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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]

 

Note to Assessors – Photography 1, EYV

Dear Assessors,

Thank you for taking time to review my work. Here is a brief note explaining the contents of my submission pack and my learning blog.

Blog:

My blog is at context.fitzgibbonphotography.com. I am using a single blog for all of my courses and the content for EYV is listed on a separate index page that is accessed through the menu on the home page (menu – EYV Contents). The EYV posts have not been edited for some time and are left unedited during the assessment period. Any changes to the blog relate purely to the ongoing C&N content.

All of the material for assessment can be found through the EYV Contents page, under the assignments section. ‘Submissions to tutor’ are the original submissions; ‘Feedback’ is my thoughts on tutor feedback, with pdfs of the feedback attached at the foot of the posts; and ‘rework’ is where I have reworked assignments based on tutor feedback. A printed copy of the contents page is included in the pack.

Printed copies of the assignment posts are included in the pack for ease of reference (see below).

Contents of submission pack:

To supplement my blog, the pack provides printed copies of the assignment blog pages and tutor feedback. I have also selected one image from each assignment and made a print of it (five prints in total).

Contents are as follows:

a) Index to blog contents

b) Assignment 5

> Print – boy and pool > Assignment rework (text only, photos unchanged) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

c) Assignment 4

> Print – apple in space > Assignment rework (text and photos) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

d) Assignment 3

> Print – limited head room > Assignment rework (text and photos) > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

e) Assignment 2

> Print – fallen tree > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

f) Assignment 1 (not for assessment – reference only)

> Print – rotten gate post > Tutor’s feedback > Assignment submitted to tutor

 Thank you.

A5 EYV – rework

Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.

Introduction

Following recommendations from my tutor (feedback here), this is a rewrite of assignment 5 (original here) to demonstrate greater engagement with the theoretical context of the project and the relationship to the work of other photographers. The photos are the same as in the original submission. Here I more clearly reference the research done in preparation for my original submission and include the additional research areas recommended by my tutor.

I considered a number of options for this assignment (see planning here), all of which were to be shot during a visit to Greece. I decided to develop a subject relating to a swimming pool. The pure bright quality of the light in Greece was something I wanted to show, along with a lightness of being I find when my time is my own and the sun is on my back.  Susan Dergres’ work on the moon captured  the refraction of light in water but using a process without a camera and beyond me. Nonetheless, I wanted something of the shimmering light.  Outdoor pools are often associated with Californian climate and I looked at a number of photographers working there: from Slim Aaron’s photos of 1950s socialites to the more recent work exhibited in the Backyard Oasis exhibition, curated by Michael Childers. I was particularly inspired by the work of David Hockney (including his painting) with its simplicity and clarity of the compositions, echoing the clarity of the light around the pool.

Process

I decided to use a staged approach to the photo-shoot. This was something new to me, with my hobby-background in street photography, where staging photos is mostly considered outside genre. As Wells mentions, staging of photographs dates back to William Henry Fox Talbot in the mid to late 19th century – in fact it was then necessary with slow cumbersome equipment. While the historic work was pictorialist, contemporary photographers like Jeff Wall and Duane Michals (for separate research see here) used staging to express their own vision, rather than mimic paintings. I used my family to in the staging to create my vision of pure light and lightness of being around the pool.  They kindly agreed to act under my direction. My tutor pointed out to me that some of the images could be considered absurdist – I wasn’t previously aware of this movement and after researching the work of Erwin Wurm and Isabel Wenzel (see here), I see that the work could be considered absurdist (particularly the submerged chair). This adds to the sense of fun and lightness in the images.

The equipment I used was a Panasonic LX100 with a fixed zoom lens f/1.7-2.8 (27mm-84mm efl zoom). I set the camera to shoot in a square format to allow simple composition of patterns. I also used an iPhone app to remotely view and trigger low-angle shots with the camera on a Gorilla-pod. Shooting RAW, plus JPEG, an iPad app was used to view the photos in camera as the shoot progressed (over 3 days) to help with decisions about further shots while in situ.

The final selects were processed as RAW files in Lightroom on my return from Greece. I used high contrast, vivid processing to reflect the subject matter, with minimal LR brushwork to lighten the shadow areas in some photos.

Images

Click on images to launch in gallery view

CONCLUSION

The brief said that you should like the images. I like these images. More research, preparation and experimentation went into these than my previous assignments and I think this has benefited the outcome. Many of the images are staged but I don’t feel that they look contrived – this will encourage me to work more with created, rather than found subjects.

Reflecting on assessment criteria: a) visual – the use of the square format to emphasis pattern and form within the photos, b) quality of outcome – my use of the blog to document preparation continues to improve (despite the blog crash during the assignment!), c) Creativity – some of the shots were experimental and I also tried making pictures from within the pool (none selected) d) Context – during this part of the course, I’ve explored a number books and photographers and invested in books on photographic history and photography now, which I’m working through.

References

Getty Images [website]. Slim Aarons archive. Available from: http://www.gettyimagesgallery.com/collections/archive/slim- aarons.aspx [accessed 4.9.15]

Marieke van der Velden [website] http://www.mariekevandervelden.com/#/swimming-pools- worldwide/ [accessed 4.9.15]

Palm Springs Museum. Backyard oasis exhibition. http://www.psmuseum.org/palm- springs/exhibition/backyard-oasis-swimming-pool-southern- california-photography/ [accessed 4.9.15]

Palm Springs Gallery [Youtube]. Michael Childers –Backyard Oasis Exhibition. http://youtu.be/RsIVWc9TfFI [accessed 4.9.15]

Dergres S [website]. Susan Dergres/Moons [online gallery]. Available from: http://www.susanderges.com. [Accessed 21.8.15]

The Telegraph (nd) [website]. David Hockney and the Californian Swimming Pool. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/9022598/David- Hockney-and-the-Californian-swimming-pool-in-
photography.html [accessed 4.9.15]

Tate Gallery [website]. A bigger splash by David Hockney. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hockney-a- bigger-splash-t03254 [accessed 4.9.15]

Wells L (2015 ) Photography: a critical introduction. Fifth edition (on Kindle), Routledge, London and New York.

V&A. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography – Susan Derges. Available from: https://vimeo.com/13149808 [accessed 4.9.15]

 

Staged photography

On the back of EYV assignment 5, I was encouraged to look more deeply into ‘staged photography’; in particular the work of Jeff Wall and Duane Michals.

At the outset of this course, I confess that I didn’t really understand the purpose of staged photography and its apparently popularity. It somehow seemed to fly in the face of the decisive moment, which seemed to me fundamental to the purpose of photography; even if contemporary technology has made that decisive moment far less elusive. Now, I see it simply as a different working practice and aesthetic. As long as it is not passed off as candid, which makes it fake and unethical.

In Wall’s revealing interview with O’hagan, his work is explained:

Wall describes his work as “cinematographic” re-creations of everyday moments he has witnessed, but did not photograph at the time. “To not photograph,” he says, “gives a certain freedom to then re-create or reshape what I saw.” He takes months to stage and direct each of his “occurrences”.

So, it is an extension of aftermath photography, but with an artificial recreation of the witnessed scene as remembered by Wall. Also, with the potential to add an artistic interpretation or vision perhaps not originally present in the scene. The approach is akin to painting, where the different elements are brought together in the artist’s construction. Some examples of Wall’s work are in the ‘checklist’ or pdf catalogue from MoMa exhibition attached as pdf: checklist. Or, on the websites referenced below.

Duane Michals’ work and approach is discussed at length in his interview with Resnik. From a very different background to Wall, Michals was discouraged from a career in art by his parents, but nonetheless pursued it. He considers not having formal training in photography as a benefit to his style – ‘he didn’t need to unlearn the rules’. He discusses his experience of his work not being accepted by the established photographers (Winogrand et al) as there was no decisive moment. However he considers freedom from the principal of the decisive moment as liberating for his art. Unusually, Michals often adds text to his images as context for the narrative.

Interestingly, neither Wall nor Michals uses digital photography (Michals does paint on his pictures) despite the obvious potential for digital recreation of the stage. I’m not sure why they choose not to; it could be a generational thing with digital technology, or perhaps a fake of a fake stage is a step too far for them?

References

Lipsky-Karasz E (2015). Wall Street Journal [online]. Jeff Wall’s Unique Photographic Vision. Available from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/jeff-walls-unique-photographic-vision-1441375796 [accessed 28.11.15]

MoMa [online]. Jeff Wall in his own words. Available from: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2007/jeffwall/ [accessed 28.11.15]

O’Hagan S (2015). Guardian [online]. Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show [accessed 28.11.15]

Resnik R (2014). American Photo [website]. Interview: Duane Michals on 50 years of sequencing and staging photos. Available from: http://www.americanphotomag.com/interview-duane-michals-50-years-sequences-and-staging-photos?image=1 [accessed 28.11.15]

Absurdist art

On the back of my EYV assignment 5, I was persuaded to look into absurdist art.

Gafney explains Erwin Wurm’s one minutes sculptures that were created out of anything and anyone available on the spot. The results are absurd and comical – a man with various stationery placed in his facial orifices; like an extreme version of Edmund Blackadder feigning madness.

Source: itsnicethat.com, one minute sculpture by Urwin Wurm
Source: itsnicethat.com, one minute sculpture by Urwin Wurm

Isabel Wenzel’s photographs capture her own body movements (or those of others) in absurd positions – for example posing upside-down as a flower pot. In the American Suburbx interview, she explains her working methods – a tripod, the clothes she’s decided to dress up in and the camera’s auto-timer are used to capture her own movements. She repeats each pose until she captures a successful image. Her images are both absurd and constructed.

Wenzel’s images can be viewed on the website’s referenced.

References

American Suburbx [website]. An Interview with Isabelle Wenzel @ Unseen. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2015/09/an-interview-with-isabelle-wentzel-unseen.html [accessed 28.11.15]

Gafney C. It’s Nice That [blog]. Just a minute! Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures on show in Liverpool (2012). Available from: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/erwin-wurm-1 [accessed 28.11.15]

Erwin Wurm [website]. Available from: http://www.erwinwurm.at [accessed 28.11.15]

Isabel Wenzel [website]. Available from: http://www.isabelle-wenzel.com [accessed 28.11.15]

A5 EVY – feedback

I received my tutor’s feedback on assignment 5 (for submission see here). While she liked the images, she commented on the missing engagement with the theoretical context (reference to photographers practicing staged work). I’m never entirely sure that my tutor reads my of my blog containing the preparatory work around the assignments – for example, she mentioned I could have referred to David Hockney, who I’d already specifically researched in my preparation. Nonetheless, she did mention some other useful references to follow up on and suggested that I rework the written component of the assignment.

I’ve also concluded to avoid the risk of tutors not reading (or having time to read) the context around the assignment submission, it is necessary to repeat any reference to this in the short submission. The submission needs to be stand-alone, without the for reference to the blog.

The additional research recommended was:

  1. The absurd (Erwin Wurm, Isabelle Wentzel)
  2. The constructed (Jeff Wall, Duane Michaels)
  3. Critical writing about staged photography (Alice Mayers series Rocket and Liz Well’s ‘a critical introduction’)

Tutor feedback is attached as a pdf: andrew_fitzgibbon_assignment_5_feedback

 

A5 EYV – submission to tutor

Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.

INTRODUCTION

I considered a number of options for this assignment (see separate post for detail planning), all of which were to be shot during a visit to Greece. I dismissed several of the options, after some test shots, out of concern the assignment could resemble a tourist brochure / information (not what I wanted) because of the ubiquity of images of Greece in that format.
I decided to develop a subject relating to a swimming pool. I had been impressed by the refraction of light through water in Susan Dergres work on the moon and wanted to capture some of that light quality in my series. For swimming pools specifically, I looked mainly at the work of David Hockney and Michael Childers, though others are noted in my planning. I was inspired by the simplicity and clarity of the compositions, which seem to echo the clarity of the light around a pool.

PROCESS

The equipment I used was a Panasonic LX100 with a fixed zoom lens f/1.7-2.8 (27mm-84mm efl zoom). I set the camera to shoot in a square format to allow simple composition of patterns. I also used an iPhone app to remotely view and trigger low-angle shots with the camera on a Gorilla-pod. Shooting RAW, plus JPEG, an iPad app was used to view the photos in camera as the shoot progressed (over 3 days) to help with decisions about further shots while in situ.

My family agreed to model in shots that required people – these were constructed images, with people acting under my direction, rather than ‘found’ images of them doing their own thing.

The final selects were processed as RAW files in Lightroom on my return from Greece. I used high contrast, vivid processing to reflect the subject matter, with minimal LR brushwork to lighten the shadow areas in some photos.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT [IN 300 WORDS]?

An Afternoon by the Pool.
It is the refraction of mediterranean light in water shaping its surroundings despite the shapeless form of the light and water. It works its magic on our emotions, calming us, lightening moods, and allowing us to float, weightless within in it. It is holiday. It is escape from the daily grind and the weather England offers us as summer.

There is the story of an afternoon’s activities: 1) We see the abstracted edge of the pool. Without knowing the subject, it may not be clear to the viewer what they are looking at. 2) A close-cropped shot of a ladder into the pool, again abstracted but perhaps clearer what the viewer is seeing, taking them closer to the subject. 3) Finally, it is clear that there is a pool and a ladder that is being used to enter the pool. 4) There is a more energetic way to enter the pool, with a leap. 5) But with the leap comes the shock of the rapid entry to the cooling water. 6) The eponymous use of the pool. 7) Or, hand-stand training. 8) After the exertion there can be a floating relaxation. 9) You might even take an underwater chair? 10) Finally, there is the night that eventually brings an end to the afternoon by the pool.

There is also the play of  the light in and around the water. 1) is the tortoise- shell shimmering against the solid pool edge. 2) is the electrified light of reflection. 3) is entering the light from the deep blue shadows. 4) is dark, about to enter the light 5) is pink skin breaking the blue surface. 6) & 7) share the qualities of 5). 8) is vibrant yellow against the blue. 9) & 10) are darker tones with flickers of light signifying the end of the day.

IMAGES

conclusion

The brief said that you should like the images. I like these images. More research, preparation and experimentation went into these than my previous assignments and I think this has benefited the outcome. Many of the images are staged but I don’t feel that they look contrived – this will encourage me to work more with created, rather than found subjects.

Reflecting on assessment criteria: a) visual – the use of the square format to emphasis pattern and form within the photos, b) quality of outcome – my use of the blog to document preparation continues to improve (despite the blog crash during the assignment!), c) Creativity – some of the shots were experimental and I also tried making pictures from within the pool (none selected) d) Context – during this part of the course, I’ve explored a number books and photographers and invested in books on photographic history and photography now, which I’m working through.

A short history of photography – Walter Benjamin

[Recreated from pdf after blog crash]
1ST SEPTEMBER 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT

A SHORT HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY – WALTER BENJAMIN

Benjamin’s renowned essay is often cited in writing on photographic theory (for example, Sontag’s On Photography) and referenced in the academic study of photography. It was first published in Germany in 1931, but was not published in English until 1972. So, it was written approximately 100 years after the invention of photography and I am reading it 85 years after it was written. An 85 years in which the world has changed beyond all recognition, socially, politically and technologically. This is important to recognise when drawing any message from the essay, since Benjamin rooted it in the social and political context of the times – when mass media was young and the prospect of World War II was looming, which had disasterous consequences for Benjamin. He took his own life at the age of 48, while endeavouring to escape Nazi Germany (European Graduate School).

The essay examines the social and psychological a”ects of change brought about through the technology of photography. I summarise what I read as the main aspects of the essay:

It opens with a seemingly nostalgic reference to the ‘pre- industrialisation’ of photography, which he describes as a ‘prime’ period. He means the time when photographic equipment was slow, technically challenging and inaccessible to the masses.

He discusses the tensions between art (paintings) and photography, initially in the context of portraits.

” However skilful the photographer, however carefully he poses his model, the spectator feels an irresistible compulsion to look for the tiny spark of chance, of the hear and now, with whic reality has, as it were, seared the character in the picture …

This is reminiscent of Barthes’ puntum. Benjamin likens photography’s making us aware of the ‘optical unconsciousness’ to psychoanalysis.

He proposes that the length of time required for a sitter in the early photos was similar to sitting for a painting and that through this intense sitting more of the moment is captured than in snapshots. That there is a greater aura around the subject. This seems to be at the root of his nostalgia.

As photography took over the work of painters of miniature portraits, Benjamin discuses the absurdities of the props and scenes in photographers studios as they tried to mimic portrait paintings. And further, once advanced optics became available to capture fine details in photos, how details were then removed by retouching to recreate the look (or aura) of early photographs.

Benjamin celebrates the work of Atget as a forerunner of surrealist photography, helping to ‘disinfect the stuffy atmosphere spread by conventional portrait photography … He initiated the liberation of the object from the aura, which is the most incontestable achievement of the recent … photography.’ Benjamin values this as an achievement because of Atget’s ability to reflect the changing world around him – ‘the sense of sameness of things in the world has grown to such an extent that by means of reproduction even the unique is made to yield up its uniqueness.’ So Benjamin is not celebrating the lack of aura/uniqueness, but Atget’s ability to capture it – ‘a salutary estrangement between man and his environment’. Benjamin described it as a ‘new way of seeing’.

He describes how the then-new way of seeing was least at home when people were paying for portraits, but notes that photography cannot do without people. At this point, the work of August Sander, Face of Our Time, is introduced as an alternative model for portrait photographs; ‘Sanders work is more than a picture book, it is an atlas of instruction.’

On the subject of photography as art, Benjamin observes it as the most contested area of debate, ‘… the question of the aesthetics of photography as an art, while … art as photography scarcely received a glance.’ He draws a parallel between the development of reproductive techniques (photography) and how great works of art were no longer created by individuals, but by collectives, and on huge scales. So, art as photography becomes a practical necessity to share the art. Benjamin proposes that when photography strays outside the context established by Sander and frees itself from politics and science, it then becomes creative. He is not in favour of this:

” The world is beautiful – that precisely is its motto. Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists; a photography which even in its most dreamlike compositions is more concerned with eventual saleability than with understanding.

Benjamin concludes by discussing the possibilities that come from the authenticity of photography – capturing transitory and secret pictures with shock value. Arguing that this type of image requires a caption for it to be clearly understood. He seems to be making an argument in favour of what we might call the paparazzi, ‘… is not every corner of our cities a scene of action? Is not each passer-by an actor? Is it not the task of the photographer … to uncover guilt and name the guilty in pictures?’ In this context he then reiterates, ‘will not the caption become the most important part of the shot’. Remember that this statement was made in the context of the social upheaval and unrest in Germany in the approach to WW2.

The overall message of the essay is that photography should look for something other than recreating what has gone before in paintings. It should work with its quality of authenticity to uncover truth.
My personal perspective at this time, is that photography can serve many purposes. Intention and integrity are therefore important. But with the political imperatives at the time of Bejamin’s writing, I may well of had a di”erent view.

REFERENCE

Benjamin W. A short history of photography. London, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2011.

A4 EYV – rework

[Recreated from pdf after blog crash]

23RD AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT A4 EYV – FINAL IMAGES (REWORK)

INTRODUCTION

I’ve reworked my OCA assignment 4 (original here) after doing some additional research. The original post provides full context for the work. Here, I provide information about the additional research, my process, the final images and my conclusion.

My additional research focused on two main areas: a) other photographers who have used the moon and celestial bodies in their work (see post here); and b) the use of fruit, vanitas and chiaroscuro in art (see post here). In addition, I completed some technical research and experimentation on the use of Photoshop to create an artificial deep-space back drop (see post here).

My original assignment aimed to show an apple as a symbol of the moon, with a flash used for shaping. I concentrated mainly on the technicalities of the lighting set up needed to obtain the shadowy sphere of my apple against a dark background. For the rework, I have have stuck with this concept but looked at how it might be enhanced.

The work of Ansel Adam and Susan Dergres includes wonderful but very di”erent images of moons; Adam’s traditional precisionist style is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Dergres’ camera-less work in terms of approach. However, both their work includes the moon itself, not something purporting to act as a symbol of the moon. Kevin Newark’s Protoplasm work of discarded carrier bags floating in canals however, give the appearance of celestial bodies. Their dark watery backdrop gives this impression. I also needed something other than a pure-black back drop for my apples to make it clear what they were to symbolise; otherwise they are just studies of apples.

I considered trying to somehow create a backdrop and re-shoot outdoors, using water, but felt that this was at odds with the original concept of creating light ex nihilo (in the studio). I decided to use a purely digital approach to creating the backdrop and making composite images.

PROCESS

After some experimentation, I arrived at method in Photoshop of creating a deep-space scene. In summary, this involved starting with a black background, adding noise with filters (to act as stars), adding blur to the stars to create a more natural look (Gaussian blur filter) and then adjusting the levels for a good level of blackness and the number of visible stars (so making some noise no longer visible). This made the basic backdrop. To this I added some blue and yellow colour layers through brushes and gradient masks to add more complexity to the blackness and finally another layer of larger hand-brushed stars in white. The detailed layer settings were adjusted to add glow.

I then combined my original apple photos with my deep-space back drop – it took some trial and error to arrive at the final approach. Firstly, I resized the images to my 1500 by 1500 pixel deep-space construction. I pasted deep-space into the apple workspaces and created a duplicate apple layer above the space. Then carefully using a mask and brush I unveiled the deep-space around the apple. The final touch was to create bright star by rendering lens- flare to show the direction of light and add to the chiaroscuro e”ect.

Back in Lightroom, some final adjustments were made to levels and a vignette effect added.

The approach to photographing the apples is detailed in the post for the original assignment (see here).

THE IMAGES
CONCLUSION

I’ve nick-named this project ‘dark side of the apple’ as there is something slightly comical about apples in deep-space.

As a creative experiment in digital imaging in Photoshop, and in the achievement of my objective of providing a contextual backdrop to my original ‘apples-as-moon’ photos, I feel the work is successful. On a technical level, it achieves the practice of lighting an object in a studio environment, and digitally manipulating it to arrive at a composite image. I’ve tried something for the first time.

In the future, I’d like to experiment with the techniques in a context of slightly more realistic combinations of photo elements. What can be achieved through digital manipulation rather than elaborate staging of images and how would the results compare?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anseladams.com [online]. The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez. Available from: http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-anecdotes/ [accessed 20.8.15]

Adams M [on YouTube] (nd). Ansel Adam’s son on the making of Moonrise. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZaD0W3yms

Art Net [website]. Sam Taylor-Wood Gallery. Available
from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sam-taylor-wood/ [accessed 23.8.15]

BluelightningTV [website], YouTube video. Photoshop: How to Quickly Create Stars, Planets and Faraway Galaxies. Available
from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhJfC1SuU0. [accessed 23.8.15]

Demos TJ (2007). Tate Gallery [website]. A matter of time. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/matter- time [accessed 23.8.15].

Dergres S [website]. Susan Dergres/Moons [online gallery]. Available from: http://www.susanderges.com. [Accessed 21.8.15]

The Exposure Project (2009) [website]. Explanation from Kevin Newark.Available
from: http://theexposureproject.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/kevin-newarks- protoplasm.html [accessed 22.8.15]

Fitzgibbon A (2015). Fitzgibbonphotography.com [blog] . Assignment 4 – the language of light (23 July). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/assignment-4-the-language-of-light/

Mummer Schnelle Gallery, Ori Gerscht[online]. Time After Time & Blow Up[2007]. Available
from: http://www.mummeryschnelle.com/pages/oriselector.htm [accessed 23.8.15].

The National Gallery of Art [website]. Dutch and Flemish Painting of the 16th-17th centuries. Available from: http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/dutch- 2.html [accessed 23.8.15].

National Gallery [website]. Glossary – chiaroscuro. Available
from: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/chiaroscuro [accessed 23.8.15]

Photoshop essentials [website]. Starry night sky effect. Available from: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-e”ects/starry-night-sky- e”ect-photoshop-cs6/ [accessed 23.8.15]

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

V&A Museum [website]. Shadow catchers – camera-less photography. Available
from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/channel/people/photography/shadow_catchers_camer less_photography_susan_derges/

V&A. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography – Susan Derges. Available from:https://vimeo.com/13149808

A5 EYV – contact sheets

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7TH SEPTEMBER 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT A5 EYV – CONTACT SHEETS

Attached below are contact sheets, with captions broadly describing each phase of the shoot, which was across three days. In the end my selects were of uncluttered compositions, with refraction of water included in the backdrop, with a consistent quality of light. I was inspired in particular by the work of David Hockney. I dismissed all morning shots and most evening shots as they didn’t combine well with the bright light shots to form a consistent series.

The numbers of the selects (not in order of the final series) are:

#54 – electric refraction effect on pool steps (abstract of architectural element)
#79 – leap into the pool (alternative way of getting in) # 82 – relaxing in the pool (on inflatable bed)
#181 – landing in the pool (shock of the cold)
#198 – swimming
# 214 – handstand, with assistance
# 230 – floating at night (final image in series – night closes) # 279 – edge of pool (reshoot to simplify composition)
# 288 – underwater beach chair (below the water / depth)

Click on image for gallery view

 

A5 EVY – preparation

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4TH SEPTEMBER 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT
A5 EYV – PREPARATION

The mind map for the preparation of A5 is attached below – in the Simplemind application, online references are hyperlinked.

The brief requires 10 shots of any chosen subject, with each containing new information and presenting a unique view of the subject. The shots are to be presented as a series, with a narrative that explains, ‘what is it about?’ I considered the meaning of the words. Subject could be interpreted as a specific object within the context of presenting a ‘unique view’, but I am reading it broadly to include a topic, concept, figure, thing or person. Information then is concerned with facts related to the chosen subject. Unique can be read as ‘one of a kind’ or ‘special / unusual’. So here, I interpret it as relating to a view of the subject, offering a different perspective on it or different information.

In choosing my subject, I considered options for photos that could be taken during a Greek holiday with my family; a historic site, a local village, the villa where we were staying, or the family holiday itself. A challenge was to avoid producing images that would look like a clichėd tourist brochure, since photos of the blue and white of Greece are ubiquitous. For this reason I dismissed a number of my initial ideas. I initially tried some test shots around the villa – to present perspectives on this, but felt it was too broad a subject with many possible POVs that may not fit into a cohesive series. I was also concerned it could create a perception that it was a tourist brochure for the villa – as we are frequently exposed to such images. Moreover, I did not like the way the shoot was progressing. Here are a couple of example images:

In the end I decided that the swimming pool of the villa would be a more rewarding subject – both because of the quality of the light around it and in the water and the di!erent human activities around the pool.

Considering other photographers for inspiration:

  • Susan Dergres work of the moon viewed beneath the water, researched during my previous assignment (see here) came to mind, with the effect of refraction on the subject.
  • I was aware of David Hockney’s paintings of pools (A Bigger Splash) and found that he’d also photographed pools, with work shown as part of an exhibition, The Backyard Oasis (the catalogue can still be purchased). I also located a YouTube video of the gallery curator and photographer, Michael Childers, discussing the exhibition. The minimal visual density of the images and the square format seems to create a clarity that echoes the clarity of the pools. Michael Childer’s photographs also feature in the exhibition.
  • I uncovered a couple of other photographers of pools through online research – Marieke van der Velden, a Dutch photojournalist, who produced a series of photos of hotel pools from her travels; and Slim Aarons an American 1950s society photographer.

 

My preliminary idea for my shoot was to:

  • Use square format to reflect a more abstract composition (rather than landscape or portrait). Selected in-camera with the Panasonic LX100 I was using as a light travel camera.
  • For low POV shots around the pool, use a Gorilla-pod and remote shutter control of the camera with the Panasonic iPhone app.
  • Show different perspectives on the uses of a pool throughout the day and into the night.

However, I found that the varying light throughout the day, combined with some night shots did not sit well where the photos were placed together as part of a series. They lacked coherence. therefore, I reshot some of the images to create a series that shared bright afternoon light, with one night image as a full-stop to end the series.

REFERENCES

Getty Images [website]. Slim Aarons archive. Available
from: http://www.gettyimagesgallery.com/collections/archive/slim- aarons.aspx [accessed 4.9.15]
Marieke van der Velden [website] http://www.mariekevandervelden.com/#/swimming-pools- worldwide/ [accessed 4.9.15]
Palm Springs Museum. Backyard oasis
exhibition. http://www.psmuseum.org/palm- springs/exhibition/backyard-oasis-swimming-pool-southern- california-photography/ [accessed 4.9.15]
Palm Springs Gallery [Youtube]. Michael Childers –
Backyard Oasis Exhibition. http://youtu.be/RsIVWc9TfFI [accessed 4.9.15]
Dergres S [website]. Susan Dergres/Moons [online gallery]. Available from: http://www.susanderges.com. [Accessed 21.8.15]
The Telegraph (nd) [website]. David Hockney and the Californian
Swimming Pool. Available
from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/9022598/David- Hockney-and-the-Californian-swimming-pool-in-
photography.html [accessed 4.9.15]
Tate Gallery [website]. A bigger splash by David Hockney.
Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hockney-a- bigger-splash-t03254 [accessed 4.9.15]
V&A. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography – Susan Derges.
Available from:https://vimeo.com/13149808 [accessed 4.9.15]

André Kertész – master photographers

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6TH SEPTEMBER 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT

ANDRÉ KERTÉSZ – MASTER PHOTOGRAPHERS

This 40 minute BBC documentary is an interview with André Kertész (1894 -1985) as an old man looking back on his life and his work. I always find it fascinating to hear photographers talking about their own work and views on photography and to get some sense of the person. Things I learned:

Despite being persuaded by his agent to move to America between WW1 and WW2, his work was not accepted there at that time. Stuck there because of the war, it is still a period in his life about which he seems to feel resentment. He describes how his work was rejected by Life and other magazines. They considered it too sentimental and carrying too much of a story. I assume that this was at odds with the straight, documentary style photography of Walker Evans and Robert Frank.

We are treated to a discussion of some of Kertész’s work – I find it charming with a pictorial style; he comments that the details (through photographic technique) are not necessary to tell his story. Instead I can enjoy the simple forms contrasted within broad areas of deep blacks and highlights within the frame.

We learn that he processed his own photos, but his approach was not discussed in any detail. The style reminds me of Bill Brandt – images sculpted out of black and white.

On photography itself, Kertész has some observations:

He believes that subjects find him – he does not deliberately seek them out. He photographs firstly for himself and does not take on work he does not believe in.

He sees the camera as an instrument and the human eye as an equivalent organic instrument. In creating a photo (and in seeing things), he says it is the thinking that is important, not so much the instrument.

He looks for stories when framing photos and talks enthusiastically about the unfolding scenes in his work.

In his old age and since the passing of his wife, we are told that Kertész rarely leaves his New York apartment and spends his time photographing some of the objects he has collected over his years. These are featured in a picture book, From my Window, and share the pictorial style of the rest of his work.

Kertész sounded like a romantic when he was speaking and I see his masterful work as romantic.

REFERENCE

BBC TV production (1983). André Kertész – Master Photographer. Available from:https://youtu.be/Olc_QLDPUeU [accessed 6.9.15]

Daido Moriyama – book review

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23RD AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT DAIDO MORIYAMA – BOOK

REVIEW

I recently read the small format book on Daido Moriyama, that includes examples of his work with accompanying narrative and a short biography of Moriyama written by Nishii.

The biography gives some fascinating insight into the life of the artist and his aims. His dislike of urbanisation, participation in an international youth movement, and the PROVOKE photography movement in Japan.

In the context of my other recent research, I was interested to read that the PROVOKE group proposed a ‘distance’ between the photographer and the viewer, implying psychological as well as special distance. Nishii states that Moriyama and his associates were the first photographers to be aware of the dual distance.

Moriyama is a street photographer and enjoys the life and crowds of busy cities. His photographs are all in black and white and processed as high contrast images, with shadow details often lost in blackness and highlights bleached out. This is not the documentary-style of Walker Evans, but something that feels dark and dramatic. In the Tate Modern video, Moriyama tells us how monochrome feels better to him, more abstract and focused on forms. He also explains (and we see him use) a compact camera with a zoom lens for his photography.

Moriyama see photography as a way of allowing people to connect with their memories. The lack of detail and texture in the images seems to reflect this – they are like hazy memories, dreamlike. Perhaps I am also drawn to them as an antidote to the extreme sharp and detailed images that are currently common place.

Despite Moriyama’s work being exhibited in art galleries around the work, he explains that he does not really see his work as art and is more interested in the book format for showing his photos.

A great photographer with a clear and distinctive vision for his photos.

REFERENCES

Nishii K. Daido Moriyama. London, Phaidon Press Ltd, 2012 edition.

Tate Modern, Video. Daido Moriyama: In Pictures. Available from: http://bcove.me/uodutw8o [accessed 23.8.15]

Deep space in Photoshop

[recreated from pdf after blog crash]

22ND AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT DEEP SPACE IN PHOTOSHOP

As part of my research for OCA assignment 4, I looked at the feasibility of creating a deep space scene in Photoshop for placement of my ‘apple as moon’ in a context rather than a black- out space directly from the shoot.

I found this is possible by creating a new file an first filling the background layer with black. The next step is to add noise (or stars) using the ‘add noise’ filter and apply gaussian blur to the noise so the stars are not too sharp. Then the levels adjustment is used to increase the black eliminate some of the noise (so creating space between the stars).

I then layered this effect with different levels adjustments. And finally added some coloured layers (deep blues and yellows) to give more complexity to the scene.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.16.00

Not shown in the screen shot above, but photoshop lens flare does a good impression of a bright star.

For further development of this method, I intend to use brushes to add a white speckled layer of brighter stars.

Bibliography

BluelightningTV [website], YouTube video. Photoshop: How to Quickly Create Stars, Planets and Faraway Galaxies. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhJfC1SuU0. [accessed 23.8.15]

Photoshop essentials [website]. Starry night sky effect. Available from: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-e!ects/starry- night-sky-e!ect-photoshop-cs6/ [accessed 23.8.15]

Ex 5.3 – response to ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’

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6TH SEPTEMBER 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT E4.3 EYV

” Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like.

For this exercise, I am pretending that I know nothing of this famous photograph or of the time when it was taken. I create an imaginary context for it and attribute my own meaning. This will demonstrate that while a photograph communicates information, on its own it communicates no specific meaning. That is down to the reader of the photograph.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.09.55

Source: moma.com

In the background are the train station buildings and a clock tower. It is around twenty-past twelve, noon. It is a time of celebration, but of what? The poster on the wall shows a man leaping as a promotion for a circus coming to town; the famous Railowsky acrobatic troup from Poland. But this is not such an exceptional event, and no cause for a real celebration. A shadowy figure observes from the railings, he too is unsure of what is happening, but he sees the spectacle. The man leaping across the waste-ground, like a playful child not the hatted and suited adult he his. The water reflects everything in the scene like a mirror, two times the joy. Finally, in the foreground are opened metal hoops, straining to rejoin as circles. This symbolises the celebration. The man is about to meet the train that will reunite him with his wife and children, after their 3 year evacuation from the city during the years of war.

REFERENCE

Museum of Modern Art [website]. Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare – Henri Cartier-Bresson. Available
from: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/98333 [accessed 6.9.15]

Ex 5.1 – camera as measuring device

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23RD AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT E5.1 EYV

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. (OCA EYV)

These photos are of my wife, who is not fond of being photographed, and moreover I gave her no forewarning that she was about to become part of a photography exercise. During the shoot, I talked light-heartedly to her, trying to elicit different responses.

The camera used was a Panasonic Lumix LX100, set to aperture priority. At the time, the daylight was fading and I forgot to adjust the camera settings in my haste to grab the photos. The first 3 photos are at f/7.1, with shutter speed as low as 1/5 sec. I noticed the settings and adjusted up to f/2.8 with shutter speeds at around 1/30 sec for the last 4 photos. All are at an efl of 70mm.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.00.38

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.01.11

My selected shot is number 5. When viewed close, there is ambiguity in her eyes – there is half-smile and half dissident. This is more interesting than the open smiles, where the communication (distance) is clear. It is also more interesting than image 1, where her eyes are questioning what is happening – again the distance is clear, it almost says, ‘you are not welcome’.

Ex 5.2 – response to Bill Brandt

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24TH AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT E5.3 EYV

” Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it.

I have chosen a Bill Brandt photograph that was originally published in Lilliput Magazine, which was an arts and photography magazine published in the UK in the 1940s and 1950s.

Ian Jeffery explains Brandt’s photos in this period in his introduction to Photographs 1928 – 1983:

” … it is the furrow of the gutter that is treated as real spaces … townscapes play on an idea of disappearance into that infinite fold, as if he were some kind of photographic sculptor attentive to the point where the representation meets and slips into a shadowy reality.

Jeffery explains that the most outstanding of these
townscapes was ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’ (1948). Here is the photo to which I have responded:

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 21.48.17

Source: beetlesandhuxley.com

I know from the caption that the photo is taken in Halifax, a town of the industrial revolution in West Yorkshire. Brandt’s title includes references to bad weather (hail), bad living or working conditions (hell) and the location (Halifax). These conditions were common to the towns of the industrial revolution – cramped living conditions, close to the mills and their smoking chimneys. The cobbled (stone set) street was a precursor to modern roads and many of these are still preserved in old English towns. The weather in the North of England is unfortunately often inclement.

The style of the image itself is ‘sculpted’ as Je!ery puts it. Brandt has worked in the dark room to close up the shadows into blackness and bring out light on the pathway. The industrial buildings are silhouetted, dark and forbidding. There is little detail or texture, only the stones of the path, surrounded by black blocks hewn in the processing. This is not an image taken straight from the camera-machine, it has a human touch.

The presentation of both images in this instance is within the context of this blog, both reproduced and transmitted over the internet and mostly likely viewed small-scale on a computer screen. The narrative is shared for the photos – here they are part of a piece of photographic research.

Brandt’s picture was commissioned by Lilliput Magazine, which had a focus on arts on photography. So, it was originally presented as art and not documentary-style photography of industrial an industrial town.

Here is my response to Brandt’s photo:

Response to Brandt

Fuji X-T1, 52mm efl f1.4. 1/750 sec @ f/8. Castle Street, Skipton.

There is a similarity in the subject matter. While Skipton is an ancient town, it was transformed into a busy mill-town during the industrial revolution due to its location on the Leeds- Liverpool canal. The photo shows similar cobbled streets, and the terraced housing is also typical of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately there is no avoiding the ubiquitous cars.

While Brandt worked with film and a dark room, I have tried to replicate a similar style in Lightroom. I made extensive use of the brush to add light and shade to the RAW file, particularly to increase the black. I think this approach captures a similar mood to Brandt’s photo – the dark-light, and removal of much of the detail and texture.

My image was shot on a bright summer afternoon, with high contrast in the scene. Ideally, I would have shot in lower contrast conditions, with wet stone cobbles. I was not able to
arrange Brandt’s weather conditions!

REFERENCES

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

iPad for photography research

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30TH AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT
IPAD FOR PHOTOGRAPHY RESEARCH

Sometimes I need to travel light, with a small mirrorless camera and an iPad as companions, but I don’t want that to stand in the way of making the most of any time I have available for research. As I sit enjoying a coffee with a view of the Mediterranean, I’m making a record of tools and workflows I find useful while travelling light. That way, I won’t need to recreate the next time, and it might encourage me to travel light (which is extremely liberating!) more often:

  1. Blogpad Pro – a great tool for creating blog-posts off-line and then syncing to an online blog. Very simple to use with a similar interface to WordPress itself. One can even pull posts started online and then complete off-line on the move. The best time-optimiser I’ve found for blogging!
  2. Simplemind+ mind mapping app. I have the desktop version of this for planning and researching my work. The app allows syncing of maps through drop-box across any device with Simplemind installed. The app allows insertion of thumb-nails of images, hyper-links to webpages, and export of pictures of your mind maps (which I include in my blog). To use these tools well, one should understand the techniques of mind mapping first – there are plenty of good books on this.
  3. For word reference and exploring the semantics in books and briefs, I use the app versions of The Oxford English Dictionary (free for online version) and the Chambers Thesaurus. These I also carry on my iPhone for instant reference. Both these apps allow export of definitions to the clipboard, so the can be pasted into a blog post, or as a text note in a mind map.
  1. Apps for camera. This is camera manufacturer-dependent, so here I only describe for the Panasonic LX100 I am travelling with. The Panasonic Image app has various functions, activated through wi-fi connection between device and camera. These include remote control of the camera (think cable-release on acid), review and deletion of in-camera images without transferring to device, transfer of images to device. I shoot RAW plus standard JPEG – the app (and those of other manufacturers only act on JPEG files due to RAW file sizes). However, when reviewing the in-camera images, deletion is applied to any files with the same time-stamp, so unwanted RAW files are also deleted from the SD card. A great time saver for editing of a shoot.
  2. Finally there are apps for processing. The constraint here is that they only act on the JPEG files, which is not ideal but at least allows one to try out some processing ideas. A bit like a sketch-pad. The Lightroom app does have another trick up its sleeve to deal with RAW files, described below:Lightroom app. This allows any of the basic processing adjustments found in the desktop version, LR presets, posting of images online and syncing to desktop. The very neat trick is if you start from RAW files from your desktop and sync these to LR mobile, a virtual file is created for use on the iPad. Any adjustments (including meta-data) made on the iPad can then be synced back and applied to the RAW file. It just syncs the adjustment data rather than the full image files. Free with CC subscription.

    PS touch – a very light version of Photoshop for the iPad. I’ve not yet used this enough to conclude on its usefulness but my feeling is that it will be limited to a sketch-pad for trying out ideas. Free with CC subscription.

    Photoshop mix. A new app that I’ve not yet used, but seems to be for photo-montage. Free with CC subscription.

There are a large number of other apps for photo-processing, but as I’m invested in the Adobe infrastructure, I tend to keep things simple by limiting myself. To explore other apps, the best place to start is perhaps a recent post from somewhere like Techradar.

I’m determined that by the end of my two-weeks travelling light, I’ll become a convert. I’d be very interest to hear from anyone else exploring this area.

Photographs & context – Terry Barnett

[Recreated from pdf following blog crash]

23RD AUGUST 2015 / 1 COMMENT / EDIT

PHOTOGRAPHS & CONTEXT – TERRY BARNETT

Terry Barnett (1945) is an American art critic and professor of art. His short essay, Photographs and context, gives an introduction to the importance of context to photographic images.

Barnett describes several examples of how photographs placed in different contexts, or accompanied by di!erent textual narrative take on different meanings. Insightfully and expertly done, but almost to the point of being tautological.

Most referenced is the story of a photograph by Robert Doisneau of a romantic couple in a café that Doisneau had asked
permission to photograph as part of a project of cafés in Paris. In various contexts this same image had been portrayed as a romantic meeting, an indication of alcohol abuse in Paris, and evidence of prostitution.

Barnet explains that is not just the narrative that can alter the meaning of a photograph. He uses examples of placement in di!erent magazines that represent different points of view (and therefore the message we anticipate), and the placement of documentary photographs in art galleries (images that were intended to provide information on poverty, become images to be viewed as art).

He summarises, saying:

” In interpreting [photographs]….. there three sources of information are available for examination: information evident in the picture, information surrounding the picture in its presentation, and information about the pictures making.

He calls these the internal context, the external context and the original context. Each of these aspects requires thought to avoid reaching the incorrect reading of a photograph. And the information available will frequently be imperfect.

I conclude that while photographs contain information, they contain no inherent meaning. They cannot argue, or complain about being unfairly represented. Perhaps it is only literature amongst the arts that can possess inherent meaning.

REFERENCE

Barnett T (nd), extract from essay. Photographs and
context. Available
from: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf [accessed 23.8.15]

Understanding a photograph – John Berger

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28TH AUGUST 2015 / 0 COMMENTS / EDIT UNDERSTANDING A PHOTOGRAPH – JOHN BERGER

This book contains a series of Essays by John Berger, written between the late 1960s and the 1980s. The essays cover a range of photography related topics, including the theoretical (eg understanding a photograph), examinations of specific photographs and photographers, and a response to Susan Sontag’s On Photography. It is worth noting that in describing the context for photography, Berger makes frequent reference to socialist values with an anti-capitalist perspective.

What I enjoyed about the book is Berger’s ability to demystify Art and express the understanding of photography with clarity through the use of analogy and references to other art, and with examples of his own writings on specific photographs. It is a book to return to for ideas and inspiration and not necessarily something to be read straight through.

I list here a few of the points I have annotated in the book for my future reference:

  1. When talking about the amount of information in a photograph, Berger uses the term ‘visual density’ – a useful descriptor.
  2. When writing in 1970s, Berger defines Art as something that has a significant financial value and therefore as photography has little property value (it can be easily replicated), it is not Art. He also dismisses process- based definitions of art and not useful as they can equally apply to craft activities. Perhaps, now in 2015, photography has become an Art under

Berger’s definition.

  1. ‘Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph results from a decision… that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen.’ With current technology )particularly phones) it is arguable whether there is much decision making involved in many photos – for some, it seems to have become an unthinking habit.
  2. ‘The good photograph is the well-composed one … true only in so far as we think of photographic images imitating painted ones’.
  3. ‘One might argue that photography is as close to music as painting’. This has occurred to me as a musician – it even uses similar terminology; chromatic scale (and colour), tonality, and perhaps most critically, both have timing as part of their essence.
  4. ‘Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actual a trace of it’. I think this is true to a lesser extent now with the advent of digital imaging and manipulation, when the trace of the original subject can be completely transformed.
  5. ‘. . unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances – with all the credibility and gravity we normally lend to appearances – prised away from their meaning’. ‘Meaning is discovered in what connects … without a story there is no meaning. Facts, information, do not in themselves constitute meaning.’
  6. ‘All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity.’

I’m sure I’ll be revisiting Berger’s book over the coming years!

REFERENCE

Berger J. Understanding a Photograph. Kindle edition, Penguin Classics, 2013.

Vanitas and chiaroscuro in photographs

As further research for my OCA assignment 4, I examine here the concepts of vanitas and chiaroscuro in the context of photography still life.
I previously looked at the work of Sam Taylor-Wood (1967) in the context of decay (see here). Cutter describes Taylor-Wood’s work within the concept of vanitas:

In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries though also common in other places and periods. The word is Latin, meaning  “emptiness” and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of Vanity. Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit, which symbolizes decay like ageing; bubbles, which symbolize the brevity of life and suddenness of death; smoke, watches, and hourglasses, which symbolize the brevity of life; and musical instruments, which symbolize brevity and the ephemeral nature of life. Sam Taylor Wood’s work (Still Life, Video Stills, 2001) is another step in this direction: the image, beautiful as ever in Taylor-Wood’s universe, decomposes itself. By the end, nothing is left but a grey amorphous mass. On closer inspection, one thing distinguishes this picture from its predecessors. The ball-point pen. A cheap, contemporary object that doesn’t decay.

 The Dutch School of painting is renowned for its use of chiaroscuro (use of light and dark to provide contrast and depict the volume of subjects). Last year, I was fortunate to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and see Rembrandt’s expansive painting, The Night Watch (see http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/rembrandt/belangrijkste- werken/de-nachtwacht). This complex use of light and dark is used to great effect in photography too – for example some of the other stills from Taylor-Wood’s work remind me of the light in the Dutch masters’ work.

Another photographer using this technique is Ori Gerscht (1967). In his work Gerscht literally blew up an arrangement of flowers and made a series of images from the explosion. Again we see the chiaroscuro effect giving depth and contrast to the photo.

I see how the symbolism through vanitas can trigger an emotional response in the viewer and how chiaroscuro creates visual impact as well as reminding us of the light and dark side of life. For my next iteration of apple as moon, I’ll reflect on how I can introduce these effects.

REFERENCE

Cutter S (2010). Photographs do not bend [website]. Sam Taylor Wood: Vanitas. Available
from: http://www.photographsdonotbend.co.uk/2010/09/sam-taylor- wood-vanitas.html [accessed 23.8.15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Art Net [website]. Sam Taylor-Wood Gallery. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sam-taylor-wood/ [accessed 23.8.15]
Demos TJ (2007). Tate Gallery [website]. A matter of time. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/matter- time [accessed 23.8.15].

Mummer Schnelle Gallery, Ori Gerscht[online]. Time After Time & Blow Up [2007]. Available from: http://www.mummeryschnelle.com/pages/oriselector.htm [accessed 23.8.15].

The National Gallery of Art [website]. Dutch and Flemish Painting of the 16th-17th centuries. Available from: http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/dutch-2.html [accessed 23.8.15].
National Gallery [website]. Glossary – chiaroscuro. Available from: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/chiaroscuro [access 23.8.15]

Moon and celestial bodies

As part of my OCA assignment 4, I was recommended to do further research into photographs of the moon and celestial bodies. Here I look at the work of Ansel Adams, Susan Dergres, and Kevin Newark.

Ansel Adams’ photography, Moonrise, is probably his most famous image. He took the image in a rush to capture moment and couldn’t find his light meter. However, he knew the luminance of the moon, so used this as a guide for setting his exposure.

Source: anseladams.com
Source: anseladams.com

Adams has been described as a Precisionist photographer (Rosenblum p420), meaning that he was a champion of straight photography (vs pictorialism) and master of detail and texture. This style of photography was promoted through the f/64 Group of which Adams was a founding member.

The moon itself is a small spec in the image but set in high contrast against the dark sky, which is in turn separated from the foreground by a band of light from the fading sun. The composition is arranged in the golden-ratio, which Adams liked to work with.

The photo is a good example of the disproportionate power of a point to draw in the eye.

Susan Dergres (1955) is a contemporary British photographer, who uses an extraordinary technique to capture images from the view-point of beneath the water. Her technique involves putting photographic paper into the water and exposing it without using a camera!

The unusual technique made me at first question what I was seeing. Was it a reflection in the water – but it didn’t look like one? Was it digitally manipulated – but it looked natural? The image didn’t have the same light haze as a photo taken with an underwater camera. Then, at last reading how the images were created help me to understand.

In contrast to Adam’s photo, there is no sense of scale. There is a design and we know it is the moon because we recognise it as such. The ripples on the water create a peaceful, other worldly e!ect. Primordial, taking us back to under the water. Quite wonderful!

Another photographer concerned with the celestial is Kevin Newark’s Protoplasm. I’d previously looked at his work in the context of decay and renewal (see here). Newark explains (The Exposure Project):

”My practice resonates around the themes of space, time, anxiety and displacement. In photographing discarded plastic carrier bags found in the canals of East London, I looked to find some solace for the exiled soul of the plastic bag.

The bags appear to be photographed at night, in the water, giving the impression of them floating in deep space.

The work of Dergres and Newark triggers the idea of taking my studio outdoors at night to photograph my apple as the moon in the water.

REFERENCES

The Exposure Project (2009) [website]. Explanation from Kevin Newark. Available from: http://theexposureproject.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/kevin- newarks-protoplasm.html [accessed 22.8.15]

Dergres S [website]. Susan Dergres/Moons [online gallery]. Available from: http://www.susanderges.com. [Accessed 21.8.15]

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

V&A Museum [website]. Shadow catchers – camera-less photography. Available
from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/channel/people/photography/shadow_catchers_camer less_photography_susan_derges/

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anseladams.com [online]. The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez. Available from: http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-anecdotes/ [accessed 20.8.15]

Adams M [on YouTube] (nd). Ansel Adam’s son on the making of Moonrise. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZaD0W3yms

V&A. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography – Susan Derges. Available from:https://vimeo.com/13149808

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Anseladams.com [online]. The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez. Available from: http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-anecdotes/ [accessed 20.8.15]

Adam M [on YouTube] (nd). Ansel Adam’s son on the making of Moonrise. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZaD0W3yms

Photography a concise history – book review

To put a backbone into my research on photography, I’ve invested in a couple of books on its history. Picked up at a reasonable price secondhand online. The first one, Photography a concise history, carries the stamp of Lancashire Library inside its front cover – I can only assume that it was acquired legitimately by the online book store from which I purchased it!

The book covers the period from the invention of the camera in the 1830s through to the 1970s. It deals only with European and American photographers. Each of its 10 chapters covers a period in time, the principle photographers in the period, and the social and artistic context for the period. Interestingly, each chapter is given a thematic title that reflect the mood in its period.  In total the book contains 136 images, with 8 in colour.

While the writing style is a little dry, I find the book valuable:

  • It provides some social context within each chapter, so it is possible to understand something of the environment the photographers were working in and how it was either reflected in their work or not.
  • Importantly, it explains the connection between the photographers, either personal or in time.
  • The genres and styles of the photographers are discussed alongside the images in the book.

The book is limited in its geographic outlook, but that also allows it to be concise. If there is one area in which I would have liked to have seen more content, that is the post World War II period. This is allowed only one chapter of the 10. Either there was not so much happening in that period, or what was happening was not of so much interest to the author.

Overall, a good investment for my research!

Bibliography

Jeffery I (1981). Photography a concise history. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Behind the image – book review

Behind the Image is a guide to the photographic ‘research processes that underpin successful, meaningful photography’. It explains the importance of research in photography succinctly:

A body of photographic work is developed through knowledge gained in exploring the medium.

The book covers the following broad areas:

  • Planning – the initial ideas, fact-finding and objective setting.
  • Developing ideas through research – explores the potential research tools and how to develop a framework for research.
  • Practice as research – looks into practice-based research
  • Compiling research – discusses ways of recording research for future reference and reflection
  • Research and practice – examines the continuous working process of research and practice
  • The impact of research – discusses the value of research in the contemporary world.

While this is a reference book, it is written in accessible language, with a clarity sometimes lacking in art books. A few of the important  lessons I took from the book for my own needs at this time are:

  1. Understand the history of photography and photographers (from several sources) as a way of placing and connecting different photographers.
  2. Read widely to refresh own thinking on photography.
  3. Use mind maps to record ideas during planning.
  4. Visit the National Media Museum (in Bradford and a short journey by train for me!)
  5. Use an RSS reader to track new entries on blogs of interest.
  6. Treat the practice of photography (taking pictures) and post processing as research and record it for reference.
  7. Think of my blog (this one) as record of my ongoing research for future reference and development, not just for the purposes of my OCA studies.
  8. Get into a working habit where research becomes connected to practice in a way that makes the two things hard to separate – second nature.
  9. My final point (didn’t make it an even 10) is a direct quote from the book:

In order for research to have real impact, the following are vital: access; discussion and thinking; writing; and response making. Research needs to reach an audience, as methods of communication and dissemination of ideas plan an important role in conveying new knowledge and debate.

This last point needs some reflection in itself as I currently feel in a small bubble, with my only real audience and feedback comes from the OCA level 1 Facebook page! There must be other outlets.

 

Bibliography

Fox A and Caruana N (2012). Behind the image – research in photography. London, Thames & Hudson.

A4 EYV – feedback

I received my tutor’s feedback for assignment 4 on 31 July, but have been waiting for some clarification before writing this post. My impression from the feedback was that there was a concern that I wasn’t fully engaged in the course, but this was based purely on the short pdf extract of my blog post directly related to the assignment. I sent an additional pdf of the the other work and research from part and received a positive message about my level of engagement. Anyway lesson learnt that my tutor doesn’t like to look online and I should send a pdf of all my latest blog material!

Putting this aside, the feedback for assignment 4 came with a raft of suggestions for additional research to undertake and reflect upon before reconsidering the assignment and reshooting it. I summarise this feedback here:

  1. Engage with ‘process-led enquiry’ – iterative engagement with practice and theory until full potential of subject / project is explored.
  2. Additional research into related photographic works (including Adam’s Moonrise and Susan Derges’, Kevin Newark’s images related to the moon/celestial bodies. Also, consider photographers who have photographed fruit: Sam Tayor-Wood, Ori Gersht, Harold Edgerton (meets Dutch still lives)
  3. Consider related  art works – Dutch still lives, learning about Chiaroscuro and Vanitas (Holbein referenced as essential).
  4. Invest in some solid books for research – history of photography, photography now, Time and photography – David Green.
  5. Look regularly at photography magazines/blogs for reference

This is a substantial amount of work, but I appreciate the useful guidance as I familiarise myself with studying an art subject!

Tutor’s feedback is attached here: andrew_fitzgibbon_assignment_4_feedback

Walker Evans

In this post I look at the photos of Walker Evans (1903 – 1975), in his renowned book, American Photographs. As photos of their time, they are all in black and white. The book was first published in 1938, following an exhibition of the works in MoMa, New York. The cover material tells us that we should look at the images in sequence – the photos are deliberately arranged as a series in two parts. The first part of the book, showing us the life and people of American and the second, the architecture. It is intended to show us what life was like in America.

Source: erickimphotography.com
Source: erickimphotography.com

The photographic style is straight, revealing details of the scenes and people photographed. Mostly, Evans takes a point of view immediately facing the scene, which makes it easy for us to examine the details in the photos. Evans tells us (Cummings) that he was ‘photographing against the style of the time, against salon photography, against beauty photography, against art photography.’

While the photos show detailed information, they are carefully composed, with the frame containing no distractions from the main subject of each photo. They have a kind of calmness. I think that is one aspect that makes the photos remarkable – they show us carefully framed extracts from everyday life but feel like still-lives rather than the active-lives.

Evans himself (Cummings) defines the documentary-style that is associated with his work:

I use the word “style” particularly because in talking about it many people say “documentary photograph.” Well, literally a documentary photograph is a police report of a dead body or an automobile accident or something like that. But the style of detachment and record is another matter. That applied to the world around us is what I do with the camera, what I want to see done with the camera.

‘Detachment’ is another word for what I feel when looking at the photos. I do not feel involved, like I would in the work of modern photographers such as Joe Meyerowitz. This allows me to better take in the facts or details of the photos, without strong emotions being conveyed in the images.

Like William Eggleston, who came much later, Evan’s subject matter is banal but Evans is interested in showing us the detail of the subject matter. For example, the signage outside a photography store or a garage with tyres and spare parts displayed outside. Whereas Eggleston’s images are more concerned with the interaction of forms and colours, often with little in the way of details.

Evans’ photos provide a record of what places were like in America at that time. As a non-American and a viewer over 75 years after the event, they are interesting. Would the same approach be interesting in my local environment now, when travelling is convenient, and when photographic images are all around us? A question to consider in a review of the work of modern photographers.

Reference

Cummings P (1971). Smithsonion Archives of American Art [website]. Interview with Walker Evans [transcript of interview]. Available from: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-walker-evans-11721 [accessed 18.8.15]

Evans W (1938). Walker Evans: American Photographs. UK, 75th anniversary ed., Tate Enterprises Ltd.

Bibliography

Jeffrey I. Photography – a concise history (p172-177)London, 1981, Thames and Hudson.

Kim E (2013). Eric Kim Photography [blog]. What Walker Evans taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/09/05/17-lessons-walker-evans-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 18.8.15]

William Eggleston

Glover describes William Eggleston as the godfather of colour photography. He explains that:

He has had many detractors, and many of those critics spoke up when his work was shown at MoMa, New York, in 1976, in a retrospective that helped to define the nature of photography in our time. Forty years ago, his photographs were dismissed as banal, inconsequential and ramshackle in the extreme. The New York Times called it “the most hated show of the year”

Kim explains that when he first saw Eggleston’s work ‘he just didn’t get it’. Eggleston is renowned as being somewhat cantankerous and not found of giving interviews or talking about his work, which can be see in Glover’s Q&A session.

Source: Guardian online.
Source: Guardian online.

In this post, I consider the Eggleston’s colour work and reflect upon what I might learn from him. I base this mainly on looking at Eggleston’s work in his book, William Eggleston’s Guide, but also from review of the other source referenced, including Almereyda’s insightful documentary.

  • The subject matter of the photographs is completely unremarkable, utterly banal: a dog drinking from a puddle, a jigsaw puzzle on a table, an empty road and trees silhouetted against the sky and so on. I can see how this makes the images difficult to understand at first – they are not what we expect in a photograph.
  • Once one gets beyond the subject matter and starts looking at the form and placement of the shapes in frame, the work makes sense. For example, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi (p52) is block of ground with vibrant textured sand, with a plain box building resting on the horizon, and a block of grey/white clouds above. The form of the shapes and their colours makes a compelling composition. But if one focuses only on the subject matter, this is difficult to see.
  • The photos seem to be carefully composed, with attention to the placement of the objects and lines within the frame. While the frames contain only a few objects, they appear full with activity because of this careful placement.
  • Perhaps most important to the images are the vibrant colour tones – the colours are an essential component to the photos, rather than a distraction that interferes with the form of the objects. I learned in the documentary that Eggleston uses dye-transfer to make his prints, which was originally used for magazine and advertising copy, to give a wider colour spectrum than normal photographic prints.

I struggled with Eggleston’s work at first, but with perseverance and a different perspective on the purpose of a photograph, I enjoy it very much.

Bibliography

Almereyda M (2005). William Eggleston Documentary: In The Real World. Available from: YouTube:https://youtu.be/Lq3N2KWAttU [Accessed 15.8.15]

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

The Guardian Art and Design [online] . William Eggleston Americana. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/apr/05/william-eggleston-photography-americana [accessed 16.8.15]

Glover M (2013). Independent [online]. Genius in colour: Why William Eggleston is the world’s greatest photographer. Available from:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/genius-in-colour-why-william-eggleston-is-the-worlds-greatest-photographer-8577202.html [accessed 15.8.15]

Kim E (2013). Eric Kim Photography [blog]. Lessons William Eggleston has taught me about photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/04/01/10-lessons-william-eggleston-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/

 

A3 EYV – rework

Introduction

In the feedback on my first take of assignment 3, my tutor made several helpful suggestions, including recommending a number of street photographers to research, and a comment that she would like to see my work shot in colour (see here for summary of feedback).

I’ve learned much about the approach of renowned street photographers both in their approach to ‘street craft’ and in what they look for in a good photo. I explore this is detail in my other posts, for example: Garry Winograd, Street Photography Now, and Joel Meyerowitz. In particular, I found documentaries of the photographers at work important in understanding their approaches photographing strangers on the street, and I found Joel Meyerowitz’s work in colour, with its rich contrasts, inspired me to make my own work in colour. I also found William Eggleston’s colour work in small-town American broadened my thinking on what might make worthwhile images in northern English cities, which are not renowned for their colour vibrancy.

My process

I wanted to take the photos in colour, so my challenge was how to ensure a strong rendition of colour in the final images. At this stage, I don’t have a strong knowledge of working with RAW images in Lightroom to generate interesting colour tones, akin to what different types of film might produce. I therefore decide to shoot the project using the jpeg rendition from my Fuji X-T1, which is renowned for producing excellent jpegs modelled on some of their film characteristics. To ensure correct colour balance in the jpegs, I adjusted the white balance in the camera as I moved from location to location in the shoot (using custom settings and a grey reference).

I’d read about some street photographers working with a shutter speed of 1/1000 second to ensure sharp images despite any movement in the subject or the photographer. I wanted to try this approach and therefore, fixed the shutter speed to 1/1000 and aperture to auto. I made periodic adjustments to the ISO to ensure that I generally had a mid-range aperture to give a reasonable depth of field for capturing details of the streets. Where lighting conditions were very poor (for example an indoor market), I compromised on the shutter speed.

I used the same location for the shoot as the original assignment, Leeds city centre. However, my approach to capturing images was different: a) I put my camera on a neck-strap rather than wrist strap as I suspected the action of lifting my arm from my side with the camera triggered some ‘danger response’ in potential subjects (ie is he about to throw something at me?); b) I tried to avoid signalling that I was about to take a picture by not directing my camera at the subject until they were in shooting range – this stopped them either walking around me so they weren’t in the photo (not appreciating that they were the subject!) or being distracted from their own moment by me; c) I aimed to frame and shoot quickly so my subjects were not necessarily sure whether they or something else was being photographed; d) finally, I was sure to smile and nod to people who noticed my presence to show I meant no harm.

Given the conditions were unpredictable (from bright sunshine to heavy rain),  and I had limited time for the shoot, I decided not pre-select a specific topic but just to explore the streets for subjects of interest and then find a linking theme for a final selection of images during edit. However, I collected some useful ideas for future themes, including the hoards of people arriving for Saturday night in Leeds as I was returning home.

The photos

My contact sheets are posted separately (here). Where I also discuss the images that I thought strong, but didn’t fit into my selected theme.

The selected theme is Obscured where subjects in the photos are somehow obscured from our full view. All photos were shot with a Fuji X-T1 and 35mm (53 efl) f/1.4 Fujinon lens.

Click on the images to view as a gallery.

Conclusion

The deliberate intention to work in colour changed the way I thought about the potential of subjects during the shoot. While it added another dimension to think about, it also added the possibility of images that would not work so well in black and white (for example image 2 with its clashing colours). I think Joel Meyerowitz has changed my perspective on street photography as primarily something that is better in black and white!

I feel that the changes in my technical and physical approach to street photography (described under ‘my process’) have led to a significantly improved set of images over the original assignment 3. Inspired by my research on street photographers, the framing is closer/improved and the subjects more interesting – I particularly enjoy the visual pun in image 1.

A3 EYV – rework contact sheets

Introduction

See my separate post (assignment 3 – rework) for an explanation of this work. In this post, I include my contact sheets and specific comments on images that did not make the final selection, but I nonetheless consider to be good photos.

Contact sheets and notes

Below is a gallery of my contact sheets. The images I considered as contenders for the final edit, but in the end were excluded are:

  • #1 – juxtaposition of train colours and interestingly dressed girl. No fit with obscured theme.
  • #12 – overloaded baggage trolley topped with brightly coloured bag and girl trying to manoeuvre it. No fit with obscured theme.
  • #25 – contrast between highly dressed woman and highly ‘vizzed’ cyclist. Woman has back to us, but weak fit with theme.
  • #61 – unwelcome bench companion to girl with red hair. No fit with theme.
  • #79 – my personal favourite of lone lady sitting under curtain display in Leeds market. No fit with theme.
  • #91 – bright price signs against cacophony of clothes colours. No fit with theme.
  • #97 – juxtaposition of blue signs and arrows. No fit with theme.
  • #133 – high contrast car colour and car lights under railway bridge. No fit with theme.

There are a number of obviously sub-standard images. Some of which are the unavoidable result of attempting to capture a potentially good subject but the scene changes. Others are avoidable – where I’m clearly not close enough to the subject to fill the frame and make the image compelling. I need to eliminate these kind of shots.

Click images for gallery view

Joel Meyerowitz

In my continuing exploration of modern street photographers, here I look a the work of Joel Meyerowitz (1938).

Source: In-Public
Source: In-Public

Meyerowitz’s work departs from the traditional black and white format for street photography, used by his contemporary Garry Winogrand and the photographers Westerbeck’s documentary tells us influenced him, Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson. The documentary is one hour long and provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of Meyerowitz on photography as well as showing him in action on the streets.

Meyerowitz talks at length at his approach to street photography and how it evolved over his career as he moved from black and white to colour. His street photographs are mainly from the busy streets of New York City and his approach to photographing did not involve a plan of particular subjects, but just seeing what came up from day-to-day and following his instincts. As the city is so busy, perhaps the unplanned approach works well in his environment.

Looking at the images on the In-public gallery and the documentary, I think a number of things make Meyerowitz’s work exceptional:

  • He successfully incorporates the use of colour into images that are captured in an instant on the streets, adding another dimension to the traditional black and white format of this type of photography. However, he appears to use processing techniques similar to black and white images to achieve high-contrast photos with significant areas of shade that draw the eye into the main subjects.
  • In common with other great street photographers, he captures images close up that show the events of every day life, with an unexpected twist provided through contrasts of different elements (for example, people in paper hats, or extremes of dark and light clothing in passers-by).
  • The linking theme of New York City throughout the photos gives them the feeling of a diary of city life.
  • His subjects mostly appear completely unaware that they are being photographed, which reveals a less aggressive approach to street-craft than that of Garry Winogrand. Though because of this, I feel less involvement in the photographs than in those of Winogrand.

Above all, Meyerowitz’s work has convinced me how colour can be used effectively in the genre of street photography.

References

In-Public (website). Joel Meyerowitz Gallery. Available from: http://www.in-public.com/JoelMeyerowitz/gallery/53 [accessed 28.7.15]

Westerbeck Jr C (1981). Joel Meyerowitz photographer [documentary]. Nimble Thimble Productions Inc. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDSGWy1CU78 [accessed 29.7.15]

Panoramas in Lightroom

To test the new panorama functionality within Lightroom, I took 4 photos of a scene in the English Lakes. No tripod – just handheld to give the functionality a real test!

Here’s a screen shot of LR – just select the photos, right-click, select ‘photo merge’ and then ‘panorama’. A few self-explanatory options are then presented and LR then combines the images to create a panorama – it is incredibly smart at aligning the individual photos (even with my hand-held shots).

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 07.44.56

And the finished test image ……

untitled-2

Garry Winogrand

The feedback I received on assignment 3 encouraged me to look more into modern street photographers, including Garry Winogrand (1928-1984).

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 21.22.59

The Fraenkel gallery displays a good number of Winogrand’s photos. Looking at these reveals the extraordinary range of human activity and emotion he captures in his work. His images capture moments of human interaction and make one wonder what was happening at the time. Viewing them is like visiting a human zoo. It is human life caught by surprise, unposed, in its natural state. And close up.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 21.37.30

O’Hagan comments of Winogrand’s approach, explaining that ‘while his contemporary, Joel Meyerowitz, stalked the streets of New York trying to be invisible, Winogrand did not mind being noticed. Revealingly, though, many of his reluctant subjects only seem to register his presence at the very moment he presses the shutter.’ This same approach is evident in Engler’s documentary of Winogrand at work, but we can also observe how quick he was to frame and shoot before returning to tuning his camera’s settings – it seems that some subjects are not sure whether they have been photographed or if Winogrand is just adjusting his camera.

In Resnick’s fascinating account of a workshop with Winogrand, he explains:

Incredibly, people didn’t react when he photographed them. It surprised me because Winogrand made no effort to hide the fact that he was standing in way, taking their pictures. Very few really noticed; no one seemed annoyed. Winogrand was caught up with the energy of his subjects, and was constantly smiling or nodding at people as he shot. It was as if his camera was secondary and his main purpose was to communicate and make quick but personal contact with people as they walked by.

We are also told that Winogrand used two meterless Leica M4 with 28mm lenses. A small, unobtrusive set up. This focal length adds to the feeling of being close to the subjects in his picture.

My lessons from Winograd are to frame and shoot quickly – do not send a message that you are about to take a photograph and, therefore, disturb the unfolding scene. And, close up is interesting – we can see the emotions, the whites of the eyes!

References

Engler M (1982). Documentary – Contemporary photography in the USA – Garry Winogrand. Available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RM9KcYEYXs [accessed 28.7.15]

O’Hagan S (2014). Guardian online. Garry Winogrand: the restless genius who gave street photography attitude (14 February). Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/15/-sp-garry-winogrand-genius-american-street-photography [accessed 28.7.15]

Resnick M (1988). My Street Photography Workshop With Garry Winogrand. [originally appeared in the June 1988 issue of Modern Photography]. Available from: http://www.photogs.com/bwworld/winogrand.html [accessed 28.7.15]

Bibliography

Fraenkel Gallery (online). Garry Winogrand. https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/garry-winogrand

Kim E blog (2012). 10 things Garry Winogrand can teach you about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/08/20/10-things-garry-winogrand-can-teach-you-about-street-photography/ [accessed 28.7.15]

On being a photographer – book review

The format of this book is a dialogue between David Hurn (a Magnum photographer) and Bill Jay, a long-time friend of Hurn and author specialising in the history and criticism of photography. Jay leads the discussion on ‘being a photographer’. The advice and words of wisdom in the book are from Hurn’s perspective as a highly successful professional photographer, one-time academic, and knowledge of how other similarly successful photographers approach their work.

Topics covered in the book range from definitions of photography, through shooting and cameras, to photographic myths. I found the book a fascinating insight into the wisdom of two highly successful men, gained over their lifetimes. The book is the type of book to which one can return again and again. Some of the things I took away at this point in my development were:

  1.  ‘The only factually correct aspect of photography is that it shows what something looked like – under a very particular set of circumstances. But that is not the same as the underlying truth of the event or situation.’
  2. ‘…. photography is is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result.’
  3. ‘…. The photographer must have intense curiosity, not just a passing visual interest, in the theme of the pictures. This curiosity leads to intense examination….’ So, the first and most important decision is what to photograph. And that should be very specific.
  4. Keep a note book of subjects of interest to you and make notes as they occur to you. Then decide which of these subjects are photographable – must be practicable and subjects to which one has good access over a period of time.
  5. ‘A unique style ….. Is the by-product of visual exploration, not its goal. Personal vision comes only from not aiming at it.’ Hurn states that this comes only through time and making of many images.
  6. ‘There are two fundamental elements in picture taking; where to stand and when to release the shutter’
  7. Hurn explains to importance of contact sheets – as a visual diary to help reflect on how one’s photography can be improved. He recommends close examination of the photos that were not so successful – learning from the mistakes.
  8. ‘Photographers should not put pictures in a box under their beds and be the only ones to see them… they want to record what they see and show to somebody else. Photography is abou communication.’

References

Hurn D & Jay B (2008). On being a photographer. Anacortes, Lenswork Publishing.

A4 EYV – personal reflection

Here I record my own reflections on assignment 4, The Languages of Light, prior to assessment by my tutor.

Technical and visual

I feel that I’ve developed significantly during this part of EYV, not only through the content of part 4, but also through follow-up on the feedback from assignment 3, where I chose street photography. Some of that follow-up is already recorded in my blog but I also will be writing up the valuable lessons learned from studying the work of Garry Winogrand (including a video of him at work) and reading the excellent book On being a photographer by David Hurn (whose work I’ve also looked at) and Bill Jay.

Part 4 itself has helped me explore for the first time low-light photography and flash photography. I’ve read extensively around both areas, with the most important aspects reflected in my blog, including how to use off-camera flash and how to work out exposure readings in low light. I’ve also experimented with remote triggers for my camera, including through wi-fi with an iPhone or iPad, using the Fuji remote app (used during the assignment); and also using a wired connection between my camera and iPhone using Triggertrap’s hardware and app. I’ve enjoyed the technical expansion!

As I’ve become better practiced at using my camera and not having to concentrate so much on technical aspects, I feel that my focus on the subjects I photograph has improved; concentration on observing and framing them in the camera. I am pleased that my images of the apple for this assignment reflect something of this more considered approach and I think makes them more visually engaging for it.

Quality of outcome

For part one, the focus is on the presentation of the learning log, in a coherent structure. I mentioned in my reflection for assignment 3 that this has evolved as I’ve progressed and I’ve had to work at understanding some of the technicalities of WordPress and it’s plugins to achieve the look I wanted for the blog. I have further refined my vision and purpose for the blog. I went through a phase where I was trying to make the blog too many things at once – for example including photo galleries and several pages of different information.

I’ve now stripped the presentation back to its essence of recording my learning from the OCA course work, allowing easy navigation of that course work (without other distracting material), and a clean, simple layout. I’ve also begun to re-evaluate how I use sites like Flickr – it is tricky to find the real value when they seem to be as much about chasing ‘likes’ as photography.

Creativity

My idea of showing an apple as if it is a moon, floating in black space, came from reflection after exercise 4.4, Ex nihilo. I liked the contrast of light and shade on the sphere of the apple, but couldn’t initially imagine how to work that into a worthwhile assignment. The eureka moment came when I was watching the moon one night. I did some further research on the phases of the moon and the concept was cemented. I think my work has benefited through having a very specific objective, ie make an apple look like the moon, rather than some more general objectives in previous assignments, for example walk the streets of Leeds and photograph thing related to commerce which, in retrospect, is too broad.

For me, I felt some creative risk in making a whole assignment from one object in one place, with the only variable being how I used my off-camera flash.

Context

Again, another busy period for my blog, which by now feels like a habit that I can suffer withdrawal symptoms from, if I don’t get my fix due to work and family commitments.

For this assignment specifically, which required new technical skills of me, the two most valuable areas of context were provided by Understanding Flash Photography by Brian Peterson (which still needs to be written up in the blog) , and Tabletop Photography by Cyril Harnischmacher.

As I mentioned in the write-up of the assignment itself, I particularly enjoyed the high contrast and vibrancy of the photos of Chris Steele-Perkins work on Mount Fuji and I have tried to achieve something of that in the post-processing of my apple. However, there have been so many inspirational photographers in this part of the course that I’m sure they’ve all had an effect on how I think about light, whether flash or ambient. I certainly enjoy being the proud owner of a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family amongst my growing collection of photo books!

A4 EYV – submission to tutor

Introduction

For this assignment I chose to work with a table-top studio set up. The reasons for this are: I am new to this type of photography so I wanted practice in the techniques and with the use of off-camera flash; and, in exercise 4.4, I enjoyed the image of the partially lighted apple and wanted to work this into a series of photographs.

My objective was to show an apple as if it were lighted like the moon during its waxing and waning. Except, unlike the unsaturated moon, I wanted to show the vivid red colours of the apple as well as the shadow cast by a flash moving around the apple. For colour, I was inspired by the contrast and vivid colours in the work of Chris Steele-Perkins on Mount Fuji, despite the low light conditions (see blog post).

I completed some research into the phases of the moon as part of my preparation for this assignment (see blog post). The importance of preparation and research was brought home to me in my recent reading of On being a photographer (Hurn D & Jay B (2008). Lenswork Publishing) – through being interested in the subject and knowing something about it, one is better able to show something worthy of the subject in a photograph.

Process

The equipment I used for the shoot was a Fuji X-T1, wirelessly connected to an iPad through the Fuji-remote app. This allowed me to remotely fire the camera, which was tricky to access in a small darkened room. I used two Yongnuo wireless flash triggers as a connection between the camera and a Nissan i40 flash unit, which I used manually. I used a Fujinon f/2.4 60mm lens set to manual focus. The camera was set at ISO200 f/3.2 for 1/180 sec for all shots, with any variation in light provided by moving the flash and using its power settings to adjust the light level. The camera was mounted on a tripod.

I set up the darkened room by using card to cover the window, allowing me to make use of the window recess for my set-up.

I used black fabric draped over card curved into the window recess as a backdrop. I also used black card to shield the backdrop from the flash as far as possible – the position is shown in the photo above.

I used the preview screen in the iPad to check images and then make adjustments to the flash output and view the effect of experimenting with different flash positions. In the end, I found that hand-holding the flash to move it in the orbit above the apple, gave the strongest contrast between light and shadow.

In total, I shot just over 100 photos and these are shown without post-processing on my contact sheets. My final selection of photos were processed in Lightroom, with the black-point adjusted to darken the backdrop further. I also used the radial filter to further reduce the exposure of backdrop around the apple, turning it into a dark space. The highlights slider brightened the apple (it is the highlight in this context) to further increase contrast. Because of the large area of black in the images, the histogram makes for unusual viewing:

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 21.49.14

The images

Below is my final selection of photos. I selected a series that showed the light moving across the apple, similar to the progression of light across the moon as I intended. I also applied a square crop to the images to avoid too much black space. Click images to enlarge:

 Conclusion

I feel I’ve stretched myself on this assignment, creating a moonlike body in a black void from an apple. A search of Google images shows nothing for apple-moon (apart from the computer company logo) but does show individual images of apples against dark backdrops.

There have been technical as well as creative challenges, including setting up a darkened room and the equipment to operate effectively in the dark. I am now much more comfortable with flash photography, wireless triggers, and remote control of my camera through software applications.

Despite my reservations about this type of photography (it does not involve walking outdoors and spontaneity), I enjoyed it very much!

 

A4 EYV – preparation

As a distance learning student at OCA you’re not an ‘autodidact’; you have the benefit of tutor reports and a formal assessment at the end of each course. One of the ways to make the most of tutor reports is to rework assignments after receiving feedback. In fact it’s a good idea to approach the whole course – exercises, contextual research and assignments – as an ongoing body of work, until you decide you’re ready to enter for assessment. With this in mind, Assignment Four asks you to return to one of the exercises from Part Four and develop it into a formal assignment submission.

(OCA. Expressing Your Vision, p97)

This assignment, The Language of Light, requires a series of between 6 and 10 images with a connecting theme, based on a reworking of one of the exercises from part 4; day light, artificial light, or studio light.

In my studio light exercise, one of the photos was an apple against a black backdrop with a flash and reflector used to illuminate different aspects of the the sphere. This reminded me of how the moon is illuminated in the sky, against the black backdrop of space.

Source: sailornamec.tumblr.com

I decided to explore this idea further in assignment 4 by attempting recreate the phases of the moon using an apple. Moonconnection.com explains well how these work, but obviously with the sun as a fixed light source with the moon and the earth moving around it. I would need to cheat in my small space by having the flash (as the sun) moving around the apple.

I plan to use a similar set up to that described in exercise 4.4 and experiment with various power settings on my flash to attempt to replicate the distant, but powerful sunlight.

References

Moon Connection [website]. Understanding The Moon Phases. Available from: http://www.moonconnection.com/moon_phases.phtml [accessed 27.7.15]

 

 

The Street Photographer’s Manual – book review

I bought this book on the back of frequent references to it on street photography websites, other books (including Street Photography Now) and favourable reviews on Amazon.

David Gibson is one of the founder members of In-Public, a street photographers collective, and in this book he shares his views on what constitutes street photography, introduces various renowned street photographers and some ideas on approaches to street photography, illustrated by examples from the featured photographers and Gibson’s own work.

The book draws on Gibson’s experiences of delivering street photography workshops and as well as providing some technical advice and pointers on locations, suggests a number of projects to help create more interesting shots. These are based around themes such as order, blurred, shadows, layers and so on.

The book is written in a very accessible style and the many photos and suggestions are a good source for inspiration. Definitely a book I will dip into again and again prior to street photography shoots.

References

Gibson D (2014). The street photographer’s manual. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Bibliography

In-Public website. http://www.in-public.com [accessed 21.7.15]

Ex 4.5 – family portraits

Make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or any ordinary subject such as ‘apple’ or ‘sunset’. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images.

Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the ‘Creativity’ criteria at the end of Part One.

The images below are a screen shot from a Google search on ‘family portraits’.

The majority of these photos are in a studio setting, against white backdrops and look to be tightly orchestrated, though, with groups of people that include children perhaps a degree of set-up is necessary! The subjects have their photo-faces and remind me of references in  Hirsch’s Family Frames to how subjects are pre-conditioned to behave in this self-conscious way for family portraits.

My images below are from a series taken of a friend of my wife’s family over a couple of hours. My objective was to create informal images that spoke about character and place of the family, rather than the non-space of a photo-studio.

Photos taken with Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon lenses, manual exposure and auto-focus.

The main differences to the Google images are: a) the use of a series of photos of individual family members to show the family group. This allows for less formality and subjects that at ease with themselves. b) Natural lighting to add atmosphere, rather than bright studio lighting. Though other images in the shoot did make use of flash, the light was more directional than bright studio lighting. c) The group photo (important to the family) was set outdoors in front of the family farm-house. I’d already spent some time with the group by this time and allowed them to arrange themselves for the shot, rather than directing them. Despite a degree of formality, I feel the relaxed environment allows the characters of the subjects to come through.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt (1904–83) preferred to rely on ‘camera vision’ rather than his own subjective vision:

Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.

(OCA, Expressing Your Vision, p95)

I wanted to understand more of Bill Brandt’s creative vision and was thankful to discover Adam’s documentary on Brandt available on YouTube. I find it much more valuable to hear an artist’s own words and explanations than the interpretation of a critic.

Brandt’s images contain striking contrasts and he does not shy away from including significant areas of shadow, drawing the eye into what he wants to stand out in his prints and emphasising line through contrasts. Brandt tells us that ‘it is very important to develop his own work’ and how he ‘completely changes a photography in the darkroom’. For the image of Francis Bacon, Brandt talked about how he darkened the sky in the darkroom.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 17.22.06

During the documentary Brandt mentions several times that he takes photographs ‘intuitively’ and that they ‘are not planned’. He always takes images of people in their own environment. In the V&A biography, he is quoted on portraits:

I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.

When asked during the documentary how he creates the ‘unposed look’, Brandt simply explains that eventually people forget he is there. He is also surprised when the interviewer points out that the subjects are never in the centre of the frame – Brandt seems to have not examined this (he rarely looks at his own photos), which supports his comment about working intuitively.

During the documentary Brandt also talks about his use of a wide-angle lens in portraiture (particularly nudes) to distort the image and include a depth of background as context. The image below is one such photo, which he describes in the documentary as his favourite, and illustrates beautifully Brandt’s vision.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 17.53.34

Every time I look at the work of famous photographers from the last century, I feel that we have lost something in the digital age – often lacking the character and crafted feel of the ‘old masters’. Digital images and digital processing can leave photos looking machine-made, somehow lacking art. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, but a drive for sharpness and detail can result in clinical, sterile images.

Thank you Bill Brandt for your inspirational images and immense modesty!

References

Adam P, producer (1983). Bill Brandt BBC Master Photographers. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3KuY0quBsk [accessed 19.7.15]

V&A museum [online]. Bill Brandt Biography. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [accessed 19.7.15]

Bibliography

The Bill Brandt Archive [online]. Available at: http://www.billbrandt.com. [accessed 19.7.15]

Chris Steele-Perkins – Mount Fuji

Creativity’ is the assessment criterion that seems to create a sense of bafflement, if not downright confusion, in many Level 1 students. As you can see from the taxonomy, the descriptors include imagination, invention, experimentation and development of a personal voice … One way you can measure‘personal response’is to tackle a popular subject that has been photographed thousands of times before. (OCA. Expressing Your Vision, p92)

In this context, I compare and contrast the work of Chris Steele-Perkins and John Davies on the same subject of Mount Fuji (see separate post).

Both photographers use Mount Fuji as a backdrop to life under the mountain, rather than choosing to focus on the mountain itself as the main subject. While the mountain becomes incidental, it is too large and imposing to be ignored. Like a studio backdrop in an old movie scene, it has a fixed presence.

The difference between Steele-Perkins’  and John Davies work is in the post-processing. The former is higher contrast with saturated colours, whereas the latter is understated, like an objective documentary. Given the similar approaches to framing Mount Fuji, my preference is for the more visually exciting processing of Steele-Perkins.

Reference

Prix Pictet (2015). Earth. Mount Fuji by Chris Steele-Perkins [online]. Available at: http://www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/earth-shortlist/chris-steele-perkins/ [accessed 17.7.2015]

 

John Davies – Fuji City

Creativity’ is the assessment criterion that seems to create a sense of bafflement, if not downright confusion, in many Level 1 students. As you can see from the taxonomy, the descriptors include imagination, invention, experimentation and development of a personal voice … One way you can measure‘personal response’is to tackle a popular subject that has been photographed thousands of times before. (OCA. Expressing Your Vision, p92)

In this context I looked at the work of John Davies. In his work Fuji City, Japan 2008 he breaks away from the stereotypical images of the photogenic Mount Fuji. He sets the mountain as a back drop to various photos of the industrial sites of Fuji City. In the series of images the mountain appears as an ever-present god overlooking the banality of industrial scenes. There is not a fleck of cherry-blossom in sight, no watery reflections, nor any Japanese temples. There is the story of everyday life under the mountain.

The images present a seemingly unique and interesting vision. However, they are also banal in themselves, with a snapshot ethos. No drama captured or added in post-processing.

Reference

John Davies website: http://www.johndavies.uk.com [accessed 18 July 2015]

Ex 4.4 – ex nihilo

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object.

‘Studio lighting’ is a new area for me as is the use of flash. I read around technical aspects of this, referring to Tabletop photography and to Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Flash Photography.

For the exercise, I used a darkened room (an old larder that included a worktable) set up as in the diagram below. The camera used was a Fuji X-T1, controlled with an ipad through Fuji’s camera remote app. The app also allows jpegs of images to be previewed on the ipad for immediate feedback and fine adjustments to aperture settings to control light if necessary.

scan

I experimented with moving the flash to various angles to the subject and with using various reflectors (white card and coloured reflectors) as for fill light. I used manual focus with the room lights up and then turned off the room lights and took the exposures remotely from outside the room, using the ipad app (also allowed live-view).

The top two images show seed-heads against a black backdrop. The backdrop was carefully screened from the flash using black card, with the subject placed in a gap between the screens. The camera was set at ISO 200 for 1/200 second at f/5.6. The flash powered right down to 1/128 and placed to the right of the subjects.

The photo of the seed-head and the apple was shot with the flash directly in front of the subject (on a light stand behind the camera). This created a shadow on the white card backdrop and a bright apple, with little shadow showing its curvature.

The final image was set up with flash left and a piece of white card as a reflector to the right as a fill light.

The exercise has encouraged me to experiment further with the use of flash with a variety of subjects and with different levels of ambient light.

Tabletop Photography – book review

In preparation for my next assignment Ex Nihilo, which requires the use of artificial light in studio-like conditions, I looked for technical information on this type of photography that didn’t require the use of expensive studio facilities. Tabletop Photography proved to be the perfect book.

The objective of the book is to show how a studio-like experience can be achieved ‘with a few shoe-mounted flash units, a touch of crafty spirit, and a measure of imagination’.

I learnt about the different roles of lighting – the key light to replace the sun, the fill light to lift the shadows, the effect light to provide, well, effects, and the background light to light the background for some types of image. The book provides practical suggestions for different types of image and even gives advice on how to make or improvise homemade studio props from everyday items.

While the book will be an ongoing reference point, there are a few important notes to self:

  • Use only manual flash settings to ensure full control over the lighting
  • Improvise soft box using white bags or containers for the flash. Alternatively source a flash to soft box adapter
  • Use a lens hood to avoid stray light adversely affecting the exposure
  • Improvise reflectors – experiment with different materials that reflect light (polystyrene sheets for example). Use shelf-brackets to prop them up.
  • Similarly improvise diffusers with neutrally coloured materials.

In conclusion, the book provides some excellent pointers for experimentation in studio-like photography on a tabletop and on a budget. Now the challenge is to put some of it into practice!

Reference

Harnischmacher C (2012). Tabletop Photography. Originally published in Santa Barbara by Rocky Nook Inc. Kindle ebook edition is referenced [accessed 3 July 2015].

Street Photography Now – book review

In feedback I received on assignment 3, I was recommended to look at modern developments in street photography, including the book Street Photography Now. I owned this book prior to starting the OCA course, but felt it would be interesting to revisit having now spent a few months studying.

The book is an international guide to over 40 contemporary street photographers, providing not only a selection of images from each photographer but words from each on their motivations and ways of working. There is also commentary on the evolution of street photography and brief analysis of the works included. The insights provided brush-away the cobwebs from the traditionalist views of street photography based on the works of Cartier-Bresson et al from the early 20th century. Some of these views are still pervasive on certain photo-sharing sites that demand, for example, black and white images only, no post-processing, no staged images.

The book is remarkable for its breadth and depth of coverage and commentary on genre now, its developments and challenges it faces. The main lessons I took away from the book after reading it for the second time were:

  • There are no rules in street photography – the best practitioners make their own rules
  • Motivations for making images on the street are as varied as the number photographers in the book. From serious social commentary to amusing visual puns.
  • Without fail, the photos fill the frame and are full of visual interest. Many are close up. There are no dead spots.
  • Street photography often features people, but not always. Commentary 2 of the book, No Ideas But In Things, explores ‘still life’ street photography. One example is Nils Jorgensen’s image of shoes left on a corner pavement in the rain. Another is Matt Stuart’s photo displayed as the feature image of this blog post. I found this type of image compelling and not necessarily something I would look for when preoccupied with filling my frame with a person.
  • The street photographers featured have many different approaches to dealing with the challenge of taking uninvited images of people on the street. From what to me appears highly intrusive and even aggressive, through sneaky (unseen), to collaborative and spending time with the subjects. In certain jurisdictions some photographers talk about the challenges of privacy laws – a memorable example is Bruno Quinquet’s work in Japan, where it is legal to take photos of people, but not to publish them. To overcome this in his Salaryman Project he ensures that none of the subjects are recognisable, with either their faces obscured or blurred.

In summary, this book provides a lesson in experimentation for street photographers everywhere.

References

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

Bibliography

Coombes P (2010). BBC photoblog [online]. Street Photography Now – review. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/photoblog/2010/10/street_photography_now.html [accessed 27.6.15]

Brassai at night

Picasso’s favourite photographer was Brassaï (1899–1984) whose Paris by Night (1936) was one of the most influential photobooks of the twentieth century (OCA photography 1 – expressing your vision)

Here I discuss Brassai’s use of light in his night photos.

Brassai tells Jones, ‘I walked around Paris a lot at night and saw many things. I sought a means of expressing these sights … above all to photograph the night, which excited me’. He explains that ‘thanks to his endless walks through Paris, he was able to go on and do a kind of social study of the creatures who peopled the city at night.’ (Gautrand, p12). We can see through his photos that no subject was out-of-bounds for Brassai’s lens from lovers to workmen to prostitutes. So for Brassai, the night-light brought out the night-life and a side of Paris not seen by day.

Source:
Source: Houk Gallery

Brassai’s photos are special not only because they capture the feeling of intimate moments, but also because each frame is filled with interest. At night, as well as the high contrast there is interest in the shadows, no shady areas that serve no purpose in the image. Brassai says:

I’ve always felt that the formal structure of a photo, its composition, was just as important as the subject itself …. Your have to eliminate every superfluous element, you have to guide your own gaze with an iron will (Gautrand, p71).

Jones explores some aspects of technique with Brassai. The artist talks about the use of flash in his night photographs, saying ‘Some people say one must work only with available light and that one should never light the subject. I don’t agree. If it is necessary, I light the subject.’ He also explains how he likes to develop and print his own photographs and considers that to be important, but is not asked why.

Looking at many of his images, it is clear that they are taken with the cooperation of his subjects given his proximity to them and the confined spaces in which they were taken, but Brassai had a gift of helping the subjects forget they were being photographed. He is quoted as saying “I need the subject to be as conscious as possible that he is taking part in an event … in an artistic act. I need his active collaboration …” (Gautrands, p67).

Brassai’s approach to ‘street’ photography involved interaction with his subjects and the use of flash to light up the night if he considered that necessary. Brassai’s small plate glass camera and tripod would not have allowed him to be conspicuous, yet this did not hinder him in capturing some wonderful images of night-time Paris.

References

Gautrand J-C (2008). Brassai Paris. Cologne: Taschen.

Houk Gallery [online]. http://www.houkgallery.com/artists/brassai/ [accessed 26.6.15]

Jones T. (1970). American Suburb X [Blog]. Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970). Published 19.8.2011. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/08/interview-brassai-with-tony-ray-jones.html [accessed 7.6.15]

Bibliography

DP Tips. Brassai and his work. [online blog]. http://www.dptips-central.com/brassai.html [accessed 26.6.15]

 

Nik colour efex

Here I show my experiment in processing with the Nik efex processing adds-ins for photoshop. The Nik collection is detailed and available from their website. My objective for this particular image was to create a stylised version of a colour street photograph that would add drama to the scene.

Here is the straight RAW file, with only basic corrections made in Lightroom. The image was shot for 1/125 sec at f/8 with a 28mm (efl) Fujinon lens.

Basic LR processing

There is action in the shot, but its business and distance from the camera makes it difficult to distinguish and for the eye to follow. My approach with the Nik software was to load an unsharpened version of the file into Photoshop and create a smart-object layer in which to apply various Nik filters. I used the following filters Dfine for noise reduction, Sharpener Pro for basic global sharpening, and Colour efex pro to add colour filters and targeted adjustments.

The adjusted image is below. It has a heavily stylised, unnatural feel but I find its graphic quality more compelling than the straight Lightroom image.

Nik adjustments

This raises questions in my mind on how post-processing might be perceived by the viewer – a welcome graphical adjustment or an obvious disconnect from reality, rather than a more subtle disconnect represented by light post-processing.

I’ll explore this with my contemporaries in the OCA level1 Facebook group.

References

Nik collection website [online]. https://www.google.com/nikcollection/ [accessed 23.6.15]

A3 EYV – feedback

Key points from feedback from tutor:

  1. Avoid using captions at this stage of the course as they demand the viewer to have only one reading of the images. This contradicts the suggestion in the OCA material for assignment 1 of ‘adding captions if you feel it would benefit’. However, I understand the thinking of allowing images to communicate multiple / ambiguous meanings.
  2. Tutor would have liked to see more engagement with street photography now. Specifically referencing: the book Street Photography Now and street photographers such as Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Walker Evans (Subway), Wegee, William Eggleston etc. When looking at the images, analyse what makes the images remarkable.
  3. Tutor commented that she would have like to have seen contact sheets. These were actually included in the blog, so I must check whether she missed these or means she’d like to have seen prints of the contact sheets.
  4. Mentions that she would like to see the work shot in colour, with thought about framing and distance from the subject.
  5. Advice for next project:

Your next assignment requires a linking theme, i.e. something to hold your project together. Don’t forget to research and experiment. Work through your ideas both visually and theoretically. Don’t be afraid to play and be experimental – remember you are trying to find your own voice here and push yourself.

Tutor’s feedback is attached as pdf: andrew_fitzgibbon_assignment_3_feedback

Ex 4.3 – the beauty of artificial light

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash.

This sequence of photos was taken in Yelets, Russia, starting as the sun was setting and continuing until near darkness.

I used manual mode for exposure settings and manual focus, selecting specific points of focus for each image. All shots were hand-held with a wide aperture to allow for a sufficient shutter-speed to avoid camera shake. This meant a narrow depth of field and increased the importance of careful consideration of the point of focus.

I researched the photographers suggested in the OCA materials and have recorded details in separate posts. I particularly enjoyed the work of Sally Mann and purchased her book Family xxx so I could see copies of her prints on paper. The choice of her own family for subject matter has proven controversial, but in the context of this post, I just refer to Mann’s capture of atmosphere through high-contrast ambient light. The careful framing of extremes of light and shade makes for powerful images. These extremes are carried over into night images by Christopher Doyle in his classic film In The Move for Love. Brassai’s work Paris by Night greatly impressed me, and in the shots I’ve taken I’ve attempted to capture something of the contrast in his work created by the street lighting.

 

The first 6 images feature lighting from shops, including some neon. The content is mundane and the limited light means that the images contain dark shadow away from the lights. This was useful as an exercise in controlling highlights in manual exposure mode and also focussing in the dark. However, the images have limited visual interest.

Ambient light-1

Images 7 to 12 have greater light and so some of the shadows are opened up. This creates more visual interest and a sense of contrast, not just isolated light surrounded by shadow. Image 8 works well with the pedestrians highlighted by traffic lights as they cross the road. In image 9, a slow moving car lights its own path. Image 12 shows the entrance to a pet store and the soft light gives the garish posters a tapestry-like appearance.

Ambient light-2

In all images I manually set the white balance in camera, using the K scale and visual inspection in live view. The approach of correcting WB at the scene (time permitted this for these images) saved time in post-processing and allow me set some of my final vision for the images while on the street. For faster moving situations, I would use auto WB and make corrections later in Lightroom.

The light in these images is very different from those in the previous daylight images. The dark shadows and highlights create a sense of mystery or even menace – something is hidden in the shadows, or a feeling that we should be inside when it is dark outside. The florescent lights give a warm glow, inviting one in from the dark. Whereas the harsh neon is flat and has a certain sterility.

Hockney on photography

The Hockney on Photography documentary is mostly David Hockney in his own words discussing an exhibition of his photographic work, how he created the pieces and what he was trying to show through each piece. It also includes some commentary from two critics on Hockneys’ work. He also discusses the interplay between his photography and his paintings and how some photos inspired paintings.

The documentary provides a fascinating insight into how Hockney frees himself from what he calls ‘the tyranny of a single point of view’. How he plays with or rewrites the rules of perspective and viewpoint to better represent the three dimensional in two dimensions.

Hockney argues that a single photograph cannot effectively depict ‘grandeur’ or scale of view and describes his approach to creating single works through ‘grids’ (or collages) or single photos taken from multiple points of view. For example, he describes how for one full length portrait, he kept the camera in the same plain and gradually crouches as he takes pictures of each part of the body from close range, then joins them. He describes similar approaches to large landscape images, including the Grand Canyon and landscape in his native Yorkshire. The technique was first developed using Polaroid images, but he describes how he would later send 35mm film images to be developed and enlarged before joining them to form a single image.

Hockney’s approach seems to loosen the grip that reality has on single photographic images by allowing multiple point of views to exist within a single composite image. As he describes it, ‘painting with photographs’.

I very much enjoyed the documentary and plan to experiment with some of Hockney’s ideas in my own work.

References

Hockney on Photography. Available from Sky Arts TV [accessed 8.6.15]

Bibliography

Hockney pictures [online]. http://www.hockneypictures.com/works_photos.php [accessed 11.6.15]