Assignment 4 – Languages of Light

 

Concluding notes on Assignment 4

Brief – Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria.

Creativity assessment criteria – Imagination, experimentation, invention.

Within the assessment statements this relates to development of analytical and creative thinking, using independent judgement and presenting a developing personal voice.

Imagination

I tend to work from instinct when approaching new areas, rather than through inspiration. I find this allows me to apply my own imaginative ideas, rather than apply those of others. At the same time, in my head, I am being influenced in a passive way by artists that have struck a chord with me. In exploring studio photography for the first time I found myself initially wanting to create a similar candid look that my experience of street photography had drawn me to. This is why I directed the models to look away from the lens and to adopt naturalistic poses. Experience and research then taught me that this was not the best approach. I thought carefully about how to apply this to my final sitting. I wanted to create something with more drama, as well as developing a more intimate relationship between the model and the lens.

Experimentation

This was the biggest area for me to take on board for this project. I haven’t shot in a studio before, or used flash photography in a formal shoot. I did have to research technical requirements and took a while to set up the studio and equipment in my living space. Playing around with an onion in still life form initially helped me prepare in terms of settings etc. The first sitting with the three models taught me a lot about positioning of the model, avoiding shadows and finding the right focal point. In the second sitting with Zack we had a lot of fun playing with different props and outfits. It was also interesting to see the difference that the background colour/tone makes to the feel of the shot. I also found that being more direct with the model allowed me to experiment with different moods in the models facial expressions.

Invention

A difficult area to apply in terms of my approach. I did have to be quite inventive in terms of setting up a home studio and organising the space for the shoots. I also spent some time exploring props to use in the shots and looking at ways to add interesting dimensions to the images. These included using fairy wings, hats and a variety of musical instruments in the shots. I also played a little with having more than one model in the shots and they played off each other. These were fun to do but not as successful in terms of creating a satisfying image. This is an area for development as I would enjoy being more playful in setting up studio shots.

So am I developing a personal voice in my photography? I always shy away a little from becoming too involved in emulating other photographers as I want my creativity to come from within. If this project, and in fact this course, has taught me anything it is to be more open to considering the work of others. It was in studying others’ portraiture during this project that really helped me to develop my own style, whilst applying the skills of others. It also showed me how important it is to consider the connection between the lens and the subject matter, and this can be reliant on many things. It could be connected to the relationship between the model and photographer, it could be related to the photographer’s direction or perhaps the context and set up. But in all these areas there is always the element of chance that steps in.

 

 

Heads – Philip-Lorca diCorcia

A different approach to street photography

The focus for my work in assignment 2 was ‘Crowds’. Living in London this worked really well within the Street Photography genre. I have long been a fan of street photography in terms of aesthetics and conveying a captured moment. This project allowed me the opportunity to explore the genre in a more personal way, as well as opening my eyes to the variety of forms it can take and the practical and moral issues surrounding it. As the photographer I do feel a little uncomfortable taking candid shots of strangers in open places and I pick my subjects and context with care. I therefore read articles on the series ‘Heads’ by Philip-Lorca diCorca with great interest.

The series of 17 images were selected from 4000 shots taken over a period of 2 years. Each image was taken without the subject knowing and the final choices were then exhibited in Moma. The collection then became part of a court battle when one of the individual’s recognised his photo. The court eventually found in favour of the artist – citing advocates of free speech and the exceptions to privacy rules that art can be exempt from. The MOMA site details the case here.

Putting the controversy of the case aside, these images are notable in how individual they are as pieces of art. The ultra realism within each face, the dark background in broad daylight, and the complete openness of the individuals’ expressions. The hidden nature of the camera has allowed the photographer to create something individually candid that would be impossible to achieve if the subject were aware of the shooter.

The Beatles Unseen – Photographs by David Magnus

Exhibition at Proud Gallery in Kensington

 

The Beatles Unseen – David Magnus – 1967

I do feel like I’m cheating a little posting this. I have been a huge fan of The Beatles since I was 12 years old. This was in the days of disco – as a pre teenage individual I was desperately searching for inspirational stimulus – I discovered The Beatles music through a BBC rerun of their movies. And so a journey of trawling through second hand record shops began.

I also love visiting the Proud Galleries. Their Camden venue also hosts live music events in the photo exhibition room. The Kensington Gallery is smaller, but the exhibits are always inspirational.

This particular exhibition documented the the boys rehearsing and hanging out in readiness for the historical first ever satellite broadcast – a live performance of ‘All you need is love’  

So are these good photographs in their own right, or is their value purely linked to their historical and contextual relevance? Its difficult to be subjective in this case, but perhaps its a question that doesn’t require a complete answer. The photographs are beautifully composed, artistically lit and they each capture a moment well with the expressions of each individual clearly portrayed. There are also clear moments of intimacy between the subjects, this is particularly noticeable in the shot with Brian Epstein looking down as Paul plays the trumpet. But fame plays a part in our perception when interpreting these images. The shots of the security guards enjoying their break in the canteen alongside the fab four, and John and George sharing a look at the tea table. The everyday is meeting the out of the ordinary. As an individual not aware of this event at the time, it is difficult to conceive the level of fame the these four individuals had achieved. What is clear is how iconic each image captured of them has become. This bares particular importance when we consider that this is before the digital age, where skills in creating the right shot pre production was so much more important.

 

 

Assignment 5 – Photography is Simple

What is it about?

The answer to this question leads me again to the context and is also ever changing if I look at the journey I went through with this project. It took me a little while to select the subject matter for this final project. My other two possibilities were the victorian gardens close to my house, or selective images of my son. I settled on shooting Carlton Mansions in Brixton for several reasons. Partly because it is a building that I have been fascinated with purely on aesthetics alone, and I am a believer in ‘Shoot what you love.’ Also because I have been looking for an opportunity to find out more about the building’s history.  The other main reason was to attempt to improve my skills in photographing architecture.

So in terms of Barratt’s context it is clear that my original shot of the whole building, and the following images picking out the decorative aspects of the facade, these have a very string link to the ‘internal context’. These images are very much about the information within the frame. In this instance it is very much about the aesthetic aspects of the structure itself and how they appealed to me.

As the set progresses the context shifts to include information surrounding the picture ie external. Here we see the purpose, or function, of the image change. The influence of the residents is clearer in their adornments, they have left their ‘stamp’ on the structure. This does become multi layered through research. There are simplistic affectations in terms of stencilling and spray can work, but the ripples of political passion has echoed through the years with the hugely iconic mural ‘Nuclear Dawn’ (Brian Barnes and Dale McCrea – 1981)

This inclusion of original context, information surrounding the picture, is then illuminated more with the plaques on the wall. My favourite of which is image number 8.

The final two images are a little more ambiguous. I like the presence of closed curtains, suggesting there is more to find out and how well that links to the slightly cryptic yet transparent ‘Brixton Bizness Centre’

Part 5 Viewpoint – Project 2 Photography as Information

Exercise 5.3

‘Look again at Henri Cartier Bresson’s photograph ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’. Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

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Henri Cartier Bresson (1932)

I have seen this image many, many times. Sometimes in the context of art book collections, sometimes accidentally on an internet article feed and sometimes through directly seeking it out. In reflecting my own perceptions of this photograph and can say with complete conviction that my eye is mostly drawn to the leaping man in silhouette and his reflection. This for me is the pivotal point of the picture. But why is this and what information does it convey? The man is in the foreground and takes up a large part of the frame. We also see him twice due to the reflection in the puddle. Despite the fact that the figure is in silhouette, the edges are sharp – giving him prominence within the frame again. So what information does this pivotal point convey? The man is in a hurry and taking on the wetness underfoot in an energetic, somewhat careless way. We see no splashes but the area is covered in water. This is a very ‘decisive’ moment captured as the man takes a leap and this frozen moment in time suggests multiple narrative possibilities due to the context within the frame. Is he late for a train, running to avoid the rain, leaping to avoid the puddles, on his way home? This is where we can see the importance of considering internal context, external context and original context.

Project 2 – Photography as Information

‘Photographers…are in pursuit of possibilities that are still unexplored in the camera’s programme, in pursuit of informative, improbable images that have not been seen before.’ (Flusser, 2000, p37)

In considering the camera as a tool for recording information as well as exposing information that is not always seen with the naked eye or in a single, fleeting moment.

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Rinko Kawauchi – Illuminance (2001)

So in considering the effect for accurate exposure when recording an image with a photo, we would usually want to ensure that we weren’t under or over exposing to ensure the optimum amount of detail is included to when wanting to convey information about the captured moment effectively. So what information is being conveyed in the image used on the front cover of Kawauchi’s Illuminance. Here light and exposure to it is being used in a way that makes to viewer use its previous image knowledge to interpret the picture. Our perception here tells us this is a rose with a moon in the background and various foliage in the midground. The use of over exposure also adds a painterly aspect to the frame. This image underlines the relevance of considering what the viewer is bringing to the table in terms of placing an image in the context of their previous knowledge.

Photography is Simple

Take a series of 10 photos of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject.

Carlton Mansions – Brixton

 

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1. View from Brixton Village cafe across the street.

This is a building I often find myself looking at. It is opposite Brixton Village where I meet up with friends for coffee frequently. Sitting in the gentrified finery of the now transformed market area, I was quite uninformed of the history related to this building. So my series begins with putting the building in it’s ‘original context’ of my regular viewpoint.

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2. Floral affectations on the building’s facade.

I then went on to study aspects of the decorative architecture used in creating this very individual Victorian structure.

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3. Stained glass windows and curved arched brick work.

The level of detail that has been used throughout the design lends itself well to abstracting interesting aspects of the structure.

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4. Stencilled front door

As I drew closer to the building my eye was drawn to the decorative script used above the front door and how this contrasts with the somewhat raw inscription painted on the glass to name the building.

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5. Mural on the side of the building.

The next area that my eye was drawn to were the adornments. The building has been decorated by street and graffiti artists. One whole wall has been used to create a piece of art work that now has iconic status within the area. I was pleased with how well the outstretched hand appeared to be linked to the leaves of a tree in the foreground. I also like how gradually the influence and character of the buildings residents is beginning to colour my view of the house.

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6. Street Art of the wall connecting the building and the railway bridge.

 

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7. Plaques

This is where research into the history of the building’s use began to intrigue me. On arriving home I began to investigate it’s past. This leads me to consider again the context of these images. On taking them I am discovering more about the aesthetic, historical and functional aspects of the structure purely within the original context. But following on from my research and selecting my ten chosen images, I find I an applying the external context to allow a logical sequence to take place.

This leads me to the of the plaques on the wall of the building.

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8. Plaque

The varied backgrounds and passions of some of the people who lived here are now adding more to the external context of the images and as a viewer we are beginning to create our own stories.

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9. Living Space

Although the building is currently empty and has been since 2014, there are still signs of human presence. Curtains at the windows, litter in the bins and cigarette butts on the ground. There are plans to redevelop the area and restore the building according to my research. There are also several articles reporting on the council evicting the final residents of the property.

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10. Business Centre

This is my final shot as it gives me a good jump off point to further my research, and it is the one image that suggests a multitude of unknown functions. I have always enjoyed the borrowed initials from a famous corporation that the initiator of this design used. I have no idea what the Brixton Bizness Cafe was, but from the signage next to it I presume it was used for internet use for and a drop in centre. Perhaps more research will illuminate this.

Cathedral of the Pines – Gregory Crewsdon

The Photographers Gallery Exhibition

This was a chance visit to the gallery as I had a little time to kill before meeting someone. I was very pleasantly surprised. These images were very powerful, and from a photographer I hadn’t come across before. The initial reaction was imagery that reminded me of the movie Fargo along with a very American Gothic vibe. These factors along with the ultra definition and thousand yard stares from the subjects, the pieces are very compelling.

It is interesting looking at these images in terms of the ‘Context’ focus in Part 5 of EYV. In my notes on Terry Barrett’s ‘Photography and Context’ I touched on the power of captioning an image to give it context. In this case the captioning seems to add to a multi layer of irony at the same time as emphasising the empty, emotionless, depressed aura that the naked human content appears to represent in each frame. The simple factual labelling of the geographical context of the pictures underlines the coldness of the individuals.

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The Shed 2013
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Woman in Bathroom 2013
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Reclining Woman on Bed 2013
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The VW Bus 2013
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Beneath the Bridge 2014
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The Pickup Truck 2014

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Part 5 – Viewpoint

Exercise 5.2

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

Throughout the course I have found myself even more drawn to the effect created by long exposure in creating movement within an image. In exploring Doisneau’s images I discovered this excellent use of contrast in isolating a moment of passion by juxtaposing the stillness of the central figures with the movement of city life around them.

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Photographer – Robert Doisneau

Creating Ghosts

I began by heading out into the busy city to explore the techniques required. With my fstop on 22 and iso set to 100 I was pleased with how easy it was to capture the ghosts/blurs. As can be seen from my experiments the challenge was ensuring the central focal point the image is clear and sharp.

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It is this contrast between the sharp focus of the central figure, and the blur of the people in motion that I wanted to emulate in response to Doisneau’s image. So does my response apply Barratt’s internal, external or original context? In the first instance I was initially drawn to the aesthetics within the monochrome and how well the eye was drawn to the central figures. This would suggest an application of the internal context and the information within the picture. My mind on the shoot was on finding a very static individual to place mid-frame who was surrounded by moving crowds. The internal context could be a common link in creating a photograph as an homage to another’s work, as it is using what the eye sees to recreate an image. In understanding the technical processes required to create such an image, eg exposure requirements, it could also be said that there are some links to original context. This is also relevant in terms of researching a photograph and therefore having information related to the photographer’s purpose in taking the shot, as well as the geographical placing.

Homage to Bernd and Hilla Becher

I am a huge fan of the work of Bernd and Hilla, particularly their industrial photography. A few years ago a friend asked me to take photographs of all the places she had lived in London. It was a really fun project. We spent a few days revisiting all her old neighbourhoods, eating cake and drinking coffee in her favourite cafes from the past. In taking the shots I found myself using the Becher approach as a reference.

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Bernd and Hilla Becher – houses
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Nik’s Houses

Part 5 – Viewpoint

Context

A response to Terry Barrett’s ‘Photographs and Context’

‘Barrett suggests that we interpret pictures according to three different types of information: information in the picture, information the surrounding the picture and information about the way the picture was made. He calls these the internal context, the external context and the original context.’ (OCA course guidance – sept 2014)

In Barratt’s essay on context he uses the example of five different uses, or applied contexts, that a single photograph taken by Robert Doisneau was subjected too. By examining how differently these five contexts result in five diverse interpretations, we can begin to understand the importance of context when approaching capturing an experience. The image in question was a couple enjoying a bottle of wine in a Paris cafe. Doisneau took many similar photos and asked permission of the couple to use the photo. It was published as part of a collection on Paris in the magazine Le Point. The photo then went on to be used in several other contexts without the photographer’s permission. These included a brochure on the evils of alcohol abuse and a french Scandal sheet with the caption ‘Prostitution in the Champs Elysees’. A further two appearances of the image were in the publication ‘Looking at Photographs – 100 pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art’. Within this context there is an essay that references the photo as depicting ‘secret venial sins of ordinary individuals’ reading the picture as ‘a potential seduction’ (Terry Barrett – Photography and Context 1985)

Reflecting on this example personally, and at a very basic level, the meaning conveyed by a single image can be changed dramatically by captioning it with different texts. In fact throughout the much of Barratt’s essay I would add that text seems to play a significant part in adding context to the images he identifies. There is an argument here that within photography the image alone should create the context for the picture, whether this is through the visual context within the frame, or through the artistic use of light and composition and palette and pov etc, or through the empathy created by the relationship between the photographer and the subject matter.

This is where the relevance of Barratt’s three forms of interpreting a picture seems more relevant, in an absence of contextual text. This refers to his three approaches to interpreting a picture: internal, external and original. The internal would relate to the information given in terms of date taken, the actual image and its title, and the photographer. The external refers to the pictures presentational environment. The original refers the the causal environment what was apparent to the photographer in relation to the physical and psychological aspects at the time of taking the picture.

An age old saying springs to mind when identifying how much context can change the meaning of a photo. This is ‘The camera never lies’. As the photographer there is also a distance that I find myself discovering over and over and this is between the actual intent at the beginning of a shoot, and the actual accidental image that is reached. The journey that an image takes after the point of publication is then down to individual’s interpretation and/or borrowed or falsely applied contexts.