Ex 5.2 – View Point

Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central square, and write down everything you can see. (OCA IAP)

I chose a car journey, in which I was a passenger in an hour long journey from my home to the Lake District. The window on the world was through a car windscreen or momentary glimpses through side windows as the car sped through the countryside.

Some things I noted:

  • Runners – sometimes in charity logo’d shirts. There is a large variety in runners, from those who look like they are newly seeking fitness or weight loss to those who look well conditioned. There is possibility of a street portrait project on the subject, perhaps running alongside the subjects to add the image of movement.
  • Signage – it seems that every 100 meters there is a road sign warning us of some hazard or direction. The signs have distinctive  typographics and colouring as well as featuring different symbols. The semiotics of road signs?
  • Motor bikes – I often notice reckless motor cycle riders, who seem to treat the road as a race track. Though is it only the annoying riders I notice, and there is perhaps more of a balance than my immediate impression? Bikes and riders – a portrait exercise as they rest at watering holes.
  • Clouds – cumulus in blue sky. Clouds often top of landscape photographs. What about a series of cloud-scape photos, bottomed off by the landscape?
  • Trees – still mostly bare at the end of March. Reminded me of my annual disappointment in March’s weather, always expecting it to be better than it is. A project around what a certain month means to me, or even what each month means?
  • Walkers holding hands, with muddy boots – a less offensive group than the bikers (actually completely inoffensive).Walkers are everywhere in the countryside – how about joining a group of walkers as an out-side, looking in project.
  • Red phone boxes – I read recently that BT are planning to remove many phone boxes because of the lack of use – extinction? The Yorkshire Dales National Park is raising objections to this for boxes located in the remote areas of the Dales, where there is sometimes no mobile phone coverage. A documentary project
  • Country pubs – in the tourist areas these seem to be thriving, but I still hear of pubs closing through lack of custom. Pubs are a topic close to my heart. What is the real fate of this national institution?
  • Car interior. Black plastics sat nav tracking. Not immediately interesting, but how much time do we spend in these moulded interiors. What tricks of style are used to appeal to consumers. What do people like or dislike about the interior of the cars they select.
  • Rolling hills and drystone walls – Yorkshire Dales country side. A history of drystone walls and walling, dating back centuries – there are around 5000 miles of them, and they’re some of the oldest man-made features of the landscape.
  • Traditional housing – all similar but more character – local materials blend with landscape. The architecture of the Dales? Traditional verses any modern incursions.

What is clear from this exercise is that there are potential photography projects all around, without looking very far. Time is more scarce than ideas.

Ex 5.3 Journey

Recently, I’ve not had as much business travel and my journey has often been around my home-office, which is also partly a construction site. For these images, I’ve slowed up my process and used a tripod and long exposure to photograph in available light. My recently purchased light meter was used to measure exposure times across the high contrast scenes and a compromise exposure selected.

click on image for gallery view

Ex 5.1

Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people. (OCA, IAP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are traces of my life through first and borrowed experiences. They represent things that have shaped me; of which I am a product.

I chose to make clean images that might be part of a product brochure. The objects were placed on a table covered with white foam board. For some shots the room light alone was used with a long exposure and the colour balanced through a custom white balance in-camera, based on a grey card and also an x-rite color passport to create a custom camera profile in LR. Other shots feature side lighting from a flash shot through a white umbrella. A light meter was used for exposure times and the lens was stopped down.

Research point – Something and Nothing; or who was Brian?

We are asked to read Chapter 4,  Something and Nothing  (Cotton C, 2014) and respond to the question:

To what extent do you think the strategy of using objects or environments as metaphor is a useful tool in photography? When might it fall down?

Cotton provides a number of examples of artists using effectively objects or environments as metaphors, which prove their use in photography. Some of the examples seem more like visual puns than metaphors and I find it useful to think of them this way – otherwise the literary reference is broken and confusing.

A visual metaphor uses a visual that ordinarily identifies one thing to signify another, thus making a meaningful comparison.

A visual pun is a pun involving an image or images (in addition to, or instead of text) to form a new meaning.

(Artnaos)

Source: thewhitereview.org

For example, Gabriel Orozco’s Breath on Piano, in which the imprint of the breath on the polished piano serves as a pun for the imprint of the photo itself on paper. Cotton comments that ‘we are asked to pay close attention to the nature of photographic images and the perpetual hovering between being the medium and the subject’ (ibid, p 117). Making this kind of interpretation requires a visual education, otherwise the viewer is likely to be stuck at seeing a dirty piano. This is a potential pitfall of metaphor/pun – do we need to inform or educate some viewers to enable an interpretation beyond the subject of the photograph? If so, we must achieve this without explaining the work directly, otherwise it is surely like having to explain a joke; it is no longer a joke.

Jennifer Bolande’s work Globe is presented as a metaphor for our limited and simplified interpretation of the world around us. Cotton observes that is through repetition of the theme within a series that we can understand this as a metaphor – a single photography would be less likely to register. Again there is the challenge of communication and helping our message to be received by the viewer. We habitually switch off or turn away from text that lacks clarity or involves too much effort to understand and there is no reason that it should be any different for visual arts for many viewers.

There is the problem of comprehension when it comes to metaphor and pun. Not only based on visual education but also our broader contextual experiences in cultural, social and political environments. Concluding with a humour analogy; I once had a Japanese colleague who was determined to borrow and watch my copy of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, despite my suggestion that he was unlikely to understand it with his cultural, historical and religious background. He watch the film three times and couldn’t tell me what his favourite bit was. But he did ask me, ‘who was Brian?’.

Reference

Artnaos.net [website]. Ad using visual pun or metaphor method. Available from: http://artnaos.net/COMD2400/VisualMetaPunAd.html [accessed 24.3.17]

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd edition) London: Thames & Hudson.

Project 3 – Fictional texts

Images and words can operate in a way which extends both mediums into an exciting, conceptual and visual piece of art. (OCA IAP, p86)

The previous project explored how memories and speech can act as a source of inspiration for creative photography. I explored this in an exercise that was based on my grandfather’s letter to his then fiancé about his escape from HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed in WW2 (see here). After completing the exercise, and receiving feedback, I began to think about other images and letters I have recording other aspects of his life and how they might form part of a bigger story. It is in this post that I reflect upon how other photographs have extending the meaning of photos and text by combining them.

Michael Colvin’s Rubber Flapper is an inspiring piece of fictional work, inspired by ‘hidden histories’ of LGBT communities. It is Colvin’s attention to detail in staging the images that makes the project so compelling – there is an ambiguity created through a tension between fact and fiction. Is the rubber flapper symbolic of an anonymous person whose story we are witnessing. Or is the whole thing a fiction. It is the attention to detail that allows me to suspend rationale belief (like good cinema) and let myself sink into the story. In his interview with the OCA, Colvin explains that the work is partly a response to events at Clear Comfort, Staten Island, NY State; home of the Alice Austen photographic archive and partly his broader response to broader LGBT issues. However, I don’t need to know this – the ambiguity in the work, leaves me preferring to puzzle over the meaning myself.

Source: americansuburbx.com by Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken’s Love on the Left Bank, reads like a documentary story of a group of young people living in bohemian Paris, but is in fact a purely fictional story, written by the photographer around the photographs he took while spending time with the group.

Source: christianpatterson.com

Christian Patterson’s ground breaking Redheaded Peckerwood, is a fiction based around a true story, which incorporates fabricated artefacts and documents as inserts in a book to complement the photos. The combination makes it difficult to grasp whether we are viewing fact or fiction. The artist describes his creative process in the interview with Abhorn Magazine, which took place over a period of five years. He also provides some insights into the layout and sequencing within the book.

The work of these artists creates ambitious  narratives shaped by both image and text. In my own practice, this is another dimension that I have begun to explore in the Ark Royal work (here) and will continue to explore in the upcoming assignment.

References

Augschöll D and Anya Jasbar A (nd). Interview in Abhorn Magazine. Interview with Christian Patterson. Available from: http://www.ahornmagazine.com/issue_9/interview_patterson/interview_patterson.html [accessed 27.2.17]

Christian Patterson [website]. Redheaded Peckerwood. Available from: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1 [accessed 27.2.17]

Colvin M. Interview: Rubber Flapper. Available from: https://weareoca.com/photography/rubber-flapper/ [accessed 16.2.17]

O’Hagan S (nd). Aperture [website]. PhotoBook Lust: Sean O’Hagan on Ed van der Elsken, Love on the Left Bank. Available from: http://aperture.org/pbr/photobook-lust-sean-ohagan-ed-van-der-elsken-love-left-bank/ [accessed 27.2.17]

Ex 4.5 – Sinking of the Royal Oak

Find words that have been written or spoken by someone else. You can gather these words from a variety of means – interviews, journals, archives, eavesdropping. Your subject may be a friend, stranger, alive or dead. Select your five favourite examples and create five images that do justice to the essence of those words.

For this exercise I have used five fragments of prose from a letter from my grandfather to my grandmother (who have long since passed away), written during WW2, and telling the story of his escape from the Royal Oak in October 1939, on which of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed or died later of their wounds. I hope one day to revisit these letters as a project.

Click on image to open gallery view

 

References

National Trust [website]. Dunham Massey ancient trees walk. Available from: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey/trails/dunham-massey-ancient-trees-walk [accessed 9.2.17]

HMS Royal Oak [website]. Available from: http://www.hmsroyaloak.co.uk/index.htm [accessed 9.2.17]

Project 2: Memories and speech

This section of the course material discusses the use of memories (either our own, or those of others) as a source of inspiration for photographic work. Of course, memories are a source of inspiration for many forms of art – just yesterday I was listening to Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, where he mentions that much of his work is based on his own heavily disguised experiences and memories. Continue reading “Project 2: Memories and speech”

Ex 4.2 – Images and text

Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example.

In exercise 4.4, I have explored the use of captions in newspapers and magazines. Therefore, for this exercise I have focused on images and text on a local high street (Skipton, North Yorkshire).

As I walked along the high street, it occurred to me that shop windows form images for reading – the contents of the displays are projected onto the glass shop-front and framed by the edge of the windows. We view the display as an image. Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise, I treat the shop window itself as an image where text is superimposed upon it. Continue reading “Ex 4.2 – Images and text”

Ex 4.4 – Captions

The purpose of this exercise is to gather newspapers and cut out some images without their captions then, for each image, to write three or four different captions that bend the image to different and conflicting points of view.

Images and captions

 

Source: naturetrek.co.uk advertisement
  • Global warming fears as scientists record ice-caps melting.
  • Oil found with the potential for thousands of new jobs.
  • Search in vain for explorer lost in the Arctic.
  • The ultimate adventure holiday.
  • Continue reading “Ex 4.4 – Captions”

Ex 4.3 – Storyboard

This exercise requires the creation of a storyboard where the image does not depend on the text and the text adds something new to the narrative.

Storyboard by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I am so used to seeing words as descriptors of images that it required an effort not to use the words to explain the images (particularly with the poor drawing skills). It was like stretching a muscle that is not often used.

The caption to the second image includes reference to an object in the image (bed) but the focus of the caption is ‘the situation’; a thing indecipherable from the image. Therefore the ‘relay’ still works – there is an unanswered question in the gap between the image and text.

The story concludes with a visual punchline and complementary text that does nothing to explain the punchline. Whether anyone laughs or not, I will never know for sure – a shortfall of virtual communication!

Ex 4.1 Looking at adverts

This exercise requires a response to one of Dawn Woolley’s (OCA tutor) blog posts in her series, Looking at Advertising. At time of writing, it is 11th December and the advertising festive season has already been with us for some time! So I chose her blog number 14, which considers Christmas.

The post is concerned with keywords and describes her process of identifying keywords in featured in advertisements from an assortment of magazines over the Christmas period. It does not talk about the connection between words and images in the adverts, but is concerned with the decoding of the meaning of the words themselves. Woolley explains Continue reading “Ex 4.1 Looking at adverts”

Exercise 3.3 – under-represented or marginalised

Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed. How might being an insider help combat this? (OCA IAP, p66)

In reflecting upon this, I’ve drawn on some of the work studied since the beginning of my OCA course, with references to previous blog posts below.

Diane Arbus (1923–71) was duplicitous in her approach to subjects, with her main interest in being getting the photo. Her subject matter was often ‘freaks’. In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag showed an almost obsessive dislike of the work of Arbus, mentioning her name no less than 85 times. In one summing up of an Arbus show, Sontag says:

… lined up assorted monsters and borderline cases – most of them ugly; wearing grotesque or unflattering clothing; in dismall or barren surroundings … Arbus’s work does not invite viewers to identify with the pariahs and miserable-looking people she photographed. Humanity is not “one“. (Sontag, S. (2014), loc 394)

Of her own practice in the Aperture Monograph, Arbus says, ‘actually they tend to like me. I’m extremely likeable with them. I think I’m kind of two-faced.’ (Fitzgibbon A, 2016). Arbus viewed marginalised people as spectacles to be photographed and put on display, much like an old-fashioned circus freak-show. A way for ‘normal’ people to view the ‘other’ and make them feel appreciative of their own normality, ‘humanity is not one’, and perhaps happy in their own perception of superiority. It is an extension of this kind of ethos that can be found in photography in the popular press; for example, taking images of refugees out of context and showing them in an unflattering way to fuel the sense of difference in extreme right-wing orientated readers.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-07-48-45

Bruce Davidson (b 1933) is a humanist photographer, who works closely with his subjects to understand their perspective on the world. An antithetical approach to the divisive use of photography discussed above. One example is his work Freedom Fighters, in which he followed black civil rights campaigners and joined them on their campaign bus, also putting himself in harm’s way of law enforcers. On this work he says:

“Yes, I was pulled in emotionally by the courageousness of those young kids (the Freedom Riders), who as soon as they got off that bus, they could have been murdered.” (ASX)

source: ASX, by Bruce Davidson
source: ASX, by Bruce Davidson

Davidson spent time with his subjects, sometimes photographing them over the course of one year or more. He describes him self as a humanist photographer. A humanist perspective can be defined as ‘a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason’ (Merriam-Webster.com)

Being or at least acting as an insider, with empathy towards subjects and their lives can help to build understanding and not foster division. Agreement is not necessary, but understanding is essential for a civilised society.

References

ASX [website]. Everything is Sacred – An Interview with Bruce Davidson (2006). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/12/interview-interview-with-bruce-davidson.html [accessed 8.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Inside/Out by Abigail Solomon-Godeau (May 2015). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/insideout-by-abigail-solomon-godeau/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2016).Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Bruce Davidson at Fundación Mapfres (August 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/tag/bruce-davidson/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Fitzgibbon A (2016). Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Diane Arbus, Aperture Monogram (July 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/2016/07/10/diane-arbus-aperture-monogram/ [accessed 7.11.16]

Sontag, S. (2014). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

 

 

Exercise 3.2b – Uniqueness of personality

Introduction

The purpose of this exercise is explained in the first part of this post (see here), where I consider the idea of personality. This post shows the photos I made in response to the exercise.

Before shooting these photos, I read a book that’s been sitting on my book shelf in anticipation of the next self-portraits I would make; The camera I: Photographic self-portraits (follow link for post on the book). I found the book a help in adjusting my mindset to self-portraiture, which I’ve previously found a very difficult exercise. The book analyses the psychological challenges in making self-portraits as well as showing over 100 self-portraits by the greats of photography. Two aspects helped me in particular:

  • Recognising that self-portraiture is an act – my internal self having a conversation with my surface; we are separate and there is no need to be puzzled and distracted about feeling self-conscious with oneself.
  • There are just three general types of self-portraiture: delineation (straight representation of one’s own lines), distortion (for example through a mirror or other reflection), and disguise (pretending to be someone else, eg through dressing up or other disguise).

For this exercise, I decided for simple delineation along with a conversation with myself about aspects of my personality mentioned in part a) of this post – to see if that would elicit a response on the surface of my face.

Set-up

Simple pop-up studio made with foam board and gaffer tape, with a black cloth drape. Camera Fuji X-T1, xf60mm f/2.4. Single flash light with shoot-through umbrella.

img_0260 img_0261 img_0262

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos

Click to open larger image files

Analysis
  • #1 crosses over into the ‘disguise’ type; it is an act of despair, shot in very low light. I am not a natural actor – I would need to practice acting skills to get into this area to any extent!
  • There are a number of images that feature hands alongside the face to help with self-expression. Our hands are naturally expressive; for example they automatically calm or protect us. This could be an area of further exploration – ’emotional hands’.
  • A few images feature props – my lighting set-up dummy (‘Ethel’), a guitar, a jacket for warm-weather travel, and a camera. These could be used to explore my relationship with a personal interest (though Ethel could draw dubious inferences). What we choose to do with our time and our lives contributes towards the uniqueness of our personalities.
  • The images are deliberately stripped of context in the pop-up studio. In future I will explore contextual set-ups – for example like Bill Brandt’s work shown here.

SaveSave

Exercise 3.2a – Uniqueness of personality

Make a list of some aspects of your personality that make you unique. Start taking a few pictures that could begin to express this. How could you develop this into a body of work? (OCA IAP, p66)

Personality is word used casually everyday when finding out about people we meet or other people’s perceptions of people, but what does it mean exactly? The American Psychological Association (apa.org) offers this definition:

Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole.

A well-known tool for assessing personality types is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (see reference below for details), which uses 16 different personality types to categorise people. There is no good or bad type, just different types, who have different preferences in how they interact with the world and other people. I took a free online MBTI test to rediscover my type (been many years since doing one). Without going into the details, here is a general description of my ‘ENTP’ type (Teamtechnology):

you are someone who challenges the status quo, seeking to uncover the hidden potential or new possibilities in different situations. You start projects and introduce change on an experimental basis, not knowing fully what is going to happen, but in the expectation that it will lead to an improvement. You enjoy the challenge of doing something that has not been done before and seems impossible.

This is a general description (or stereotype), but what of aspects of my own personality:

  • Easily bored without sufficient challenge.
  • Curious about many different topics – sometimes too many, both art and science.
  • Capable of getting completely engrossed in areas of interest, to the exclusion of things that could be higher priorities.
  • Not particularly patient with people.
  • Enjoy debating (some might say arguing), even if I have no particular attachment to a point of view.
  • Artistic and numerate.

I will reflect on these aspects of personality and consider how they might be portrayed photographically (making a part b. of this exercise).

References

Myersbriggs.org [website]. Available from: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/ [accessed 31.10.16]

Teamtechnology [website]. ENTP Personality Types In-Depth. Available from: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/personality/types/entp/overview/  [accessed 31.10.16]

 

 

Ex 3.1 windows and mirrors

Go through your photographic archive and select around ten pictures. Separate them into two piles: one entitled ‘mirrors’ and the other entitled ‘windows’.

I quickly skimmed through my 2015 archive and selected a number of images for the exercise, without at first considering whether they are ‘windows’ into another world or ‘mirrors’ of my own world. For the purpose of part 3, we are asked to use our own perspective, as the photographer, in deciding whether to classify images as ‘windows’ or ‘mirrors’

Windows

Mirrors

Analysis

I used an intuitive response to categorising the photographs and analysed my choices afterwards.

The ‘windows’ are all photographs outside of my own country and culture, so from that perspective they are easily categorised. However, one could also consider them as a mirror on my world, reflecting the places to which I have travelled and what things have caught my eye. The aware portraits could also be categorised as mirrors, with the subjects reflecting their view of me as a photographer.

The ‘mirrors’ are closer to my own identity: a street photograph in Leeds of two strangers obscured by a Union Flag umbrella – my nationality is mirrored as is a rainy day in Yorkshire, as part of my day-to-day life. The head portraits are of an old school friend and my son. Both reflect my life at different points in time, they have influenced who I am and I see them as mirrors.

It can be difficult categorising based on our perceptions of what we see; the world is highly interconnected and it is possible to hold different perceptions of the same thing. It is perhaps more a judgement of degrees of separation and taking a position based on a distance, rather than a general perception. It is also apparent that my rationale for the selections would not be clear to a viewer without context; even people I know would be unlikely to make the same categorisations on my behalf.

Ex 4.2 – same background, different model

The requirement for this exercise is to make portraits of three different subjects, keeping the background to the image consistent. Three images are to presented together as a series along with a 500 words reflection.

For sometime, I’d intended to complete this exercise using street portraits in my nearest local town, Skipton. I noticed during assignment 1, shot in the night markets of Bangkok, that a busy location makes it easier to engage with people. There is no need to close the distance between you and them before engaging. One is already in proximity. I wanted to experience the different feeling from crossing the path to approach a stranger, with a request for a photograph, offering nothing in return. No reciprocity. A very different scenario to Irving Penn, who paid strangers to sit for him – admittedly often exotic individuals on the margins of the mainstream.

The weekend prior to the shoot, I scouted the town for interesting backdrops with a reasonable footfall. My choice was a traditional red telephone box outside the town hall. An interesting piece of history that perhaps would not be in place for too much longer. The idea was to have people stand back-to-box and look sideways towards the camera. However, on the day the location did not work out. The area was in deep shade due to the position of the sun and overhead clouds – I was not prepared with flash, nor had I considered the timing of the shoot and light in advance. A couple of lessons learned before I even started shooting!

Plan B was an impromptu hunt for light and an alternative spot. I settled on a backdrop of a dark alley way. As Penn did in some of his photos, I would anonymise the background while using natural light.

The photos (click to view full screen)

Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16

In total, I took around 10 photos and the rate of being rejected by people I approached was about 50%. As expected, this was a more difficult location than a crowded space. There was the anxiety of whether a potential subject would accept or decline as the space was crossed towards them.

The camera used was a Fuji X-T1 with a 35mm f/1.4 lens (50mm efl). The exercise would have been more straight forward with a zoom lens – rather than shuffling back and forward for framing, but I wanted to ensure a consistent angle of view with a prime lens.

With the X-T1’s electronic view finder (set to preview the exposure) it is sometimes tricky to see shadow areas clearly; it would have been better to deactivate the exposure preview to allow a clear view of the details of subject being framed – I do this for indoor and low-light work and because the subjects were standing against shadow, I should have also done it here.

In terms of future process, I will ensure I have cards available with contact information so that the subjects contact me for a digital copy of the photos (this would make me feel more comfortable!). I intent to repeat a similar exercise to refine my process and gain more confidence in this kind of scenario.

Exercise 2.3 – same model, different background

The objective of this exercise was to first consider the work of Harry Callahan and Julian Germain, then select a subject for a series of five portraits, varying the locations and backgrounds. The work of Callahan and Germain is considered here.

Like Callahan, I chose my wife as a subject, but unlike Callahan the photos were taken during the course of 1 day, not 5 years. I was inspired by Callahan’s approach to making art from family photos – working with them as subjects in this way allows us to combine photography with family life. The other benefit of working with my wife was obtaining quality feedback on how she found the experience and the opportunity to  to refine my approach in further exercises.

The locations were were not planned in advance and followed a day as it unfolded. I decided in advance the type of photos I would like to make; up-close, in a neutral square format with some sense of abstract pattern / form, rather than traditional portrait. I’d also been inspired to experiment with the square format by a recent visit to a Vivien Maier exhibition (see here).

I took over 100 photographs during the course of the day, covering activities from sleeping and showering to eating and drinking. All were taken with a Fuji X100T with its fixed 23mm (35mm efl) lens, with the intention of using the black and white film simulation (red filter) jpgs for the exercise (though RAW was also captured as a backstop). Post processing (of jpgs) was done in Lightroom – the images were softened (reducing clarity and using curves to remove blacks), a warm shadow tone and grain was added; all to add to the sense of abstraction.

The photos

My wife is a reluctant photo subject, but was very cooperative during the day. Her feedback was that she found it difficult not to look at me / talk to me when I was taking the pictures (I’d asked her not to look at the camera or engage with me); at points she felt like she was being stalked (some photos were taken from behind while walking); and on some occasions, when I’d asked her to hold position, it felt unnatural, not in a normal position of relaxation.

From my own perspective, the exercise presented a number of challenges:

  • Reaching a level of not being too intrusive to get the shots, both to keep the subject onside and to ensure the shots appeared authentic.
  • Maintaining a consistency of framing throughout the day; I was aiming for closely framed shots and at various points there was a temptation to work with more distant shots. Within the short timeframe of this exercise, I think that would have created difficulties when it came to editing later. However, for a longer-term project, featuring a larger number of photos, I think more flexibility would have also worked.
  • A slight discomfort at intruding on the same subject for a sustained period. It was only slight as I spend a great deal of time with my wife in any case. However, this made me mindful of how the experience could be with a subject I do not know so well; a series of shorter shoots might well be a sensible approach!

Project 2 – the aware

This post considers the work of two photographers working with ‘the aware’, so subjects that are aware that they are being photographed, in contrast to ‘the unaware’ considered here. The two photographers are Harry Callahan and Julian Germain, with both works involving long-term, personal projects.

Harry Callahan (1912–99). Lens Culture says of Callahan’s work, ‘It’s impossible to imagine Callahan without Eleanor, his wife. He photographed her repeatedly, indoors and out, nude and clothed, over about 15 years. These images, whose true subject is married love, rank among the most moving photographs ever made.’ It is the photographs of Eleanor that are considered in the context of ‘the aware’. MoMA shares a generous collection of Callahan’s photos online.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 19.36.23
source: moma.com

Most of the photos of Eleanor shown do not reveal her face, or she is placed in the distance so her features cannot be perceived. They are all shot in black and white. The awareness of the subject is implied as the photos are carefully composed or in private locations. In ASX’s extensive interview with Callahan, he is asked why he started to photograph his wife; he explains that it was after the birth of their daughter, saying ‘So it was a very exciting thing. I thought that I would really like to photograph her and I photographed them both. I photographed them an awful lot, for about five years. But I didn’t get very many good pictures. I got a few…’

Callahan who, as a young photographer, enjoyed both Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz as mentors, and had a long career as an academic reflects on quality in photography:

“The difference between the casual impression and the intensified image is about as great as that separating the average business letter from a poem,” said Harry Callahan in 1964. “If you choose your subject selectively — intuitively — the camera can write poetry.” (quoted in Lensculture)

Julian Germain‘s (b 1962) 8 year project focuses on Charles Snelling, who was an inspiration to Germain  for how life can be lived.

source: juliangermain.com
source: juliangermain.com

The text accompanying the project on Germain’s website includes the following quote, which reflects Snelling’s way of living:

‘For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness’ is a template model for what critical engagement should try to achieve in our day and age: forget the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and provide examples of people who operate in a different forcefield…’

They are photos of Snelling’s everyday life, in subdued colour tones. The project also includes photos of Snelling’s own photo albums, mixing found photos with the artist’s photos in the book of the project. In the interview with Photo-eye, Germain’s intention is explained:

His visits with Snelling were initiated more out of companionship than photographic goals. “Photography was undoubtedly part of it because I always took my camera,” Germain says, “but it was a relatively small part with no end product in mind, no deadline and no pressure to ‘succeed’.”

What happens behind the lens, in the photographers’ minds, is important to appreciating these two works. Both photographers explain that they respond intuitively to what they see, implying that there is no pre-determined intention. The projects are put together as an afterward to the photography. This is somewhat different to the discipline of ‘intention’ frequently referred to in the OCA’s level 1 course.

Above all both works are a response to subjects that move the photographers personally; one a wife, and the other a wise old man.

References

Art Institute Chicago [website]. Callahan, Harry. Available from: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/artist/Callahan,+Harry [accessed 30.8.16]

ASX [website]. Harry M. Callahan Interviewed on February 13, 1975. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2012/12/theory-harry-m-callahan-interview-feb.html [accessed 30.8.16]

Julian Germain [website]. For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, 2005. Available from: http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/foreveryminute.php [accessed 30.8.16]

Lensculture [website]. Harry Callahan:
The Photographer at Work. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slide-1 [accessed 30.8.16]

MoMA [website]. Harry Callahan. Available from: http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/924 [accessed 30.8.16]

Photo Eye [website]. For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness. Available from: http://www.photoeye.com/magazine/reviews/2012/03_12_For_Every_Minute_You_Are_Angry_You_Lose_Sixty_Seconds_of_Happiness.cfm [accessed 30.8.16]

 

Project 1 – the unaware (reprise)

In the original post, summarising research on four photographers (see here), it was mentioned that I had no information on the approach to covert photography by Lukáš Kuzma. Subsequently, I contacted him direct by Facebook messenger and the communication chain is below, with links to a short description of his book and a YouTube video, in which he discusses his photography.

In terms of approach, Kuzma uses an intuitive response to the environment around him, following what interests or surprises him, taking his camera everywhere. This reminds me of Tom Wood’s approach, who also sets out with no specific intention. In the video, he seems to make no attempt to mask that he is taking pictures, but walks quietly around with a small inconspicuous camera (what appears to be a Fuji X-pro or X100T).

———————————

Hi Lukas – I hope you don’t mind the direct approach. I’m a BA photography student with the OCA and I guess you know that your work is featured as part of their course material. I’ve just written a short piece on approaches to covert photography, including your work alongside 3 other photographers. I’d be grateful if you could share a brief explanation of your approach to Transit London? My blog post is here – http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/2016/08/29/project-1-the-unaware/

Lukáš Kuzma accepted your request.

Hi Andrew, I prefer direct approach. My approach. I’ve sent you a link where you can read in my books {blurb.com/lukysta} about the work I’ve done. On that page you can read Continuum where it is described. there is also a short video that includes more information >https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjxkYtJlOsA< My approach is to go out with a camera and see where it takes me. Its a process that is driven by curiosity, intuition and involves a lot of different approaches to a current situation. Underground in London is a great place for candid works. People are rushing through the same route everyday leaving me plenty of space to explore and to capture that world. Hope it helps, and good luck with your study.

Thanks – very helpful. I’ll share with the OCA group, so you don’t get pestered with the same question too much!
Great I appreciate it, best of luck
end.
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References
Blurb [website]. Transit
by Lukas Kuzma. Available from: http://www.blurb.com/b/5798286-transit [accessed 30.8.16]
Youtube. Short film CLICK – IP production and Lukáš Kuzma. Available from: https://youtu.be/IjxkYtJlOsA [accessed 30.8.16]

Exercise 2.2 – Covert

The purpose of this exercise was to shoot a series of five portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed, having examined other practitioners working with covert images. My study of other photographers on ‘the unaware’ is posted here. There is a strong psychological aspect at work for the photographer in this type of work – the fear of being caught-out, taking something without permission, with the potential for confrontation. This addresses our inherent territorial instincts, so it is something that the majority of people will feel nervous about to some extent. There is something predatory in the behaviour; which explains why personalities like Bruce Gilden feel comfortable, or even enjoy this approach to photography.

I chose to shoot two separate sets of photos using different approaches to record different experiences. Set 1) is similar in psychological approach to Martin Parr’s Japonais Endormis in that the subjects could not be aware that they were being photographed since I was photographing from a balcony above a street out of their line of sight; only one person looked up during the 200 plus shots I took. Set 2) is more akin to Walker Evans’s approach transported to a modern-day environment; cameras are pervasive so there was no need to hide the tool (in itself, it no longer attracts attention), so I simply held the camera to my chest with a wide-angle lens and chose the moment to fire the shutter.

The technical approach to both sets was similar. I used a Fuji X100T, which is relatively small and unobtrusive; because of its retro appearance many people just assume it is an old camera and take little notice of it – no risk of inducing visions paparazzi in subjects as there might be with a DSLR. For both sets the camera was used in full manual mode – with reasonably constant light conditions, exposure was set to optimise depth of field (middling for set 1) and high for set 2)); focus was set to manual (on a point for set 1) and to hyper-focal for set 2)). This both speed the response time of the camera and allows me to focus only on releasing the shutter at the chosen moment.

Set 1

This is a spy-like or CCTV approach with no interaction with the subjects whatsoever. It focuses on people passing through the same square of ground. As anticipated, I did not find this approach appealed to my relatively gregarious personality. What was of some interest were the patterns of life in the small square of ground – mostly drab clothes that blended with the paving stones, with few people standing out; the care to avoid bumps with others; the various body-shapes speeds of movement. The distance allows perception of general types, without the distraction of details of individualism.

Set 2

I enjoyed this set much more – observing people close-up and a buzz from the element of risk involved. Though taking the images covertly, without engagement is again something that does not appeal to me. I prefer a candid but open approach, to make a connection with my subjects.

Putting aside personal preferences for engaging with subjects, it is clear that covert photography serves the purpose of observing behaviour that is not posed for the camera. Not necessarily unposed behaviour as it is clear that there is some social posturing within groups of individuals; I was particularly taken by the gazes in the last shot!

Exercise 2.1 Individual spaces

‘The objective [of this exercise] is to try to create a link between the two components of your image, i.e. the subject and their surroundings.’ I found the wording for the requirements of this exercise a little confusing; was it 3 different portraits of 3 different individuals in different locations (making 9 portraits in total), or 3 portraits of 3 individuals, each in a different location (making 3 portraits in total)?  In the end, for the purpose of the exercise, I used two different individuals in 3 different locations each (making a total of 6 portraits).

Subject A

A has a dislike of being photographed. Three main context in which she expresses her identity are through social events (for example eating out with friends), horse riding, and her work as a businesswoman.

In image 1, I took her aside from the group in the restaurant and photographed her sitting alone. While the context shown is a restaurant, it does not feature the social context (the other people). In retrospect, this could have been more successful showing A as part of a group in a restaurant, but with the camera focused on her.

For image 2, I opted for a photograph showing movement with and on the horse, rather than a static photo of horse and rider. This speaks to the exhilaration of horse riding as a sporting activity, rather than the love of horses, which I feel would have been the reading of a static portrait.

For image 3, I opted for a corporate-style headshot. It is the style of the image that provides the context (a non-space). In retrospect, the gaze should have been different for this type of image; perhaps looking into the camera with authority would have achieved a better effect.

Coherence within the series is assisted by a similar post-processing treatment as well as the subject being the same person throughout.

Subject B

Subject B does not mind being photographed and is interested in the photographic process. Locations that are important for him are the kitchen (both for eating and enjoyment of cooking), the games room (for X-box), and the football area.

The series was taken after series 1 and I had a chance to put into practice a few lessons learned. I’d been using a wide angle lens (35mm equivalent) to capture the context within the images but had not taken full advantage of the optical qualities of the focal length by including a foreground element close to the lens. I’d just read a book by Jane Bown on portraiture (review in separate post) and was inspired to focus simply on the quality of available light and capturing images with a minimum of fuss (important for a young subject, or an important time-constrained subject alike).

I believe the series featuring subject B is more success than that of subject A. This is partly because subject B was more cooperative and willing to engage in the process, and partly because I don’t yet have the experience to photograph reluctant subjects well. That makes it important to me to return to photograph subject A and attempt to make an improved portrait and develop a strategy for dealing with reluctant sitters!

Exercise: portraiture archive

These photos are from my archive, but not taken by me. One would not usually expect to see them together as they cover a long time period, showing me and my children ageing; a range of discrete activities, from personal holidays and family photos to business trips; and a range of different locations. They are in some ways incongruous.

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What I discovered during this exercise was the difficulty in searching the archive for the photos; my archive is currently arranged mostly in folders by year and month, so searching it requires time consuming serial viewing. This encouraged me to explore practices for digital archiving (see separate post) and further to that the use of keywording in Lightroom.

‘Learn to Lightroom’ provides a good introduction to keyword hierarchies, which I’ve now spent several hours building into my LR catalogue. The hierarchy defines typologies, which can be used to reference photos in the catalogue. For example, I have a top-level keyword of ‘human emotion’ and within that the types of emotions (eg happiness) and within those characteristics that reveal the emotions (eg smile). Lightroom automatically tags the photo with the lowest level tag and those to the type to which it belongs. A readymade typological tool-box!

References

Learn to Lightroom [website]. Keyword Hierarchies. Available from: http://www.learn-to-lightroom.com/articles/keyword-hierarchies/ [accessed 22.7.16]

 

Exercise: 1.3 portraiture typology

Introduction

This exercise is a response to August Sander’s (1876 – 1964) work, attempting to create a photographic portraiture typology to bring together a collection of types.

A brief reminder of Sander’s work in Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth- century Germans – he began a 20 year project in 1910 to document the German people. The work as a whole was divided into seven groups, corresponding to social structures (or types as we are discussing typology). The Met list these as: the farmer (Der Bauer); the Skilled Tradesman (Der Handwerker); the Woman (Die Frau); Classes and Professions (Die Stände); the Artists (Die Künstler); the City (Die Großstadt); and the Last People (Die Letzten Menschen), comprising the elderly, the deformed, and the dead. Strangely, there are not listed in the photo book by Sander.

Exercise

For its types, the exercise uses basic human emotions, which are portrayed instinctively by the human face. There is some debate on what these emotions are (BBC News): the conventional view is that there are six basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. However, more recent research using computer assisted techniques suggests that there is little visual distinction between expressions of fear and surprise; and of anger and disgust. So, for the sake of clarity, the types used in the exercise are happiness, sadness, fear, and anger.

Found images from Flickr creative commons have been used to illustrate the portraiture typology, The selection was captured in a Flickr gallery (link here). In homage to the Sander book, in which his categories are not referenced and Douglas Huebler’s variable piece 101, the photos selected are shown below without typological information. The viewer can use their own point of view to attribute the types of happiness, sadness, fear, and anger.

All images from Flickr photographers (click for details)

References

BBC News [website]. All human behaviour can be reduced to ‘four basic emotions’. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-26019586 [accessed 12.7.16]

The Met [website]. August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century. A Photographic Portrait of Germany. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2004/august-sander-people-of-the-twentieth-century–a-photographic-portrait-of-germany [accessed 12.7.16]

Sander, A., Döblin, A., Robertson, M., er, A., & Doblin, A. (1995). August Sander: Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth- century Germans. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag GmbH.

Exercise: 1.2 background as context

For this exercise, I examine the work of August Sander in Face of our time, then make a portrait inspired by what I learned from Sander’s work.

First, there should be a reference to the introduction to the book by Afred Döblin, entitled, Faces, Images and their Truth. This presents an opposing view to that expressed by Barthes in his essay, The Blue Guide (see post here). Döblin extolls the virtues of typology in a short paragraph, quoted verbatim here:

But what can we say about an ant heap? There may be some five hundred ants moving across a path, coming from a root, or from a pile of stones, in a fast and quite conspicuous movement. A hundred yards away there is an even larger crowd of them at work. No matter how closely we observe the insects, it is impossible for us to perceive more detail than certain general characteristic of the species, or insignificant differences between individuals. It is absolutely impossible to differentiate between them. And yet there is no doubt, or at least I should imagine so, that here, as with bees, all of the insects recognise each other and can distinguish themselves one from another.

The point Döblin then makes is that this same logic is rarely applied to human beings – they are perhaps to self-obsessed to do so – ‘the fact that, viewed from a certain distance, distinctions vanish; viewed from a certain distance, individuals cease to exist, and only universals persist.’ This perspective is perhaps a healthy social view – encouraging focus on similarities rather than differences. It is so often differences that lead to conflict.

Observations from examining Sanders work are as follows (references refer to the plate numbers in the book referenced):

  • Backgrounds are just that, backgrounds that serve as a backdrop to the subjects.
    Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 20.54.54
    Source: moma.org

    They are indistinct and at most hint at the context of the sitter, for example woodland or a grand house, but they do not receive a visual priority in the photos.

  • The subjects are deliberately placed so they are distinctive from the backgrounds or the background serves to draw the eye towards the subjects.
  • The sitters are posed but appear comfortable and relaxed. Only a few of them smile, most wear neutral expressions.
  • Many of the sitters appear to have formally dressed for their portraits, including a farmer in his ‘Sunday best’ (p1)
  • The majority of the portraits are either half or full body; there are very few head-shots. The hands and what they are doing form an important part of the portraits: for example a locksmith holding a chain of keys, a farmer holding a bible (with his large laboured hands), an industrialist with his hands shaped as a church roof, signifying confidence.
  • Where flash-light is used the flash often appears to be position above and to the left of the sitter (based on catch-light and shadow observation).

For my own portrait, I decide to work with my own pre-teenage son, who having recently been handed down an old iPhone for emergency communication purposes, often switches of communication in preference for a head-phoned world of virtual communication, music, football and political news.

The portrait was shot in his favourite seat and with his younger brother acting as moveable light stand for the flash light. I opted a half-body shot that shows his school uniform, iPhone in hands, and headphones on head – perhaps not the usual portrait a parent would make of their child, preferring them to be free of electronic gadgetry and smiling at the camera.

untitled-1

 

References

Sander, A., Döblin, A., Robertson, M., er, A., & Doblin, A. (1995). August Sander: Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth- century Germans. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag GmbH.

Exercise 1.1 Historic portrait

Source of featured image: nationalmediamuseum.org.uk, woman against sunlit wall, Clementina Hawarden

Following some general research on historic portrait photography (see sources here), a photograph by Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865) was chosen for in-depth study. Carol Mavor’s book, Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, explains that Hawarden made around 850 photos, many with her adolescent daughters as subjects. Mavor states that she finds the photos erotic, while acknowledging that others do not so, and draws comparison with Sally Mann’s photos of her own adolescent children, which Mavor also finds erotic.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 20.21.59
Source. Tate.org, Francesca Woodman

There are similarities between the work of Francesca Woodman and Hawarden; in the adolescent subject matter, the frequent use of a window as a light source, the empty room as a backdrop, and the eroticism.

While much is written about the work of  Hawarden’s contemporary, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879), there is little dedicated to Hawarden. This is perhaps because Hawarden’s work was not widely publicised at the time it was made – treated as private photos of her family. The V&A comments that ‘the collection of photographs by Hawarden came to the Museum in relative obscurity in 1939, without any accompanying archival material to reveal more about her life and work.’

Considering the photo, woman against sunlit wall, the National Medium Museum suggests that it could be a self-portrait or a photo of Hawarden’s sister.  Regardless, it leaves a similar impression to the photos of the adolescent daughters, posed by their mother.

In my view the photograph is erotic, though whether or not it was intended to be so is difficult to know. The woman leans against a wall, with bright sunlight from her right casting a hard silhouetted shadow on the wall. Her neck is stretched and open to the viewer, illuminated by the sunlight. Her hair drapes loosely over her shoulder, dishevelled and unprepared for the public gaze. Her elongated neck is framed by a bead necklace, which draws the eye down towards the line of her low-cut dress. She looks down, reflectively in a private moment, as if unaware she is being watched; the camera and the viewer are voyeurs of the scene. The woman’s left hand rests upon her breast, encouraging the eye towards the low neckline of her dress. Her right hand rests on her dress on what seems to be her inner thigh area, but this is ambiguous and unclear, masked by the generous folds of her dress; engaging the viewer in questioning what is happening in the image. The shadow of her outline on the wall emphasises that the woman is leaning back, relaxed and without caring what is happening around her. It also adds shade to the left of the woman in contrast to the light on her right side, the dark shadow creating a sense of mystery.

References

Eve K. Victorian Musings [blog]. Viscountess Clementina Hawarden Maude (2013) . Available from: http://kimberlyevemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/viscountess-clementina-hawarden-maude.html [accessed 2.7.16]

Luminous-lint.com [website]. Lady Clementina Hawarden. Available from: http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Lady_Clementina__Hawarden/A/ [accessed 2.7.16]

Mavor, C. and Hawarden, V.C. (1999) Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden. Duke University Press.

National Media Museum [online]. Woman against sunlit wall. Available from: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/collection/photography/photographscollection/collectionitem?id=1985-5078/7 [accessed 2.7.16]

Sally Mann [website]. Available from: http://sallymann.com/selected-works/family-pictures [accessed 2.7.16]

The V&A [online]. Lady Clementina Hawarden and the V&A. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/l/lady-clementina-hawarden-and-the-v-and-a/ [accessed 2.7.16]