This blog is now inactive as this OCA course module is complete. Assessors should please see page that describes blog content – ‘note to assessors‘ in menu.
My next module is at at http://land.fitzgibbonphotography.com.
Thank you for looking.
The cover of the book by Erik Kessels explains what it is about. What you can’t see from the photo is that the book also opens the wrong side. Genius touch.
The general thrust of the book is about taking failures, accidents, non-conformity and embracing it to make something creative and different from the normal. Making something unexpected and interesting. It is full of examples of artists doing this, including photographers and sculptors.
It is a reminder to think differently and create differently. To not produce chain-art, to not be McDonalds or Heineken.
Failed it! (2006). Kessels E. New York, Phaidon Press.
I listened with great interest to Ian Sinclair being interviewed on his approach to writing in a BBC radio 4 podcast (linked below) in the series Only Artists where one artist interviews another from a different field. I came across Sinclair in the EYV course with reference to psychogeography. Hearing talk about his practice was fascinating – he captures stories (unofficial histories) through discussions with people he talks to while walking and takes lots of photos as visual references for places. He then creates his own narratives based on the stories he’s heard and places he’s seen (and photographed).
I wondered how this approach might work to photography and text as a working method – it would seem to fit very well with my love of walking the streets with a camera. This is a thought to tuck away until it comes to the Landscape module perhaps.
BBC Radio 4 (iPlayer). Iain Sinclair and Keggie Carew. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08pflfh [accessed 28.6.17]
For some time I’d struggled with WordPress for a personal portfolio site – it seemed to inflexible in relation to layout of images on the web-page. Perhaps possible if one is familiar with customising CSS, but I’m not and didn’t really want to learn. I assume that the difficulties are because WordPress was conceived as a blogging platform and that is primarily how it is used – and it is great for that.
I dismissed the idea of commercially hosted photography portfolio sites as they seemed expensive and also template driven. As I already have self-hosted sites for my blogs and can add subdomains with no additional cost, I was keen to make use of the server space I am already paying for. A short-time ago I upgraded my Adobe subscription so that I could use Indesign and with that upgrade the whole suite of Adobe software becomes available.
So I took the plunge and taught myself to use Muse (the web-designer software). It is designed by the same team as ID and share some common functionality, so layout was very simple. There is also a great deal of help on YouTube. The concept of layers is also used in the application but in a much more straightforward way than Photoshop. What I did find more trick was some web-specific technicalities that I’d not before come across. For example, how to manage the website so it works with different sized screens. I really took me quite some time to get to grips with this.
Anyway, I eventual succeeded in creating and publishing a new portfolio site. It will of course be regularly refreshed and more content added, but I feel I have a good foundation and have grasped the basics, ready to try something more adventurous next time around. It has also made a difference to the way I interact with photographers websites – not just with the pictures but the website as an entity in itself, now that I have the possibility of controlling my own layout!
Here is a link – http://www.fitzgibbonphotography.com
I’m revisiting Laura El-Tantawy’s work, in the shadow of the pyramids (also admired earlier in L1) as the approach to narrating the story along with backing sound, while the photos are shown as a video, is of interest for my final version of A5. In this I have decided a narrative is necessary to do justice to the story of my grandfather, but I’m mindful that dense text on the page can overwhelm images, and I’d like to avoid this.
The tonality of her voice is important in the narration – it is flat and calm, unobtrusive and an accompaniment to the images, rather than the other way around. I think this is why I find the work so compelling; the primary narrative is through the photos but the voice provides support and direction to the viewer. I hope to achieve something similar in my project.
In the shadow of the pyramids (website). Available from: http://www.intheshadowofthepyramids.com/sounds/ [accessed 15.6.17]
Today I attended a workshop and portfolio viewing hosted by the Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Ten photographers from a variety of backgrounds and experience attended the workshop. The guest photographer and speaker was Yan Wang Preston, who is currently exhibiting her work ‘Mother River’ in the gallery (see OCA visit notes here), and the members of the gallery staff also provided advice and feedback on portfolio presentation and the process of curation.
The day started with a brief tour and discussion of the Mother River exhibition, with Preston explaining the background to the work, which had left me with unanswered questions following the earlier OCA visit. The project was four years in the making and involved photographing the Yangtze River at 100km intervals along its over 6000km route. The photographs are banal and not necessarily visually stimulating, without an apparent message or perspective. However, I learned that it was Preston’s intention to subvert the typical images of the river, whether iconic, based on traditional myths or environmental perspectives on pollution or the damming of the river and clearance of local populations. To show the river just how it is – her process of selecting ‘y’ points at 100km fixed intervals was designed to facilitate this view, along with some unwritten rules (eg not photographing ruins). The work as received wide critical acclaim and been exhibited in several countries. At this point in time, I find the work more interesting conceptually than visually but also admire the determination and commitment in delivering this challenging body of work. It was also a great lesson in how to talk well about one’s own work.
Next, there was a presentation by Yan Preston on planning, researching, and funding long-term projects with an opportunity for questions. Here, a few notes from what was a very interesting presentation:
Be able to clearly explain your project:
‘Taking pictures is not that hard – it’s the bit that goes before’.
From the curator, after the discussion on the importance of research around a subject; worries when photographers approach her saying that they are ‘doing there own thing’ without reference to what has gone before. It is not that she is expecting original ideas (there are none) but something that builds on what has gone before, and that the work has substance, supported by research.
On getting known (in Yan Preston’s order of preference):
In the afternoon session, there was a portfolio review / discussion. I took along my work on assignment 5, so have made a separate post in that section of the blog here.
A very enjoyable day, and I would certainly attend future events.
Impressions Gallery [website]. Mother River. Available from: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=80 [accessed 3.6.17]
For assignment 5, the output is to be a photo book. Having experienced frustrations with LR book module on previous outings, and feeling the same pain again in A5 preparatory work, I decided to make the move to ID with an upgrade in my Creative Cloud subscription (only an additional £6/month at student rates). This post notes some of my initial explorations into work flow.
In theory, the output can also be shared directly online through Adobe Publish – embedded in this post below.
Three visits in one day with Derek Trillo – sounded like it might stretch my powers of concentration to the limit, but the time seemed to fly by. Good company and good art.
No photographs were allowed throughout the exhibitions, which is going to mean this write-up will lack visually. I do feel exhibitors are missing a publicity trick here – I would share iPhone snaps to Tripadvisor or Facebook and perhaps others would be encouraged to visit. Do they really imagine anyone’s going to make a high quality reproduction with prints behind glass and gallery lights shining on it?
Britain in Focus at the Science and Media Museum (SMM instead of NMM, I suppose we now call it) accompanies the excellent BBC 4 TV series exploring the history of British photography from the 19th century to the present day. The series was presented by photographer Eamonn McCabe – it is no longer available on iPlayer, but I assume can be purchased from the BBC store. Many of the artists featured were already familiar to me, including the ubiquitous Martin Parr. But John Bulmer was not, and his colour photographs of Northern England were particularly striking, standing in stark contrast to the b&w work of Bill Brandt using similar subject matter.
This exhibition was interesting to compare to the one I saw during the previous OCA study visit, which featured international photographers’ work about Britain, The Strange and Familiar. At the time of the previous exhibition, I was bemoaning the fact that much of the work we study is that of American photographers and it feels like there is an under-representation of native culture. It could simply be down to Americans often being masters of publicity that they achieve higher profiles, or that there are more of them, but I find it strange nonetheless. Again here, the Britain in Focus exhibition was confined to a single room only, to cover the whole of British photographic history, whereas I lost track of the space taken with the Strange and Familiar exhibition it was so extensive. There is perhaps something to learn about the power of publicity in all this.
The Poetics of Light pinhole photography exhibition, also at the SMM, was a surprise to me and I think many of the other students. Prior to the visit I wasn’t expecting much and I thought of pinhole cameras as toy-like. However, I was stunned by the quality of work on display, so much so that I’ve order the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery online (£15 less than the £50 at SMM). The experimental nature of the cameras used (including a VW camper van, a soup can, cigarette packet and underwater contraption) and the work produced was fascinating; some of the work was surreal, as if we were viewing our world through alien eyes; some cameras featured multiple pinholes.
I am drawn to experiment with pinhole photography, which would inevitably mean getting my hands dirty with some old-fashioned chemicals – I’m somehow not so attracted to modifying a digital camera into a pinhole camera, though one fellow student mentioned that she was already doing so. The output from these primitive devices is very different in quality to standard photographic output and I suspect the photos marketable as unique objects.
The last exhibition, Mother River, was in the Impressions Gallery across the road from SMM and generally received with less enthusiasm than the first two exhibitions of the day. My impression was that the process of taking equidistant images along the course of the Yangtze river was more of a priority than taking images that were visually stimulating. This can be contrasted with Zhangkechun’s work, linked below, which focuses on the same river but engages the viewer in questioning what is happening in the images with their powerful juxtapositions of landscape with the unexpected. However, I will not say too much about Preston’s work at this time, as I will soon be attending a workshop with her at the Impressions Gallery and I hope to gain further insight then.
A thoroughly enjoyable day and great chance to catch up with some familiar faces and see some new ones.
Britain in Focus at Science and Media Museum [website]. Available from: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/whats-on/britain-focus-photographic-history [accessed 27.5.17]
The Guardian on John Bulmer’s photographs of life in Northern England (Wainwright M, 2010). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2010/jan/29/john-bulmer-photographs-north [accessed 27.5.17]
John Bulmer [website]. Available from: http://www.johnbulmer.co.uk [accessed 27.5.17]
Mother River by Yan Wang Preston at Impressions Gallery [website]. Available from: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=80 [accessed 27.5.17]
Poetics of light: pinhole photography at Science and Media Museum [website]. Available from: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/whats-on/poetics-light-pinhole-photography [accessed 27.5.17]
Zhangkechun [website]. The Yellow River. Available from: http://www.zhangkechun.com/the-yellow-river [accessed 27.5.17]
Over the weekend of 6 May, I attended a two-day artist’s book making course at Hotbed Press in Salford. It’s purpose was to provide an introduction to various book formats and book making skills, producing a number of my own books over the weekend (without content of course). In addition there was some interesting discussion about the nature of books and the relationship between form, materials and content; how this can change a viewer’s experience of the work.
The course was taught by Elizabeth Willow, a fine artist. Creative Sketchbook (linked below) show some examples of her work.
My reason for attending the course was to learn how to make my own photo books – I’ve become interested in this after seeing Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and a video of him constructing the book, combining photos and documents. I might ultimately use these skills to turn my assignment 5, ‘A story not told’ into a book.
iPhone snaps from the course:
Creative Sketchbook [website]. Elizabeth Willow’s Paper Stories (March 2013). Available from: http://www.creativesketchbook.co.uk/2013/03/elizabeth-willows-paper-stories.html [accessed 27.5.17]
Hotbed Press [website]. Available from: http://www.hotbedpress.org [accessed 27.5.17]
Christian Patterson [website]. Redheaded Peckerwood. Available from: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1 [accessed 27.5.17]
I used LR’s book module for assignment 4, from initial drafting, uploading to my Blog for feedback and assessment and sending a copy of the book for printing with Bob’s Books. Overall, I found the process quite painful for this type of book and, on reflection, think I have chosen the wrong tool for the job.
I note here pros and cons, which I’ll revisit before approaching another photo book and deciding upon the tool to use.
My current feeling is that for a photo book that is more about photos than text, a more efficient process would be to simply use LR for preparing a mock-up for the purposes of editing and obtaining feedback. Then complete the final book directly in the editing software provided by the service provider. So the question then becomes, which provider to use and the flexibility of their software.
A quick look at Bob’s Books and their downloadable ‘Bob’s Designer’ software, plus the offer of student discount, looks like they would be a good starting place for the next project.
OCA Study visit – Manchester Art Gallery
Hosted by Derek Trillo
Manchester Art Gallery describes the exhibition as, ‘curated by Martin Parr and celebrating the work of leading photographers, including Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Rineke Dijkstra, Bruce Gilden and Evelyn Hofer… Strange and Familiar considers how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK. From social documentary and portraiture to street and architectural photography, the exhibition celebrates the work of leading photographers … Bringing together over 250 compelling photographs and previously unseen bodies of work, Strange and Familiar presents a vibrant portrait of modern Britain.’
There is a catalogue of the exhibition, which unfortunately was not available for purchase at the gallery. However I’ve ordered it and will consider in more detail the photographs featured once I have the catalogue. In this post I reflect on my overall impressions.
Before visiting the exhibition, I wondered whether the eyes of international photographers would select anything different from a British photographer might have chosen to photograph. However, there was nothing. Perhaps because the eye of trained photographers everywhere is looking for interest in the banal. What I did find is there was something in the style of some photographers that seemed typical of their own culture and strange with British subject matter, particularly in the case of some of the Japanese and American work.
From a personal perspective, I found the photographs ‘strange and familiar’. In the rapidly changing world photographs from previous eras (even those I remember from my early childhood) seem alien and dream-like. An example is the bus conductor and postman featured above in their smart uniforms. It was not only temporal distance that created this impression, it was geographical distance – in reality I see more of some foreign countries than I do of some parts of the UK (many of which I have never visited). We are limited in our capacity to be visit many different places, so they remain strange but familiar through information we receive through different channels.
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and found the theme of ‘strange and familiar’ successful in bringing together a fascinating collection of photographs from masters of the art. Perhaps that is enough to justify Parr’s theme.
The Guardian [0nline]. Jack I (March, 2016). Strange and Familiar indeed – these photographs of the life I lived are eye-opening. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/19/strange-and-familiar-barbican-photographs-of-life-i-lived-are-eye-opening [accessed 11.4.17]
Manchester Art Gallery [website]. Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Available from: http://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/exhibition/strange-and-familiar/ [accessed 11.4.17]
Click to view as gallery
Over the weekend I read (or at least skimmed) the Martin Evening book, Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers (2014 release).
I bought this a couple of years ago when first joining the OCA, and have dipped in and out of but not paid too much attention to it, preferring to take Photoshop tips from YouTube videos (learning by watching).
However, as I approach the end of the level 1 courses I’m making an effort to close any niggling doubts on post processing techniques and decided to go through the ‘bible’ to see what I might find. Here a note a few points that will have a significant impact on my approach to post processing.
Robert Harding Pittman’s work is referenced in the OCA course material. I was drawn to his work and look at it more closely in this post.
In his interview with Sharon Boothroyd (Photoparley), Pittman discusses his work Anonymization, referring to the urban sprawl of large-scale developments that have little connection with the spaces that surround them. He says’ with this anonymous type of development not only comes the destruction of the environment, but also a loss of culture and roots, as well as alienation.’ This is something I have witnessed as western style shopping malls spread to other parts of the world – in side these places it is difficult to know whether one is in Moscow or somewhere outside of Manchester!
Pittman is closely engaged with the environment, originally an environmental engineer, and says of his photographic process, ‘Usually my approach to photography is impulsive and instinctive. The more I can connect with what is around me, without thinking too much, the better it is for the photographs.’ This ‘not over-thinking’ is something that has become important to my own practice over the two years since starting my studies. It is not a question of being ignorant of context or technique, but not allowing it to hinder the instinctive creative flow when making pictures.
There is an absence of the human figure in Pittman’s work, yet he explains how evidence of humanity also dominates the work, ‘In the images we see how we control and dominate the earth, by reshaping it, by flattening it and by covering it with roads, parking lots, lawns in the desert and with large-scale developments.’ This sounds self-evident, but I wonder how many of us are numbed by overwhelming human presence and therefore do not recognise it for what it is.
The personal appeal in Pittman’s work is it’s pushback against sameness and lack of sympathy for natural surroundings and locality. It is something that impinges on many aspects our our lives – the imposition of uniformity, often in the name of efficiency and economic sense, with little regard to other sense.
Perspectives on Place [blog]. Robert Harding Pittman: Anonymization (June 2015). Available from: https://perspectivesonplace.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/robert-harding-pittman-anonymization/ [accessed 30.3.17]
Photoparley [website]. Robert Harding Pittman (May 2015). Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/robert-harding-pittman/ [accessed 30.3.17]
Robert Harding Pittman [website]. Available from: http://www.roberthardingpittman.com/photography [accessed 30.3.17]
In IAP part 5, absence and signs of life, there are ‘many examples of photography that avoid the use of the human figure in order to communicate truths and stories about humanity.’ One particular aspect that interested me for further research was that of still life: it is not an area that currently features in my practice (as my working life is mostly desk-bound, I’m keen to be outside when I can); I’m interested in exploring the concept of everyday objects being transformed into something different through the medium of photography, including the use of symbolism, visual pun and metaphor; and I’d like to explore the lighting techniques for table-top still life photography, both in their own right and as techniques that can be translated into larger scale.
The National Media Museum’s video, What does it mean? Symbolism in Still Life Photography, touches on the origins on still life in painting and its dual purpose of allowing the practice of technique on things that do not move or need any particular love and attention (Don McCullin (National Media Museum) also discusses this practicality), and of representing something beyond the objects themselves through symbolism and metaphor.
My earlier studies have include aspects of lighting for still life: Light Science and Magic (Hunter F, Biver S, Fuqua P, 2015) and Table Top Photography (Harnischmacher C, 2012). The blog posts (hyperlinked) provide some useful reminders and areas to revisit. One significant different to my kit is that I now have a light meter.
A call for ‘still life’ reference material on the OCA forum provided some useful suggestions. Some artist referenced follow.
Imogen Cunningham made exquisite use of lighting to photograph a wide range of subjects, both in locations she found them and in more formal tableaux.
One fellow student provided a substantial list of photographers to consider: ‘contemporary’ work coming out of the USA – Daniel Gordon, Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar – but also UK – Lorenzo Vitturi, Jonny Briggs. Links to websites are referenced below. Gordon’s work has the feel of collage about it – complex patterns with a mix of natural and created objects; visually disconcerting. Creative Review features Blalock’s book Making Memories, including an AR (augmented reality) app that allows the work to be viewed in 3D through a phone screen. This illustrates how Blalock treats the photograph itself as just a point of departure for his work, with post-processing being a significant part of his work. Vitturi’s own website provides a stunning visual display in itself – not just a vehicle to show photographs.
This research has given me a mind full of information to digest as I develop ‘still life’ as part of my photographic practice.
Creative Review [website]. AR comes to photography in new book by Lucas Blalock. Available from: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/ar-comes-photography-new-book-lucas-blalock/ [accessed 26.3.17]
Daniel Gordon [website]. Available from: http://www.danielgordonstudio.com [accessed 26.3.17]
Foam Museum [Youtube]. Still/Life – Contemporary Dutch Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/tk0wborGNxs?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]
Imogen Cunningham Trust [website]. Available from: https://www.imogencunningham.com/still-life/ [accessed 26.3.17]
Jonny Briggs [website]. Available from: http://www.jonnybriggs.com [accessed 26.3.17]
Lorenzo Vitturi [website] Available from: http://www.lorenzovitturi.com [accessed 26.3.17]
National Media Museum [Youtube]. What does it mean? Symbolism in Still Life Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/iQ_ftM0ZXy8?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]
National Media Museum [Youtube]. Don McCullin on Still Life Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/Qvgic5q-1Zw?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]
Sara Cwynar [website]. Available from: http://saracwynar.com [accessed 26.3.17]
During the feedback process on assignment 4, it was suggested I take a look at David Hurn (photographer) and John Fuller’s (poet) book that combines image and text.
It is an interesting collaboration between the two artists, with Hurn’s reportage photographs having a response from Fuller in the form of a poem. The introduction to the book takes the form of a discussion between Hurn and Fuller on the creation of the work and the nature of photography and poetry.
At one point they discuss what came first the photos or the poems and they both seem to agree:
JF: … I was also wondering if you would be able to take photographs to go with poems that I had already written.
DH: That doesn’t work , does it? Poetry is far more flexible than photography … the pictures must come first. Trying to pretend you are taking a photograph that represents an already written poem is absurd … (Hurn and Fuller, 2010, p10)
For my assignment, I had started with an existing piece of writing but had not tried to represent it directly, rather represented the atmosphere and feeling I found through reading the writing. In the final edit the writing content was reduced to extracts of phrases accompanying the picture, so the narrative in the original writing became invisible. But something of atmosphere remained.
So, I agree with Hurn and Fuller’s argument that the photograph needs to come first if there is to be a direct or literal reading between the two components. Perhaps important to Hurn with his reportage style. However, I don’t believe the order is important if a connection between the components is to be made at a different level.
A fellow student directed me to the work of Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, which she described as a collection of drawings (rather than photographs) and poems by the artist that don’t necessarily at first glance look remotely connected.
I think this illustrates the point very well – images do not need to be directly illustrative of text and the combination is more interesting with the space for meaning between the two.
Hurn, D. and Fuller, J. (2010). Writing the picture. 1st ed. Bridgend, Wales: Seren.
IAP, p94 discusses with work of William Eggleston and John Szarkowski’s introduction to Eggleston’s work in the catalogue accompanying a 1976 MOMA show. In essence, the point made is that it is not the photographed things that are the works of art, but the photographs of the things transformed through the view of the photographer and camera. They become fictionalised in an alternative space, ‘one balanced loosely between recognition and art’.
We are asked to reflect upon:
It is sometimes difficult for us to tell the difference between stories and histories – the political and cultural forces shaping the presentation of history can distort it to the point of becoming a story-like. So, I would generally treat ‘history’ with some care, but do not doubt that there are some histories that do their best to present an impartial and balanced view of past events. However, there must always be a selective view or frame from reality – it is not possible or desirable to consider every aspect when making a history; we would never be done writing or reading. So, in some ways it is similar to a photograph being a slice from time and space selected by the photographer as a visual author. I therefore think that perhaps photographers are a little of both storytellers and history writers – moving along a continuum depending on the work, but never purely one thing or the other.
I tend toward fiction with my photography. I’m not so much interested in documenting things as they are but creating a story or an emotional response based on my subjective reading of an objective. I work in a day-job that is supposedly strictly concerned with facts and my photography provides a release from that.
My approach is already largely blended, representing objects and people as parts of narratives they are not intentionally telling – an oak tree representing the story told in the letter of a survivor – a real place representing a fictional place, based loosely on a different real place. Truth is used as a point of departure into a world of fictional narrative that touches reality at some points.
I feel no want or need to depict reality, but to show my interpretation of a person, object or place. Being a photograph, it will have an indexical relationship to reality, but it is not the same thing. Often there is a fictional narrative pieced together from tiny disjointed fragments of time / space. Not reality.
I invested considerable time in working out how to present a photo book on this blog, without paying for a third-party flip book service, which seem to come in at around $15 per month. Here are notes for future reference, or any one else who might find them of use.
Various plug-ins are available. On this site I use Photo Book Gallery, with free features that are sufficient for simple flipbooks and with a degree of control over its configuration in the settings panel. The only thing I needed to adjust was the book sizing so it was in a consistent dimension to the size of the jpg files being used.
A big upside of this approach is that the flipbook uses jpgs uploaded to the WordPress media library, so the images can be reused elsewhere in posts related to the same project.
My first flip-book was made for the first edit of assignment 4, here.
Les Monaghan, a practicing photographer and OCA tutor hosted an OCA study visit covering his own work Aspirations (Stockport Gallery, 11.2.17). I was lucky to enjoy what turned out to be a four hour discussion of Monaghan’s work, his aspirations and the practicalities of obtaining funding for projects.
Monaghan is passionate about his subject matter; he is a photographer with a cause. The theme of his work could be described as the social inequalities and limited life opportunities experienced in the relatively poor areas of the UK, including his home town, Doncaster. I’m not sure whether he would describe himself as a humanist photographer, but his practice seems very much concerned with giving a voice to his subjects, with their collaboration and permission. There is a real sense of ‘being on the inside’ in the work; in the community, of the community, for the community.
What I found striking about the way Monaghan talked about his work was the way his subjects and their social and environmental conditions dominated the air-time; photography seemed to be purely a means of record, with visual aesthetics not a significant factor. At one point it was mentioned that sociologists might be interested in the work, but considered photography insufficiently objective to be useful.
I reflected on this afterwards and wondered if photography on its own, with its flexible meaning, can ever be an adequate vehicle to do justice to serious social issues. Perhaps, this type of work might be more effective as joint project or at least with the input of a sociologist / concerned writer, which might give it broader traction. But that would of course create an addition set of challenges around the collaboration process.
Aspirations Doncaster [blog]. Available from: http://aspirationsdoncaster.blogspot.co.uk [accessed 8.3.17]
To satisfy my continuing interest in the technical aspects of photography, so I can make an informed choice of what to bring to my work and what to discard, I recently attended a day-long printing workshop. It was run by Mark Wood (who has some impressive credentials) and hosted by Wilkinson Cameras in their Liverpool training suite.
I feel I make reasonable prints, but you never know what you don’t know until you know – my main motivation for attending the workshop, which covered:
I learned more than I expected, and note here a few points that will be introduced to my practice:
Adobe [website]. Print with color management. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/printing-color-management-photoshop1.html [accessed 8.3.17]
Mark Wood Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.markwoodphotography.com/index.html [accessed 8.3.17]
Wilkinson Cameras [website]. Advert for workshop – printing master class. Available from: http://www.wilkinson.co.uk/printing-masterclass/ [accessed 7.3.17]
I’d used my iPad to show some photos to members of the choir who were the subject of my previous assignment, using Lightroom mobile. This was okay for the purpose but not really suitable for an iPad portfolio showing – not a clean presentation with the LR edit functionality visible.
I looked for other options suitable for a iPad portfolio presentation (so I am prepared for any potential projects) and found it surprisingly not straightforward, with the obvious apps being flawed:
After some online research, I selected Foliobook (http://www.rocketgardenlabs.com) as a reasonably straightforward but customisable solution with Dropbox integration and syncing for updates to the portfolio content.
A neat solution for creating a bespoke first page, is to an create image and text composite in Photoshop (using a new page with iPad dimensions) and then in-app add transparent buttons over the text to go to the portfolio pages (eg the footer on the image shown on the image in this post).
Saving the Photoshop composite as a PSD file also makes it easy to update with a fresh image or add additional text at a later date. A good solution for a £10 app!
I was pointed towards Harold Evans’s Pictures on a Page during a discussion, which touch upon editing, on the OCA discuss forum. The context of the book is news papers and photojournalism, but it contains a wealth of advice relevant to all photographers.
The 1978 book is biased towards black and white photography (it was the newspaper format of the time),
but Evans offers an interesting quote in support of black and white:
you may get closer to reality with colour but the closer you get the more obvious it becomes that it is a picture not the real thing (Evans, p13)
But this is a small detail. The book includes over 500 photographs and is informed by interviews with famous photographers. Evans illustrates his advice and opinions with examples of photographs. It includes 16 chapters, covering topics from selection, composition, sequencing, editing, cropping and words with pictures. I found it an enormously useful and interesting read.
Evans H (1978). Pictures on a Page. London, William Heinemann Ltd.
Part of the feedback I received when I put my assignment 3 draft up for discussion on the OCA critique format was a comment on the aspect ratio; I’d used the standard 3:2 that comes out of my Fuji X-T1 (or any 35mm inspired sensor). The suggestion was made that 5:4 looks better and the student mentioned that he crops all of his photos to this aspect ration. I’ve used square format on a few occasions as a square is an obviously a different container to a rectangle, but had not thought of cropping to a different rectangular dimension. Strangely, I tried the 5:4 crop and liked the look of it better. This got me thinking.
Different sensors or film formats determine the native aspect ratio of the digital or film image, as Gibson explains in his online article. He also explains what he calls ‘the 35mm problem’, which is 3:2 works well in landscape orientation but can look too tall and narrow in portrait. So the longer rectangles make it difficult to fill the frame effectively and hinder composition. Several articles (various, photocomposition) discuss the ‘golden ratio’ (3:2 is an approximation to this), including studies that show this is often a naturally occurring ratio and attractive to humans – this is supported by anecdotal and historical evidence of the ratio’s use; why have we continued to use it if we don’t find it attractive? It is also thought to approximate the eye’s natural binocular field of vision (Thein M), so it is comfortable for us to view in one glance. So if you flip 3:2 vertically, to maintain the same horizontal aspect it would need to be 4.5:3 (or 5:3.3 if you want a comparison to 5:4). This is the 35mm problem – portrait viewing does not fit with our native human aspect ratio.
Most people will stick to the aspect ratio that is native to the camera, and either do nothing else, or crop to fit later. This is compositionally very, very sloppy – not only do you not get the best frame for the shape of your subject, there’s a very good chance that you probably won’t be able to fill the frame properly, either; 3:2 is a bit of a compromise aspect ratio that lacks the organic intimacy of 5:4 or 4:3 for portraits, or the drama of 16:9 for more expansive scenes. (Thein M)
I am self-confirmed ‘compositionally very, very sloppy’ – focused on maintaining available pixels for printing at expense of composition. But the times are changing. However, there is plenty of ‘purist’ thought in the photography world to discourage cropping – the same writer has a blog post entitled, ‘why cropping is bad’. Though, he does explain reasons and why he considers aspect ratio to be an exception, providing the shot is made with the aspect ratio in mind.
Now, I am going to work and experiment with different aspect ratios, but I cannot imagine how to envision the final aspect ratio in camera, while shooting 3:2 through my view finder (advice welcome!) and I wonder about series of photos – I’m not sure that a series containing various aspect ratios would be accepted; mixing portrait and landscape in the same aspect ratio seems to already cause controversy amongst photographers.
Gibson A (2011). The Art of Using Aspect Ratios in Digital Photography. Tutsplus [website]. Available from: https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/the-art-of-using-aspect-ratios-in-digital-photography–photo-7947 [accessed 1.2.17]
Thein M (2012). Introduction to aspect ratios and compositional theory. Petapixel [website]. Available from: https://petapixel.com/2012/12/26/an-introduction-to-aspect-ratios-and-compositional-theory/ [accessed 1.2.17]
Thein M [Blog]. Why cropping is bad (January 21, 2013). Available from: https://blog.mingthein.com/2013/01/21/why-cropping-is-bad/ [accessed 1.2.17]
Various (nd). Photocomposition Articles. Photoinf [website]. Available from: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/ [accessed 1.2.17]
Early in 2016, I joined a collaborative project to photograph the Yorkshire Dales National Park, using a grid-based approach. The project is the brain-child of Tom Marsh of Yorkshire Photowalks and detailed information is provided on his website, linked below. Over the Christmas break, I took the last of my shots for the project.
The project is thought to be one of the largest in the world, with projects elsewhere focused on smaller urban areas. The Dales grid project covers 134 sixteen square kilometre areas, with photographs at each of the 16 OS map grid intersects within each area. One of the early grid projects was in Portland USA, started in 1995 by Christopher Rauschenberg, dividing Portland into 98 squares. That project has continued to the present day, with new photographs showing the changes in places over time. In the UK cities with grid projects include Bradford and in Birmingham.
Aiming to photograph from points where OS map grids cross in the open countryside presented some challenges – some required long walks to reach and pin-pointing locations on open moorland is tricky! In the end, I used the ViewRanger iPhone app to guide me to the spots, which saved time compared with fumbling with a map and compass. I the process, I discovered some wonderful less often visited spots in the National Park and got some good exercise.
Click to view larger images.
I initially found the constraint of having to photograph from specific points on the map limiting – it always seemed that there was a better spot 10 or so meters on! However, I came to enjoy the limitation and process of looking closely at what I could see around me, perhaps taking photos that I may not of otherwise even considered worth taking. It became a lesson in the discipline of looking.
I must now wait to see if any of my work is selected for the exhibition planned in the summer of 2017, to be hosted at the National Park’s new HQ.
Bradford Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://www.bradfordgrid.co.uk/intro.html [accessed ]
The Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://www.birmingham-photographic-grid.org.uk [accessed ]
Portland Grid Project [website]. Available from: http://portlandgridproject.com/content/about [accessed 3.7.16]
Available from: http://yorkshirephotowalks.com/gridproject/index.html [accessed 30.12.16]
Alois Riegel’s work, The group portraiture of Holland, is an examination of the work of group portrait painters in Holland and the interplay between internal coherence of the group (within the paintings) and external coherence (engaging the viewer outside the frame). The theories and techniques described are of interest to me in the context of my upcoming assignment 3, which will involve photographing a male voice choir.
I foresee a challenge in making large group portraits as being the coordination of individual gazes within the group into something other than a predictable outward gaze the camera, or even worse that, accompanied by fixed smiles! Painters have the benefit of creating their images on the canvas, whereas in photography its indexicality means it must, to a certain extent, work with the world as we see it. Nonetheless, that world can be organised or even manipulated through digital post-processing, so lessons from painters can be valuable.
Riegel talks about ‘psychological manifestations’ that can be expressed within the concept of paintings, and later goes onto to describe how these can add a sense of coherence to a group portrait. The manifestations are:
Riegel discusses a number of paintings in his work, including how their composition and psychological manifestations serve to unify the groups portrayed. It is a fascinating look at reading paintings and discovering the artists’ intentions. For my own purposes, the following aspects are important:
I have had little success in finding photographers working with group portraits, outside of standard corporate or wedding group photographs; perhaps because these are common gatherings of large groups and they primarily serve the purpose of recording who was present, in time constrained circumstances. This exploration of group portraits in paintings has provided useful food for thought.
Aaron Schuman’s interview with Alec Soth on his work The Mississippi, includes a discussion on Soth’s approach to sequencing a series of images. I’m interested in this topic, as the upcoming assignment 3 (Windows) will include a series of images, where the number of images to include is left to me to decide.
Soth comments that anyone can take single great picture (if they have the luck of being in the right place at the right time), but very few people can create a collection of great pictures, which is his aim.
He talks about the art being in making the collection and in the ‘interplay of the images’. He is looking to a whole beyond an individual image. When asked about how he chose and sequenced the photos, Soth refers to the model used by Robert Frank in the Americans:
Frank found the mood and motifs, but didn’t repeat it to death. His sequencing functions as a kind of rhythm. It carries you through the book. He repeats certain themes, but keeps moving. The structure really is based on poetry.
I find these concepts easier to relate in the context of music than poetry (as I’m more familiar with music), but until reading Soth’s words had not really considered them in the context of photography. Mood is easily understood as an expression of emotion; happy, sad, tense, upbeat and so on. Motif, I think of as a small recurring fragment (a obvious and famous musical example is the introduction to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony).
Unfortunately, the interview with Soth does not go on to explicitly explore the moods and motif’s his work, but looking the images on Soth’s website, here are some of the things I see:
The concepts of mood and motif are something I will consider when it comes to pulling together assignment 3.
Aaron Schuman [website]. The Mississippi: an interview with Alec Soth. Available from: http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html [accessed 21.12.16]
Alec Soth [website]. Sleeping by the Mississippi. Available from: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 [accessed 21.12.16]
Literary Devices [website]. Motif. Available from: http://www.literarydevices.com/motif/ [accessed 21.12.16]
Source (featured image): http://www.americansuburbx.com, by Ed Van Der Elsken.
This research requires reading of Roland Barthes’ The Rhetoric of Image and to then comment on:
The upcoming assignment 3 places no limit on the number of photographs that can be included in the submission. Therefore, it is timely to reflect on the process of editing; by this I refer to the process of reviewing photos taken and working through to a final selection of images. I don’t mean the activity of post-processing – as the term ‘editing’ popularly refers to the use of tools like Lightroom and Photoshop, there is inevitably confusion. I recall being confused early in my EYV studies when my tutor referred to a ‘closer edit’, while at the same time advising not to do too much post-processing! I take care to use each term appropriately now.
I was pleased to have another photo featured in the Big Issue North in connection with the OCA’s partnership / advertising. This time a photo of a decaying farm building with the backdrop of Lakeland fells. The photo was taken during a family visit, with my children no doubt bemoaning another photo-stop. What struck me at the time was the relative impermanence of permanent buildings when placed in the shadow of a mountain.
For however dutifully we record what we see around us,
the common denominator of all we see is always,
the implacable “I” (Joan Didion)
This book deserves to be on the reading list for self-portraiture, not just because of the 148 photographs, self-portraits by some of the greats of photography spanning nearly a century and a half, but because of the fascinating and thought-provoking introduction by Robert Sobieszek on the nature of portraiture and self-portraiture. The following passage says so much about the nature of self-portraiture that I quote it in full:
In self-portraiture, where the artist and subject are ostensibly the same person, the dynamics of reading, interpreting, analysing, and representing involve by definition a cycle of self-regard, self-presentation, self-revelation, and self-creation … an attempt to achieve an honest and convincing representation of the self invariably embodies the realisation that there are at least two selves, one accessible and the other hidden …’ (Sobieszek and Irmas, 1994, p21)
It is little wonder then, why I have found the process of creating self-portraits so challenging and exhausting – there is so much going on, when considered in this way.
Sobieszek explains the concepts of ‘watchman’ and ‘spy’ to explore the nature of self-portraiture; the former with the role of observer of the surface of activities, and the latter with the objective of digging below the surface to discover information or secrets. In explaining how the photographer as spy might work, he quotes Richard Avedon:
The point is that you can’t get at the thing itself, the real nature of the sitter, by stripping away the surface. The surface is all you’ve got. You can only get beyond the surface by working with the surface. All that you can do is to manipulate that surface – gesture, costume, expression – radically and correctly.
In my portraiture work, I have used the concept of a portrait as ‘an interview with a camera’; that is my way of ‘working with the surface’. In my upcoming self-portrait exercise, I need to find a way of talking to myself with the camera.
Sobieszek suggest that self-portraiture can be divided into three general types; delineation, distortion, and disguise. He goes on to illustrate these concepts by reference to works in the book. He concludes with the inevitable end, which is perhaps why I find self-portraiture a sobering exercise:
Self-portraiture is ultimately a confrontation with the self’s mortality. The self that stares back at the artist was once, when the photograph was made, and is no longer; marking a time immediately removed in time, it portends the imminency of death. (Sobieszek and Irmas, 1994, p32)
In my upcoming self-portrait exercise, I will attempt to relax into the idea of me photographing another me and me trying to shape my surface through a conversation with me. Otherwise, I am doomed to appear as a pantomime actor performing.
I’ve recently been blogging on the processes of seeing and expressing a vision through photography. See Ways of Seeing (revisited) and Photography and Zen. Related to the thoughts in these books is Elina Brotherus’s reflections on her own photographic process, where she talks about creating first and analysing later.
Miksang photography is based on Eastern (specifically Tibetan) thought and the contemplative practices that include meditation. In the past I’ve read material based on similar principles but applied to creativity in the field of music, including improvisation. I read Michael Wood’s book, Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing (the literal translation of Miksang is ‘opening the good eye’.) to discover more.
The purpose of this post is to reflect on how the practice of Miksang might relate to the development of my own photography practice.
Like many things, Miksang is easier said than done – it is the practice that is challenging, not the conceptual understanding. In essence it involves:
This is not something you ‘get’ from reading a book, it is something that requires dedicated practice. As well as the general benefits from meditative practices in our busy world, I envisage benefits to the practice of art photography:
Miksang.com [website]. Available from: http://www.miksang.com [accessed 30.10.16]
Wood M (2016). Opening the good eye: a path to true seeing. Miksang Publications, Colorado.
Revisiting John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (see here) took me on an unexpected exploration of the objectification of women. I referenced female photographer, whose work comprises self-objectification, loaded with sexual signals; she responded to my blog post, commenting that her work was ‘consensual objectification’ and she was comfortable in the knowledge that her 7.7k Flickr followers were predominately male. Putting the post up for discussion on the OCA’s photography forum then generated a range of responses and references.
In this post, I aim to come to an understanding of the arguments around sexual objectification. This is not to address broader questions of equality or the impact of the general portrayal of women in the media.
Objectification is a phenomenon; ‘The majority of the thinkers discussing objectification have taken it to be a morally problematic phenomenon’ (Papadaki E). This is perhaps where our challenges start in considering objectification in the context of photographs:
Therefore, attempting to assess whether a photograph on its own objectifies, is futile. It must be interpreted in a broader context.
The next point to consider is whether objectification is wrong per se, or whether there are circumstantial considerations, for example ‘consensual objectification’. An example of this in popular fiction is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, with UK sales of over 12 million (Singh A); books with a central theme of sexual objectification and 80% sold to women ( US statistic -http://www.bowker.com/news/2012/Whos-Really-Reading-50-Shades.html). ‘[Martha] Nussbaum believes that it is possible that “some features of objectification … may in fact in some circumstances … be even wonderful features of sexual life”, and so “the term objectification can also be used… in a more positive spirit.’ (Papadaki E) This view appears evident in the Fifty Shades’ success. Everyday Feminism magazine asks the question:
There’s a long-standing debate in feminism about sexual empowerment: How do we know when someone is being sexually liberated versus being sexually objectified, since they sometimes can look similar from the outside?
The answer, they propose, is in determining who has the power. Deciding where the power lies may take some analysis and consideration, but it is a pragmatic model.
I will not consider any photographs (in their context) here, but have a useful model for viewing and interpreting work going forward.
Everyday Feminism [website]. How Can You Tell if You’re Being Sexually Empowered or Objectified? Ask Yourself This Simple Question? Available from: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/empowered-vs-objectified/ [accessed 25.10.16]
MoMA [website]. Cindy Sherman. Available from: https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/cindysherman/gallery/4/#/0/untitled-95-1981/ [accessed,25.10.16]
Papadaki, Evangelia (Lina), “Feminist Perspectives on Objectification”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/ [accessed 25.10.16]
Singh A. 50 Shades of Grey is best-selling book of all time. The Telegraph [online] (August 2012). Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9459779/50-Shades-of-Grey-is-best-selling-book-of-all-time.html [accessed 25.10.16]
OCA IAP (p63) asks us to watch a talk by Elina Brotherus to OCA students about her own work.
It is a short talk of a few minutes and focuses more on her process of working than her photographs. Her advice is simple; get out and photograph more, following your instincts and leave the analysis of what you have made until later.
After reading the advice, I did just that – a 30 minute drive to Saltaire, UNESCO world heritage village to walk around and photograph and just see what came up.
Saltaire was an industrial village built by August Salt (mill owner) in 1851 to house his workers and provide welfare and education facilities. It would have once been busy with industry and workers going about their daily activities. It is now preserved for heritage and tourism. The grand mill is a successful a location for artisan shopping and cafes and a gallery space for the largest collection of Hockney’s work in the world. It needed to be repurposed to survive and this undoubtedly required substantial effort and investment by the current owners.
I felt a sense of melancholy walking around – similar to a recent visit to Liverpool’s Albert Dock – both once places providing labour and productive output, but now housing gift shops and coffee shops, with little feel of community.
I processed a few of the photos with a sense of nostalgia (for a time of course I could not have known), which may not have been shared by the people employed at hard mill-work. The processing is fake (digital in Lightroom) as is the activity now housed by the mill – no longer an industrial powerhouse, but a servant to tourism.
So, the analysis results in a strap line for the series of photos – From Industrial Powerhouse to Servant to Tourism.
I first read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in January 2016 during my CAN course (see here). I was curious to see whether I would take anything new from a second reading, with the book appearing as recommended reading for IAP.
Looking back on my previous blog post (Fitzgibbon A, 2016), it is in the form of a book review, with the book summarised as follows:
The work is a series of essays that encourages us to see and read art, beyond the two-dimensional image, the interpretations of the traditional art establishment and those holding hegemonic interests. It encourages the reader to think from multiple perspectives about a work to allow more profound understanding. Berger explains how ‘the way people look at art is affected by a whole series of learned assumptions … beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status, taste etc’ (Berger, p11) – importantly that these assumptions may not be relevant and ‘mystify rather than clarify’.
The form of the book review is a useful reminder of the contents of a book, but disconnected from my photographic practice and practical implications. As I’ve progressed through the OCA courses, it is reflecting on the link to practice that I realise is more valuable than just reading and reflecting in the abstract.
The main learnings in respect of photographic practice are:
Flickr gallery of objectifying self-portraits (my perception):
During this research, I noticed CyanideMishka who dedicates her work to exploring her own sexuality through self-portraits; the photos are well-done but I wonder whether her 7.7k followers are mostly male and on what level they read the photos. See here (contains nude images) https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanidemishka/. I will see whether she will comment on this post.
Berger does not deal with the portrayal of men in imagery to any significant extent, other than to mention they are mostly shown in positions of power and authority, their own person, not an object to be owned. In recent years, after Berger’s writing, issues with male depiction in the media have also gained some traction.
Berger’s work raises some fundamental considerations about the way we portray people in photographs and the way we read photographs that are so deeply engrained in our culture that they may go unnoticed or ignored as ‘just how it is’.
Berger J, et al (1973). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin Books Ltd.
Fitzgibbon A (2016). Context.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Ways of Seeing (5 January). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/ways-of-seeing/ [accessed 24.10.16]
Vimeo. Misrepresentation Project. Available from: https://vimeo.com/86728310 [accessed 24.10.16]
In my tutor’s feedback on A1 (see here), he suggested that I could be overly concerned with the technical aspects of photography, possibly to the detriment of other aspects. This struck a chord and reminded me of my early experiences with guitar playing, when it was easy to become too focused on the technique of playing, rather than just playing. After a while one knows the technique, it becomes second nature and doesn’t need to be thought about. Through my guitar and being an erstwhile judo player, I’m aware of how it feels to be in a non-thinking zone and also that I am not yet often in that zone with my photography, sometimes actively thinking about camera settings.
I decided to turn to Stephen Bray’s book Photography and Zen as part of a reflection on my current practice and how I might break out of my technical habits. I also referred back to a review of a book I read during the EYV course, Tao of Photography by Phillippe Gross.
My earlier review of Gross’s book appears to be a series of quotations from the book with no record of what they meant to me at the time. A little disappointing in retrospect, but encouraging that I would hopefully not repeat a similar approach just over a year and a half later. I perhaps need re-read the book. The quotes listed are all about seeing and perception, for example:
It is part of a photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveller who enters a strange country – Bill Brandt
How can one see intensely if pre-occupied with the techniques of using a camera? Perhaps modern cameras contain too much technology and too many options for our own good. They are complex gadgets with countless possibilities for tinkering. I recently purchased an old Nikon FE manual focus film camera. When using it, I was immediately struck by how limited the options are for setting it up and using it compared with my modern digital cameras. There is little to do, apart from looking and capturing moments in time!
Turning to Bray’s book, I note here things that resonated with my thinking on forgetting the technical, rather than a review of the book’s contents.
In the end, it is perhaps as simple as this:
Pick up your camera and make images with it.
The featured image for this post was made after reflecting on the wisdom in this book. Camera used simply – ISO fixed for the shoot (like film), manual focus, manual exposure; changes only made if there were significant changes in light and subject distance. Followed by 2 or 3 minutes in Lightroom. It was indeed refreshing. The lesson is decide on an approach/process and stick with it without unnecessary tinkering; embrace the moment intensely.
I saw sheep glowing in the sun cutting through the storm clouds. I focused singly on the glow, lowered my exposure and shot. The sheep glow!
Bray, S. (2014). Photography and Zen:: Discovering your true nature through photography. (Photography and Consciousness Book 2) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Context.Fitzgibbonphotography (February 2015) [blog]. Review of Tao of Photography by Phillippe Gross. Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/tao-of-photography-seeing-beyond-seeing/ [accessed 20.10.16]
Wilkinson Camera run an annual event in the North West; this year over two days in Liverpool’s Exhibition Centre, near Albert Dock. As well as product stands, busy feeding and fuelling photographers’ demand for new products they don’t necessarily need, there are guest speakers.
I saw Michael Freeman speak on travel photography and Faye and Trevor Yerbury speak on their portrait photography practice and projects. Both presentations showed the photographers’ own work, which they talked to. I note here, just the points that were of specific interest.
The Yerburys presented some beautiful lit and intimate portraiture. Listening to them speak, I picked up on a theme that runs through portrait photography that appeals to me – a simple approach to lighting that allows the photographer to concentrate on the subject and prevents the subject from feeling overwhelmed by studio lights. They explained that they often use a single light and reflector only, with the occasional addition of a second light. Trevor explained his enjoyment of finding out about the lives of his subjects as he talks with them. They also described some of the projects they have undertaken to keep their work fresh and explore new ideas; this seemed to be personal work in between their paid work.
Michael Freeman has published innumerable books on photography. He spoke about his many years as a professional travel photographer and the changes over the past 20 years; unexplored corners of the earth are now much more difficult to find because tourism has become pervasive. Freeman then discussed how to get a travel shots that are not like everyone else’s. These included, travelling away from the main tourist spots, focusing on people (who are unique) rather than landscapes, and avoiding the obvious shots that have been done time and time again.
Digital Splash [website]. Available from: http://www.digitalsplash.tv [accessed 16.10.16]
Freeman Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.michaelfreemanphoto.com [accessed 16.10.16]
Yerbury Studio [website]. Available from: http://www.yerburystudio.com [accessed 16.10.16]
As a part of the feedback on assignment 1 (see here), I was recommended to look at the work of 3 photographers in preparation for assignment; Joel Sternfeld (1944), Katy Grannan (1969), and Phillip Lorca diCorcia (1951).
I consider three aspects of the photographers’ work:
There is careful attention to the story told by portraits in the work of these photographers, either through staging or careful inclusion of the context of place. Limited colour palettes bring an element of the abstract to the work despite it’s rendering in colour.
American Suburbx [website]. Photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia Talks (2003). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/09/interview-photographer-philip-lorca-dicorcia-talks-2003.html [accessed 8.10.16]
Erik Kim Photography [website]. Kim E (2014). 6 Lessons Joel Sternfield has taught me about street photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/02/14/6-lessons-joel-sternfeld-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ [accessed 8.10.16]
Fadedandblurred [website]. Put a frame to the world: Joel Sternfeld. Available from: http://fadedandblurred.com/joel-sternfeld/ [accessed 8.10.16]
Fraenkelgallery [website]. Katy Grannan. Available from: https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan [accessed 8.10.16]
Luhring Augustine [website]. Joel Sternfeld, Passing Stanger. Available from: http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfield [accessed 8.10.16]
National Portrait Gallery [website].Feature Photography/Katy Grannan. Available from: http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/feature/grannan.html [accessed 8.10.16]
Vice [online magazine] (2013). Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ (November 13). Available from: http://www.vice.com/read/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers [accessed 8.10.16]
I’ve been dipping in and out of Max Kozloff’s book The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900 for a couple of months now (it is OCA recommended reading material). I purchased it used from World of Books (who recycle library books and say they donate some of their profits to charity); a good source.
The book is a monumental effort of over 300 pages (large pages) and over 300 photos in colour and black and white. The text is small and dense for the A4 pages; it is as much a written documentary as a photo book. Deborah Garwood’s review on artificial.com enthuses over the quality of the writing and level of research that went into the book; there is really nothing to disagree with in what she says.
There are two ways to read this book: the first, as a text exploring the context of the photographs and photographers included; what it means to take a portrait, how a portrait might be viewed, the psychological and sociological significance of the photographs. And how portrait photography has evolved since 1900; the second way is as a visual reference for photographs and photographers, perhaps referring to the words for additional context.
Having read through the book (not every word), I know what I can find there and that it will no doubt be a valuable reference source. Perhaps that is enough to say in the context of a visual arts study blog, on the premise that any relevant quotes will be included along with the appropriate pieces of work?
However, I will make note of a particular aspect that I find rings true as I have been working on my own portrait photography. Kozloff opens by saying:
Among its many functions, the human face acts as an ambassador, on the job whenever out in the world. We are face reading, socially inquisitive animals, accustomed, mostly likely programmed, to respond to physiognomic expressions as signs that help us decide our own behaviour in limitless scenarios.
It is attention to these visual signals that I feel contributes to interesting portraiture; the rich tapestry of the face and not the camera-mask or fixed smile. These expressions talk to us visually as we read a photograph and draw us into know more about the sitter. They are not necessarily ‘nice’ or ‘beautiful’ expressions, but they catch our attention and prick our curiosity.
I would like to avoid taking bland photographs of smiling people; though sometimes the social pressure could be too great to resist!
The October edition of BJP features an article on and images from the ‘Portrait of Britain’ competition, describing it as ‘an exhibition by the people of the people and for the people’. The 100 winners from over 4000 entries are exhibited on digital screens in selected railway stations and are available in an online gallery (link here).
I particularly enjoyed the humour in the image Sunday Football by
Chris Baker. Two hapless players, with no ball, looking of into the distance, with a backdrop of rusting goal posts and a residential tower block. It is a reminder that the ‘beautiful game’ can be played by anyone, anywhere and is in stark contrast to images from the English Premier League.
Also featured in the BJP magazine are interviews with a number of individuals responsible for commissioning portrait photographs for magazines. In the interviews we gain insights into what the look for in portrait work. Some comments:
For the development of my own practice, I have registered to be notified of future competitions and will submit an entry!
Portrait of Britain (2016). British Journal of Photography (October). Issue 7852.
Portrait of Britain [website]. Available from: http://www.portraitofbritain.uk [accessed 26.9.16]
Having recently addressed my IT infrastructure around my photographs, in particular a robust back up routine and a MacBook docking station (see here), it was again time to revisit my workflow and approach to maintaining my photographic archive. I first seriously considered this during my Context and Narrative Course (post here), in September 2015. Re-reading this now the process seems complex and too involved – there is little surprise that I’ve failed to follow it!
Here I note my revised workflow and look forward to reviewing it in 6 months to discover whether the approach turns about to be workable.
LR catalogue is kept on a Macbook Pro (MBP), with the backup saved to Dropbox. The MBP, including the LR catalogue, is also backed up to a NAS drive using TimeMachine.
Primary storage for photo files is a 2TB WD hard drive (WDHD), which is connected to a MBP docking station along with a large monitor. The MBP is docked to work on the image files, or to work on them remotely ‘smart previews’ are created. The WDHD is backed up via TimeMachine to the NAS drive and to the cloud using iDrive (with student discount!)
On import (while travelling)
Photos are imported to the LR catalogue but stored in a desktop folder on MBP named ‘photo import’, which is separately referenced in the LR catalogue. This is a temporary working location used for review and processing only, not cataloging of the images. While travelling a portable WD 1TB drive is used to back up the image files and stored separately to the MBP.
On cataloging (at home base)
I’ve rearranged the folder structure on the WDHD into 3 top-level folders: 1) own digital images, 2) others digital images (mostly family members or friends that I’ve agreed retouch), and 3) historic photos (analogue family archive that I’m beginning to scan). Own images contain the vast majority of files and my approach to sub folders is now: year/general category (eg family, landscape, street, OCA)/specific project or location. I was previously using LR’s default of year/month, but this buried specific projects deep in the folder structure, making it tricky to quickly find anything.
On selecting and processing
As a general workflow principle, I aim to process the original RAW file with basic exposure corrections only and then work on virtual copies for further processing. This allows images to easily be repurposed where different crops / processing is required.
I previously looked at the work of Irving Penn (1917-2009) through online resources (see here), specifically at his ‘pop-up studio’ work. I enjoyed looking at the work but was unable to find much of it in online archives, so tracked down a used copy of the book accompanying the MoMA retrospective of Penn’s work (Szarkowski, J. and Penn, I. 1987. Irving Penn). The cover material describes Penn as ‘one of the most distinguished practitioners of portrait and fashion photography of the last four decades.’ In this post, I reflect on my reading of that book.
The 25 page introduction to the book is written by John Szarkowski and provides a biography of Penn, covering his formative years, his influences, his working life, and his work to the time of the 1987 retrospective. Atget and Evans are cited among Penn’s influences and this is reflected in his early work; Szarkowski comments that Penn’s ‘personal sensibility’ is evident in these early works, saying ‘The raw materials … are as humble as those of Atget’s working class shops, but in Penn’s picture they seem dear enough for Tiffany’s’ (ibid, p19).
Penn spent many years working as a Vogue photographer at time when Vogue seemed to have afforded him the opportunity for a great deal of artistic freedom and financial support for projects (see also Helmut Newton as a Vogue photographer). Szarkowski offers a number of insights into Penn’s work:
The book includes 156 of Penn’s photos (21 in colour), covering all aspects of his work. Here I reflect only on the portraiture.
Throughout we see the sitters stripped of context; there is either a studio backdrop or a void behind the portraits. This gives us an impression of the sitter without distraction and showcases Penn’s sculpting of their ‘self-revelation’. Because the sitters appear as their own people, rather than actively engaged with the camera and photographer, I feel that we are looking into their personalities; an absence of the camera-mask.
On the other hand, when it comes to Penn’s studies of sitters in traditional / native costume and decoration, in my view the approach does not work as well. Placed out of context into pop-up studios, the images look like museum show-pieces in glass cabinets, removed from their habitual locations. They do not view as portraits of ‘self-revelation’. For example Couple with Dog (ibid, plate 62) or Sewer Cleaner (ibid, plate 86). Of course my perspective is influenced by my own cultural background in which I expect to see the traditional matched with the traditional or of the same period; otherwise it feels incongruent or artificial. Likewise, if the same subjects were dressed in contemporary styles and photographed in a studio, I would read the photographs differently.
It is interesting to draw parallels with the work of Jane Bown (1925–2014) and Emile Hoppé (1878-1972), also making portraits in monochrome. All of the photographers emphasised the importance of interpersonal skills to draw out the characters of their sitters; they also recognised the impact intrusive photography techniques can have on the psychology of the subject. Bown with her 35mm Olympus OM1 camera and use natural light; Hoppé moving to smaller format cameras when they became available for his studies of ‘types’; Penn using pop-up studios to avoid bring subjects into a formal studio setting. All paid attention to and had routines for working with their subjects; all different but somehow looking to find ‘self-revelation’ or ‘finding their photo’.
In terms of my own practice, as well as paying attention to the process of engaging with subjects (which I am lucky to have significant experience of doing in my day-job), it is important to shoot portraits regularly, including with flash if needed, so that the use of the tools becomes second nature and as invisible as possible to the sitter.
Szarkowski, J. and Penn, I. 1987. Irving Penn. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
A friend asked me if I could restore a photo of his youthful self, in which the black and white had become a tinted yellow/green and the emulsion had spotted, perhaps with moisture. He wanted to use the photo as an incentive for exercise.
Not having attempted anything similar before, but knowing that there would be similar photos in my own family archive, the photo presented an opportunity to study the restoration technique and try it out for a good cause.
YouTube has become my go-to resource for finding out about Photoshop techniques; there are many people who generously share their knowledge, sometimes as a draw to their paid subscriber services. Already with a good foundation in Photoshop, I’ve never felt the need for a paid subscription and can invariably find the information I need through unpaid videos; good new for me, but a perennial issue for content makers aim to make money online when so much material is shared for free. The best video I found for restoring photos is the Phlearn one, referenced below.
My approach in brief:
Here is the retouched photo – not perfect, but good for a first attempt and given the technical problems I was having with my MacBook lag. The image printed well at A4 size.
Youtube. Phlearn. How to Repair an Old Torn Photo in Photoshop. Available from: https://youtu.be/abXAvWuteI4?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nY-3t3a0hUKH59-6cGNQ9eG [accessed 21.9.16]
I first looked at the work of Jane Bown (1925–2014) during the Context and Narrative course (see here), when I watched the documentary Looking for Light. Bown was a staff photographer for the Guardian newspaper for much of her working life and the reputation she gained for portraiture was such that celebrities would request sittings with her (an interesting twist for a newspaper photographer).
Bown’s book, Faces: The creative process behind great portraits, is both introduced by Bown herself and she provides brief commentaries on each of the photos. The book includes 120 black and white portraits, covering several decades; subjects including Woody Allen, John Lennon, Anthony Hopkins; it is like a who’s who of newsworthy personalities.
What draws me to Bown’s work is that while she took an uncomplicated approach to photography, using an Olympus OM1 and almost exclusively natural light, working under tight time constraints, her photos are captivating. It feels as if one is looking into the real character of her sitters, with little artifice. Bjork is quoted on the dust cover of the book, saying:
She can look at a person and she knows, instinctively, straight away, who they are.’
Things I’ve learned from looking at the book:
This book is a great inspiration for black and white portraiture. Highly recommended.
I was pleased to again have one of my photos featured in the Big Issue (12-18 September 2016 ed.) as part of the OCA’s partnership with the magazine (see C&N blog for previous feature). The photo is not one of my favourites, but it does offer an interesting point of view of the famous Fountain’s Abbey in North Yorkshire.
The featured image was part of an experimental exercise in seeing how far I could work with jpgs straight out of camera, including minimal editing if needed. In this case quite some adjustment was need to lift the deep shadows and the quality of the image suffered in the process. My current practice is now to shoot in RAW only for this type of situation and reserve jpg only for more casual occasion with friends and family. I’ve since learn to reduce the processing time I need for RAW images, which has influenced this choice. I regret not having a RAW file to work with for the Big Issue photo, though it caught some attention regardless.
I write this as a note to myself not to repeat the same errors in a few years time and to sign some potential hazards for anyone about to undertake a similar exercise.
I finally resolved to upgrade the IT technology that supports my photography; or rather is fundamental to digital photography. The situation was that my old iMac’s memory would soon begin to creak under the weight of RAW files; working on a LR catalogue based on Dropbox between two computers (MacBook Pro for travelling) has proven not to be without complications or confusion; and there was a general shortage of backup capacity for my household of four people.
The solution was simple but the implementation not so simple, mostly due to pit falls of the ignorant. For the photo workstation – a MacBook docking station (CalDigit Thunderbolt Station), a 27inch matte hi-resolution screen (BenQ BL2711U), and repurposing of the 2TB WD hard drive (previously used for TimeMachine backups) as a larger drive for photo files, attached to the new docking station. For photo and general household backup a Network Attached Storage device (Synology Disk Station with 2 bays, plus two 3TB drives).
Cutting out the gory details, here are the snakes and ladders:
This post has killed a little time as I wait for 10,000 photos to transfer back to my iMac so I can reformat the WD hard drive, empty the trash, and move the photos back again to the cleaned drive. We live and hopefully learn. The only remaining step is then looking into cloud backup of the NAS (Backblaze B2 is looking like the way to go).
Here are my reflections on what I found to be a very useful three hour workshop with Mat Hart on black and white conversion using Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Hart is a professional photographer of many years, and a self-confessed late adopter of digital photography. His story, work and blog can be found here (see also link below). He explained that once he made the switch to digital, he spent a year of intensively working out how he could achieve the same control over output he was used to with film. It is the outcome of this experience and his subsequent digital work that he shared during the workshop.
My motivation for attending the workshop was to further explore the tools of photography, in this case the digital dark room. Something that I consider important alongside the study of the art of photography to develop my own practice and refine an approach to giving voice to my vision. I’m not comfortable that I’m approaching post-processing in the most efficient way to obtain the results I am looking for; it can sometimes feel that I’m working in circles, in a sea of technical advice absorbed from books and the web.
The detailed content of the workshop will not be repeated here (for that attend a workshop!), but a few high level lessons and an example of an image reworked using the approach to black and white conversion suggested by Hart.
The workshop shared several practical examples and also considerations when shooting for black and white. Overall money and time well-spent!
Finally, before and after images. This was a low-contrast image in poor light and serves as an exercise to show the improvement in speed of processing, as well as contrast:
Matthew Hart Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.matthewhartphotography.com [accessed 4.9.16]
Nik Collection [website]. Available from: https://www.google.com/nikcollection/products/silver-efex-pro/ [accessed 4.9.16]
Clare Strand’s (b 1973) Gone Astray project is described on her own website (link below). The project (in two parts) was a part of the output from a year-long residency at the The London University Of The Arts (2002/3).
Strand explains her inspiration for the project:
The title of the series is taken from a Charles Dickens text, Gone Astray 1853 which is an account of a young child lost in the City of London. A story filled of references to anxiety and vulnerability and to people leading double lives.
The two parts of the project are portraits and details. Portraits show people who appear to have been pulled from the street in everyday clothes, but photographed against a traditional C19th painted mural thatwould have been used for street portraits. The subjects are posed as if they are going about their daily business, some showing signs of anxiety referenced by the title. The subjects’ gaze is not engaged with the photographer, mostly looking down or away. When viewing the photographs, this creates a visual irony; care has been taken to set up a traditional painted mural, against which subjects would traditionally be carefully posed. However, Strand’s subjects are portrayed as disinterested in the photographer.
The second part of the project, Details, shows (as its title suggests) details. This time they are photographed outside the studio, on the street using a harsh flashlight to highlight the details. The ambient light is closed down, keeping the backgrounds to the details shadowing and dark. Our eyes are drawn to the details, highlighted in the chiaroscuro.
For my own practice, the two main aspects of interest in Strand’s work are the visual irony created by the mismatch of background and subjects in portraits and the use of flash to highlight details and cut ambient light in details.
Clare Strand [website]. Gone Astray. Available from: http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100 [accessed 2.9.16]
In Image on Paper, Tim McLaughlin reviews Irvin Penn’s (1917-2009) 1980 book Worlds in a Small World, telling the fascinating story of how the work came about. He quotes Penn’s comments on working in a temporary studio:
The studio became, for each of us, a sort of neutral area. It was not their home, as I had brought this alien enclosure into their lives; it was not my home, as I had obviously come from elsewhere, from far away. But in this limbo there was for us both the possibility of contact that was a revelation to me and often, I could tell, a moving experience for the subjects themselves, who without words—by only their stance and their concentration—were able to say much that spanned the gulf between our different worlds.
From Penn’s words quoted in this review and in Sang Bleu Magazine, it is apparent that Penn paid many of his subjects for sitting. He was interested in photographing different types of people (the example above is from a group of Hell’s Angels) by bringing them into ‘pop-up’ studios (or ‘day-light’ studios as Penn refers to them).
We should note that Penn was a highly successful commercial photographer for Vogue (for slide show of photos see link below, or here). At least some of the Worlds in a Small World work was made in between commercial shoots; it is likely that he had both the means to pay people to sit for him and the necessity because of time constraints.
We learn of Penn’s practice from the Image on Paper article:
His trips were commissioned by Vogue … He finally perfected a portable outdoor natural light studio with a custom built tent. This structure was 11 feet high and had a 10 x 18 foot floor. He augmented the set-up with an 8 x 12 reflective screen … could be set up quickly by a team of assistants, and could fit on the top of a jeep … Penn took five Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras and a compliment of close-up lenses.
So, pop-up studio with its suggestion of informality, is arguably a misnomer in this context; more like an on location shoot with entourage.
Although the subjects in Penn’s personal work are very different from the Vogue models, we can see the cross-over in his approach in that the sitters were tightly staged and directed. This creates an intense dynamic between the photographer and the sitters that is not necessarily present in a more observational style of portraiture, involving subjects who are not public personalities. This is something I’d like to experiment with in my own practice.
Guardian online [website]. Irving Penn obituary. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/oct/08/irving-penn-obituary [accessed 1.9.16]
Image on Paper [website]. Classic – Worlds in a Small Room. Available from: https://imageonpaper.com/2013/07/21/review-worlds-in-a-small-room/ [accessed 1.9.16]
sangbleumagazine.com [website]. Iriving Penn’s portraits of Hell’s Angels and his description of the experience. Available from: http://sangbleumagazine.com/2014/04/03/irving-penns-portraits-of-hells-angels-and-his-description-of-the-experience/ [accessed 1.9.16]
Vogue Magazine [online]. Irving Penn Photos. Available from: https://www.vogue.com/slideshow/photographer/irving-penn/#2489619 [accessed 1.9.16]
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).
In this post, I examine the work of four photographers whose work includes covert photography (‘not openly shown, engaged in, or avowed’ – Merriam-Webster.com). There is an important distinction between this and candid work (‘relating to or being photography of subjects acting naturally or spontaneously without being posed’ – Merriam-Webster.com), which is not necessarily done secretively. The works are Tom Wood’s Looking for Love, Martin Parr’s Japonais Endormis (‘Japanese Asleep’), Walker Evans’s Many are Called, and Lukas Kuzma’s Transit London.
Issue magazine features a full-length interview with Tom Wood, touching on various aspects of his work and his motivations. Wood’s work is eloquently described:
Wood’s photographs convey much more than they literally depict. He not only shows us the people who make up the fabric of his day-to-day existence, but his manner of photographing forces us to recognize his subjects as sentient individuals. As a result, we are asked to contemplate their difference, the thoughts and emotions that inspire their actions and make them who they are. Tom Wood sets out to capture the complexity of being. His photographs succeed in isolating fragments of the sensual world, and exposing the human impulse to both negotiate and make sense of it. (Issue Magazine)
As a teenager of the 1980s myself, I found something autobiographical in Looking for Love, even though it was shot at the opposite end of the country to my teenage years in the South West. Wood’s approach to covert work is to blend in, so that after a while people just accept him as part of the scene and don’t take notice of what he is doing. This requires a significant investment of time to be successful, and some of Wood’s projects took place over several years. Wood explains, ‘I don’t have agendas. I go out and take the pictures and you figure out what they mean afterward when the project’s finished. The camera is asking questions. You put it all together and you see what it adds up to. Whenever I’ve gone out with something specific in mind, it never works for me.’ (Issue Magazine). Wood offered subjects copies of their photos on his return visits to locations, and the reciprocity appears to pay-off in terms of continuing cooperation (Bruce Dickinson does the same – see here).
Magnum Photos explain Martin Parr‘s book as, ‘in ‘Japonais Endormis’ (‘Japanese Asleep’) Parr travels the Tokyo subway photographing sleeping commuters, many of whom travel for hours every day. Photographed from above, the 24 colour images give the impression that one is standing on a busy commuter train looking down at those lucky enough to get a seat.’
Stuart Franklin (Magnum President) is quoted in the Tokyo Times,saying, ‘It’s not hard to take photographs, it’s not even hard to take good photographs. What is hard is to put them together in a way that says something compelling’.
Here Parr’s approach to covert photographs is simple – he subjects are asleep (or as good as) and therefore incapable of being aware that they are being photographed. There is little risk of the photographer being caught-out taking a covert image. It is that Parr produces a series of photographs with a story that makes the work compelling – there are many similar one-off photographs of people unaware through sleep on Flickr, but they do not form a coherent story. Examples here:
ASX explains Walker Evans‘s project:
Walker Evans’ Many Are Called is a three-year photographic study of people on the New York subway. Using a camera hidden in his jacket and a cable release running down his sleeve, Evans snapped unsuspecting passengers while they traveled through the city. Evans said that these photographs were his “idea of what a portrait ought to be,” he wrote, “anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.”
Evan’s project was shot in 1938, when cameras were not ubiquitous as they are today, nor as technologically advanced. His approach falls somewhere between that of Wood and Parr; Wood with a high degree of risk of being challenge with his ‘blend-in’ approach, and Parr with very little chance of challenge as his subjects were asleep. Evans’ subjects were alert and awake, but he relied on hiding the camera to mask his photographs taken at close proximity. Evan’s only had control over when to press the shutter release; even framing was directional only, rather than composed. Despite the covert nature of the photographs, we still see some subjects looking back at Evans – this gaze is the general confrontational attitude on the New York subway, rather than a deliberate gaze between the subject and photographer.
The New York Times explains, ‘the furtive nature of the photographs adds to their sense of authenticity, as does the fact that the people in them are so obviously and absolutely unposed.’ It also provides an interesting Evans’ quote that expresses his philosophy on photography:
“Stare,” he commanded. “It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
Lukas Kuzma studies BA (hons) Photography at the University of Chester, UK. He also shot a series of photos on the underground (London, rather than New York like Evans). I currently have no information on how Kuzma approached the covert aspect of the work.
Though the photographs mostly appear to be carefully composed, so I suspect that his approach was more akin to Woods than Evan’s. People are mostly in their own worlds on the London Underground, desperately avoiding any communication with fellow travellers, so it is easy to image how these photos could be taken covertly with without the need to hide away the camera.
Kuzma’s series has a broader theme than that of Evans’s or Parr’s, which focus specifically on subjects facing the photographers in the carriage. Kuzma’s theme is ‘transit’ and addresses different aspects of a journey.
Covered in a separate blog post is another piece on subway photographs by Bruce Davidson (see here). However, Davidson did not adopt a covert approach to his work, so it makes an interesting comparison.
In summary there are various broad approaches to photographing ‘the unaware’: subjects that cannot be aware (as they are not conscious of their surroundings); subjects that have general awareness of their surroundings but do not notice the photographer as he blends into the environment while not masking his activity; subjects who are aware of their surroundings, but the photographer masks his activity – Evans with a hidden camera and cable release, but now with wireless technology (eg iPhone app) that allows a much greater degree of control.
ASX [website]. Walker Evans: ‘Many are called’ (1938). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/05/walker-evans-many-are-called-1938.html [accessed 29.8.16]
Issue Magazine [website]. Tom Wood: Making Sense. Available from: http://issuemagazine.com/tom-wood-making-sense/#/ [accessed 29.8.16]
Japan Times [online]. Magnum’s 60 years of Tokyo. Available from: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2007/03/29/arts/magnums-60-years-of-tokyo/#.V8QFTWVYH0d [accessed 29.8.16]
Lukas Kuzma [website]. Transit London. http://www.lukaskuzma.com/transit-london/ [accessed 29.8.16]
Magnum Photos [website]. Available from: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2TYRYD12G4T2 [accessed 29.8.16]
New York Times [online]. Review/Photography; What Walker Evans Saw on His Subway Rides. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/31/arts/review-photography-what-walker-evans-saw-on-his-subway-rides.html [accessed 29.8.16]
Paper-Journal [blog]. Interview: Tom Wood. Available from: http://paper-journal.com/tom-wood/ [accessed 29.8.16]
Untapped Cities [blog]. Photography: Walker Evans’ NYC Subway Portraits. Available from: http://untappedcities.com/2012/11/20/photography-walker-evans-subway-portraits/ [accessed 29.8.16]
Vimeo. Looking for Love (Sorika Productions). Available from: https://vimeo.com/71627593 [accessed 29.8.16]
Another piece of happenstance during my vacation (see Bruce Davidson here) was that an exhibition of 90 Vivian Maier prints was showing in Barcelona at Fundació Catala. The exhibition was described on the gallery’s website (repeated in full here least it should be taken down in future):
This exhibition brings together more than 80 photographs, most of them unpublished, of this American photographer who has managed to captivate the world after the chance discovery of her files, shortly before her death. In 2007, a young researcher in the history of Chicago, John Maloof, bought at a small neighbourhood auction some abandoned belongings of a totally unknown elderly woman named Vivian Maier. What no one could imagine was that her wardrobe harboured a huge photographic work: more than 120,000 negatives, home movies and sound recordings that would change the history of photography.
The exhibition “Vivian Maier. In Her Own Hands”, produced by diChroma Photography and curated by Anne Morin, brings together photographs in both black and white and colour, most of whom were recently revealed by the Maloof archive, showing street scenes from New York and Chicago over the years 1950 to 1980. The photographic language that Maier uses is its own visual experience based on a discrete and silent observation of the world around her. His (sic) scenes spontaneously capture the peculiarities of the “urban America” in the second half of the twentieth century with a great sense of composition, light and environment, showing a great ability to communicate both humour and tragedy. Vivian Maier’s work has already been inscribed in the history of twentieth-century photography, next to big names from the called Street Photography, as Helen Levitt, William Klein and Garry Winogrand. Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) Born in New York to a French mother and an Austro-Hungarian father, worked as a nanny for forty years. On his (sic) days off Maier was dedicated to making photographs that will jealously hid to the eyes of others. Her life is a mystery. It is said to have died in abject poverty living on the streets for some time, until the children who had looked after in the late 1950s bought an apartment and paid her bills until the day of her death in 2009.
Photography was allowed in the gallery and attached is a pdf of some sample images and information panels – see here.
I was already familiar with Maier’s work through the John Maloof and Charlie Siskel documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, the BBC’s Imagine documentary, Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures?, and a photo book gifted to me, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, also by Maloof. The mystery of her life and work adds an additional, unusual context to her photos.
In this post, I focus only on my observations from the exhibition.
Overall, I enjoy Maier’s work because of the proximity to her subjects – there is a sense of being taken back to the moment in which the photo was made and being up-close to personalities from another time. There is an intimacy to her work that I feel is important to make this type of photography worthwhile; close, often with wide-angle perspective of narrative; it otherwise becomes a shot of a stranger walking down a street that anyone with a camera could take.
Fundació Foto Colectania [website]. Vivian Maier. In Her Own Hands. Available from: http://www.colectania.es/index.php?i=3&p=2 [accessed 28.8.16]
Vivian Maier [website]. Available from: http://www.vivianmaier.com [accessed 28.8.16]