Still life photography

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.

source: imogencunningham.com by Imogen Cunningham

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.

References

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]

 

Yorkshire Dales Grid Project

Introduction

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.

The photographs

Click to view larger images.

Conclusion

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.

References

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]

Alec Soth on sequencing series of images

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.

Source: alecsoth.com by Alec Soth.

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:

  • A mood of coldness through whites and blues in the images.
  • Sobriety in the gaze of photos that are in the portrait genre; no one is smiling.
  • A singularity in the framing – there is often one main subject and the space around it makes it clear what that subject is. This creates a feeling of isolation when combined with the gaze of the subjects and the mood of coldness.

The concepts of mood and motif are something I will consider when it comes to pulling together assignment 3.

References

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]

Research point – the rhetoric of image

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:

  1. The definition of anchorage and relay
  2. The difference between the two
  3. Some examples of both
  4. How the concept might be useful in one’s own creative use of words and images
Having read the work (not for the first time – see here for CAN blog post) and again with some difficulty in digestion, I came to the following:

Continue reading “Research point – the rhetoric of image”

Editing photoshoots

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.

Continue reading “Editing photoshoots”

Big Issue North featured image

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.

Female Sexual Objectification

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.

source: www.americansuburbx.com by Cindy Sherman
source: www.americansuburbx.com by Cindy Sherman

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:

  • A phenomenon is observable through our various senses in the real world. A photograph is not the real world, it has a malleable meaning depending on context and viewer. It can be used as an element in influencing perceptions or narratives, but not without a considered process of communication. We cannot assess whether a photograph alone objectifies without knowing its context; it is meaningless to do so.
  • In defining objectification the 10 criteria referenced all relate to the ‘treatment’ of another person (Papadaki E), for example ‘reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses’. A photograph alone is incapable of communicating about how a person is treated. It shows a fraction of a moment in time, through the frame of a view finder, in two visual dimensions.

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.

References

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]

Research point 1 – Elina Brotherus talk to OCA students

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.

Photos

Analysis

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.

Big issue photo

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.

bitn-1149_04

Historical portrait photography – sources

Here I examine some sources of information for historical portrait photography. OCA I&P material quotes, Keith Jenkins, ‘We should distinguish between the two by calling ‘the past’ everything that has happened before and calling ‘historiography’ everything that has been written about the past.’ (Jenkins, 1991, p.7). This is a statement of the obvious, but I see it as important in the context of the human predisposition to generalise and summarise in order to make sense of the world – in this process, basic truths such as Jenkins’s can be overlooked. So the sources of information I mention below are a reflection of the frames of the past that were captured and preserved and not a representative picture of the past itself.

  • Source: Rijksmuseum,
    Source: Rijksmuseum

    The Khan Academy features a brief introduction to early photography, including portrait photographers, Clementina Hawarden (1822 – 1865) and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879).

  • The Met Museum houses a large collection of photographs, including many digitised for online viewing. A current exhibition, Framing a Century, includes a number of historical portrait photographs. It is also a good source for Julia Margaret Cameron images.
  • The National Portrait Gallery has a collection of over 250,000 photographs and an excellent web portal to its collection, which features many digitised photos for online viewings.
  • Oxford Art Online (subscription through OCA), includes examples of early portrait photography and biographies of photographers.
  • The V&A has recently revamped its photography website – it is not as well structured as the NPG website, but does include a number of digitised historical portraits.
  • The Rijksmuseum houses a large collection of portraits, including photographs. What’s more it has decided to allow free download and use of its digitised images for personal use. One can even create a personal online library after signing up!
  • Naomi Rosenblum dedicates a chapter of her book to portraiture between 1839 and 1890, A plentitude of portraits (Rosenblum, p38). This chapter is an excellent resource for early portraiture. It deals with the technical constraints of early photography and the practical implications for portraiture; the development of the portrait as personal expression; and profiles of Julia Margaret Cameron, David Ocatvius Hill and Robert Adamson, and Nadar.

References

Khan Academy [online]. Early Photography. Available from: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/early-photography/a/lady-clementina-hawarden-clementina-and-florence-elizabeth-maude [accessed 2.7.15]

Metropolitan Museum [online]. Framing a Century. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/objects?exhibitionId=%7b3a84cf0d-b7dd-4d6d-89cd-85b53c857849%7d&pg=1&rpp=10 [accessed 2.7.15]

National Portrait Gallery [online]. Photographs collection. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/about/photographs-collection.php [accessed 2.7.15]

Oxford Art Online [website]. Available from: http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/ [accessed 2.7.15]

Rosenblum N (1989). A World History of Photography. Rev Edition. Abbeville Pr.

Rijksmuseum [online]. Photographs. Available from: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/works-of-art/photographs [accessed 2.7.15]

V&A Museum [online]. Photography. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/photography#articles [accessed 2.7.15]