked eye. I saw much of this type photography in the Revelations exhibition (National Media Museum, Bradford). Ed Thomson’s work, Unseen, makes use of infrared photography to show things beyond the spectral range of the naked eye.
Out of sight – this includes things that are either behind the scenes of our normal access (eg back-stage) or things that we do not notice because we are either too busy to look, or choose to avert our gazes. Peter Dazeley in his book Unseen London was allowed to access the inside of Big Ben. Mary Allen Mark’s work reveals the unseen street kids (Shapiro S (2002) Available from: http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/watch/931B-000-002.html).
The has-been – it is possible to recreate the past; either by photographing its reenactment or by subjects that connote the past. Erik Kessel’s work, Unfinished Father, refers to his deceased father’s unfinished work in renovating old cars. Sam Faulkner’s work, Unseen Waterloo, ‘explores how we remember the fallen from a time before photography was invented’, through staged photographs. This approach could be applied to my own deceased father and his collection of carpentry tools I still have – including a saw bench that shows the cuts he made, almost like finger prints.
I’ve chosen ‘music’ as my topic for photographing the unseen because I have a particular long-time interest in music and it is a subject that feels very personal to me. That having been said, there are numerous other potential subjects that are appealing and perhaps could be visited at another time; particularly the representation of my own deceased father through his carpentry tools.
I will work up some specific and detailed ideas for the chosen subject in a separate post.