Assignment 5 – feedback, response, rework and reflection.

My tutor made a number of observations after our tutorial:

  • The book format and print quality and finish are acceptable but the photograph black borders are not necessary. The borders are there to prevent the images from bleeding off into the paper white, but I will remove them for the assessment submission.
  • Where sky is included it distracts from the ‘layered’ nature of the planes. I will crop to remove the sky and see how it looks
  • The concept of the work should be further explained along with how the idea developed. This is in the later ‘Reflection’ part of this post.
  • The book submission should contain only assignment work. I’ve split the work into two small books, one for the coursework which was submitted as print, the other containing Assignment 5.
  • Try another sequence to improve the flow of images. The version for assessment has been resequenced with improved flow in mind

Rework

I have slightly cropped the images to remove sky where it was intrusive, along with reprinting the borderless versions.

Reflection

As mentioned earlier in the Assignment 5 post, this started off as an investigation into how the edges of planes can work to enhance the impression of depth in a two dimensional image.  I concluded that it can and does and that it isn’t difficult to do.  I looked at how painters had used the techniques and utilised them in a digital form.

After a short while I began to find the images sterile and uninteresting; they were simply too precise, too angular and edgy. To use a bit of medical black humour, the operation was a complete success but the patient died.

I have learned that technique can swamp creativity and that in this case I was taking photographs to satisfy a technical requirement.  I should have been more willing to open up to other aspects of the basic idea and be prepared to modify or even ditch completely the original intention.

I also need to take many more photographs, which I hope will not only afford more choice in editing but also encourage in-project experimentation.

 

 

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Part 4: Feedback, research, reflection

 

My tutor didn’t feel that a re-edit would be particularly fruitful on this assignment but suggested that the work of David Moore, Frederick Evans and Peter Marlowe may be usefully studied along with Jem Southam and Paul Seawright among others.

David Moore (UK, b?)

     

The Last Things

“I don’t understand how you’ve got this far” MoD official,

Between September 2006 and April 2007, supported by Arts Council of England, David Moore worked in a secure military location below ground in central London. This space will be used as the first port of call in any situation where the safety of the country is under threat. The Ministry of Defence allowed David Moore an unprecedented level of access which has enabled him to observe a live working space, continuously on standby, and fully prepared for the most extreme national emergency. The Last Things develops ideas about the institutions of government and the manifestations of power first seen in The Commons (Velvet Press 2004). ” David Moore: The Last Things. http://www.davidmoore.uk.com/words/diarylastthings (accessed June 19, 2017).

David Moore photographed his project “The Last Things” in a very flat, matter-of-fact style which belies the dramatic purpose of his subject.  The very normality of the approach serves to emphasise the enormity of the circumstances under which this facility (and presumably others like it) would be put to use.  The facility is all about people and the protection it aims to provide for them, but Moore’s images are distinctly unoccupied;  this allows the grim quotidian fixtures and fittings to speak for themselves.

Although the quote above refers to the images demonstrating manifestations of power it may be thought that they actually show a deep vulnerability, the extent to which defences, materials and systems may be required to preserve life.

Frederick Evans (UK 1853-1943)

Evans photographed mainly architectural subjects and was at pains to maintain a straight, unmodified print:

“Profoundly dedicated to pure photography, he never altered the printing of negatives for aesthetic effects; rather, the eloquence of his images comes from his ability to capture the supremely expressive viewpoint at the most telling moment of light and shadow.” Philadelphia Museum of Art . http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/66293.html (accessed June 19, 2017).

 

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A Sea of Steps,” Wells Cathedral, Stairs to Chapter House and Bridge to Vicar’s Close   Frederick H. Evans

The light in this part of the building is astonishingly delicate and graduated.  Evans would have been using a large format camera with full movements to allow for a sympathetic rendering of this scene in accordance with his vision – itself a ‘manipulation’ but one with which Evans must have felt comfortable.

Peter Marlow (UK 1952-2016)

image   image   image   image

Marlow’s series ‘the english cathedral’ adopts a fixed and repeated viewpoint for each image.  In every case he sets the shot up to look down the knave to the chancel, using a wide angle lens (presumably with view camera movements to correct perspective distortions) to include the gospel and epistle sides along with the roof rafters ( I had to google all that!)

It has some of the features of the Bechers’ typologies but the grandeur and intricacy of these interiors prevents them from assuming any kind of humble functionality.  The forms are concealed by the shear density of adornment.

Jem Southam (UK 1950)

28 May 2003  January 2001  Vaucottes, November 2005

“Photographer Jem Southam makes rural landscape images that document man’s intervention in nature. Photographing the same locations over months and years with a large format camera, Southam records transitions as they unfold. In “The Pond at Upton Pyne” series, taken from 1996 to 2001, Southam captures the maintenance and neglect of a pond that was once a manganese mine in the 1700s. More recently, Southam has photographed the cliffs of the English Channel in majestic large-scale works like Senneville-sur-Fecamp, April 2006 (2006).”

Artsy. https://www.artsy.net/artwork/jem-southam-vaucottes-november-2005 (accessed June 19, 2017).

I have difficulty connecting with this kind of work and Southam’s offerings are no exception.  I can see the point – the slightly incongruous evidence of human intervention in the small details, the imposter materials in the bucolic landscape but the ‘majesty’ of it eludes me.  I find them utterly unengaging, but perhaps they need to be seen for real as large scale versions.  There is an almost autistic element to work which is executed on large format negatives over a five year period, featuring a single pond.  I think that’s it in the middle, above.

The absence of a consensus about how best to appreciate deadpan photography has not hindered its dominance. For many young photographers, particularly on BA and MA courses in the 2000s, the set of variables modelled by Düsseldorf photographers appears to be a fail-proof formula; simply choose a subject (preferably something that comes in many variations) and shoot a taxonomy
using a uniform composition and immaculate technique. Instant art!  Some critics and historians would argue that it is in perfecting a formula – both formal and conceptual – that a photographer establishes the rigor and relevance of their project. Others would say that work in this vein is so monotonous, predictable and static that it is just plain dull.

Lucy Soutter Why Art Photography?  (Routledge 2013)

I would suggest that the formula Soutter identifies along with whatever rigor and relevance it confers is a perfectly valid process but often it still results in ‘plain dull’.  I hope that as I progress through the course I will become more enlightened and appreciate photography such as this more fully.

Paul Seawright

cage1belfast         Seawright Cage2.jpg         Gate.jpg

Belfast  –  Produced during a two month residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1997. Seawright returned to Belfast to make work about locally produced defensive architecture on the edges of housing projects in North and West Belfast during the early stages of the ceasefire.”

Belfast — Paul Seawright. http://www.paulseawright.com/belfast/ (accessed June 19, 2017).

Thematic photography which documents a certain aspect of the built environment; it’s gritty, factual and offers an interesting commentary on the way that the normal use of buildings becomes subverted by untoward circumstances.

In the series “Police Force”  Seawright adopts a similar approach to David Moore in his work above, showing the bland deterioration of items and fixtures found in RUC operational premises.  It’s unavoidable to contrast the content of these pictures with the drama and intensity of the events in which they played a peripheral part.

Black chair.jpg  Police watchtower.jpg  Target.jpg

Reflection

Looking at this work and considering my own in this part of EYV I have noticed how the connections begin to form.  No work is produced in a vacuum and each individual image takes its place in the photographic firmament.  Some images appear isolated and others are easily placed in galaxies which share common characteristics.  It seems possible that they will all make a contribution no matter how small, even if their significance is appreciated only by their maker.

Learning about the process employed by other practitioners is very interesting – how it got there is sometimes more relevant than how it ended up.

Feedback, research, reflection

 

Tutor feedback and re-working

Following tutor feedback I was encouraged to rework some of the images in colour.  Here are the results

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The colour is intentionally muted as I was interested in preserving the texture and tonality – colour seems to interfere with this for me and I don’t know whether it’s just a preference or a personal visual anomaly.

The image of the endives brought up an aspect of visualising that I’d come across in a film called “Tim’s Vermeer”.  The film chronicles an attempt by the inventor Tim Jenison to discover the techniques Vermeer used in his paintings. One segment, an interview with Sir Colin Blakemore, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University, deals with how the human visual system perceives real time tonal gradation;  for example in the way reflected light ‘falls off’ from a source – say a window – all the way across a wall into the shadow areas.  Because of the way Vermeer’s paintings capture this effect, Jenison wondered if Vermeer was peculiarly talented in his perception and asked Sir Colin whether Vermeer could have been “some sort of savant”:

Tim Jenison: “What if someone said… maybe there’s a savant, who’s so smart that he could figure that out”

Sir Colin Blakemore: “He’s not smart… he’d have to have a very strange retina.  The retina is an outgrowth of the brain.  It’s a very complicated structure in terms of its nervous organisation… the signals go through a complicated network, several layers of different types of nerve cells before they finally get back to the last cells in the chain whose fibres make up the optic nerve. [so the system employs] a very clever trick for reducing information…”

Tim’s Vermeer (2013) Dir: Teller; High Delft Pictures LLC

The trick is a form of ‘bandwidth limiting’ whereby small incremental alterations are ignored – filtered out.  This is perfect for economy of brain power “… but a disaster if you want to know about the appearance of a scene”

This graphic shows the effect:

Image result for visual trick similar shades

Squares “A” and “B” are the same tone but looking at the left chequerboard you wouldn’t believe it.  Only when an adjacent comparison is made is the true density apparent.

When I first saw the endives under muted daylight the lighter tones appeared to be just white.  Only when I looked through the camera viewfinder did I see the spread of tones.  In this way the camera is functioning as a viewing tool, enabling the observation of something which the naked eye cannot render.  A similar function is observed in the camera’s ability to expand or contract time using long or short exposures.

1 “Flor” Flor Garduno 2002 Edition Braus

Reflection

This assignment has given me the opportunity to learn about the way that light and shadow combine to give depth and shape to an image.  It isn’t always what you might expect.  After a slight nudge I have produced some colour work which worked quite well with the chosen subjects.  I have pushed the brief boundaries and the sky did not fall in. 

Exercise 5.1 The Distance Between Us

 

Brief:

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your
learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.  When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4).  In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t
mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever
you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your
intention, but because it is there

Of all the exercises in EYV I found this one the most troubling – I just couldn’t decide on the right subject matter.  I went through (and photographed for)

~  Ideas about the sea, having had a pretty close relationship with it for the past five years

~  about my immediate surroundings, but that was a bit too much like Assignment 5

~  visitors to the seaside town where I live

I couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for any of them , except perhaps the first, but I have a feeling I will use that idea elsewhere.  Then I was reading an article about diptychs and Sergei Eisenstein and his ideas around juxtaposing imagery.  It was a groundbreaking notion at the time, that cutting one shot against another could elicit a response in the audience which each shot individually could not.

Eisenstein applied Marxist historical perspective to his developing theory of montage, whereby a historical action or event precipitates another event with resulting consequence – in his terms, thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

I thought I could play around with this to make something interesting so I enlisted some local talent to produce the following photographs.

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2

 

 

3

 

 

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People are talking and they’re somewhat concerned….  they’re talking to each other but they are not talking to you.  So are they talking about you?  Or someone else and they’ve noticed you listening?  What do the direct gazes suggest – suspicion?  Or have they really been talking about you – they certainly seem to be looking knowingly your way.  Or perhaps it’s someone else entirely who’s the subject of their earnest discussion.  Do you know them?

And so on…….

The diptych presentation is intended to produce synthesis from two disparate images, leading the viewer to form conclusions of their own making.

Reflection and learning

This was simple to set up but tricky to edit.  We used a seafront shelter and a couple of speedlights in the failing light (getting the talent together at the same time restricted my options).  All shot from a locked-off tripod to try to keep the image size the same.  The problem in editing was keeping the eyelines at the same (almost) level and the head sizes similar. 

It worked pretty well.  I’m pleased to have got something from idea to print (oh yes, there are prints) in a record short time for me, just a couple of days.  I spend too much time cogitating and need to concentrate on producing more work rather than better work.  Not that it shouldn’t be as good as I can make it but I must stop allowing perfect to be the enemy of good!

Unfortunately in following this idea I have indulged in a bit of ‘brief-battering’ and part of the direction has not been fulfilled – I haven’t made just one select and nor have I chosen a single image with unexpected content.  There is  such material in the contacts, a rather nice moment occurring between the offspring as I was faffing with lights.  Here it is:

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Contact sheets:

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Assignment Five – Planes, Edges and Depth in the Urban Environment

This assignment was submitted in print form to my tutor so the same book forms part of my assessment submission.

Brief

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

For the last assignment in EYV I have chosen to produce a small book of photographs and text which looks at how perspective depth is perceived in the two dimensional image and how this may be used in the representation of the urban landscape.

Firstly I should say that in embarking on this line of enquiry I soon discovered that I had bitten off a good deal more than I could chew, bearing in mind the amount of work time I should have sensibly allocated to the assignment.  Although I found the learning interesting I realised that I had swum rather too far from the shore and getting the actual photography and printing done took more effort than was warranted.

Through talking to my tutor I concluded that a physical submission was a good idea for the final assignment so I settled on the idea of a book format.  I could have sent the images away for printing but I’ve not had much success with this in the past, the results often being somewhat lacklustre and not infrequently dreadful.  The submission is mirrored on this blog.

It’s all about the edges…”

Making sense of a flat image may seem simple and intuitive but is in fact a complex process:

“The camera and the retina see the same luminance in an image, which is a combination of reflection (in the words of [Edwin] Land, “the language for delineating objects”) and illumination (“the language for displaying illumination”). The visual cortex in the rear of the
brain processes this luminance signal from the retina, separates reflection and illumination, and recombines them in a very special
way to show us the world as it truly is, visually. The brain first detects edges, separating those edges into illumination edges and reflection edges. Then, it uses complicated algorithms to process the image into our perception of luminance, called luminosity or brightness. This is an important point, and bears repeating: Be mindful of the difference between actual luminance and our perception of luminance, called luminosity. An unprocessed image direct from the camera is a straight luminance image, hence the disparity between what we visually perceive and what we get in a photograph”  (My emphasis)

George Dewolfe in Presence — George DeWolfe. Retrieved June 11, 2017, from Web site: http://www.georgedewolfe.com/pdfs-other-downloads/

Dewolfe examined a number of paintings by acknowledged masters and converted them to monochrome, the better to observe the way that visual planes were delineated and emphasised to give the illusion of three dimensional depth.  He noted that edge contrast, layered soft and hard edges along with opposing tonal values combined to produce this effect, a fact known to painters for hundreds of years.  He worked out how this technique may be applied to photographic images to give more convincing perspective and ‘presence’ and I’ve attempted to implement this in these photographs.

File:Theo van Doesburg Composition XXII.jpg

Theo van Doesburg – Composition XXII (1920)

In the painting by van Doesburg (above) the flat planes are abutting each other but by clever use of edge effect and emphasis an appearance of ‘layering’ is achieved. In this example the effect does not appear coherent – each plane can be seen to move forwards or backwards according to the way that the visual process manipulates the forms.

The Inaccessible City

I was interested in following through with the idea of the flaneur and what partially hidden views may make themselves visible during saunterings in the backstreets of a city.  We don’t have any local city so I made do with some nearby towns, seeking out aspects of the built environment which presented themselves as plane-on-plane structures with a strong sense of perspective.

“The modern flaneur navigates the visual excess of the urban terrain, as new perspectives spring up everywhere like so many sideshows, as the everyday life of the city is compressed into socio-historical structures of the spectacle. The flaneur becomes a visual sampler of commodity culture, piecing together a multifaceted city and refracting it through the artist’s prism of the visual fragment. Surrounded by surfaces and flattened perspectives on all sides, the flaneur’s sense of space no longer accords with the views of classical geometry,”

Unmapping the City: Perspectives of Flatness – Edited by Alfredo Cramerotti  – Intellect  2010

The material shown in the photographs is inaccessible but visible, though the limited opportunity for a varied viewpoint imposes restrictions on the way the picture may be composed – it’s not possible to change the view much because you can’t get to where you’d like to be, there are too many houses, sheds, walls and fences in the way. 

“The versatile photographer is taken by the city and goes with the flow, a semiotic transformer in the ‘journey-form’, grasped as the rhythm of perspective. The photographer, like the DJ, scratches the surface of the photographic record and interferes with the visual coherence of the city, producing differential perspectives from those laid down by the ‘ordered diagramming of the cartographer”

Kern in Harvey 1989: 267 Harvey, D. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Oxford, Blackwell, 1989

Evaluation and reflection

*   This series of ten images was the result of an investigation into how depth can be conveyed along with an appreciation of the way that towns are constructed.  I delved rather too deeply into the technical and theoretical aspects but managed to surface before becoming overwhelmed.

*   I decided to submit monochrome prints because I could more easily control the appearance of the prints

*   I’ve been considering the way that images are viewed currently – so many photographs, so few pictures – which led me to ponder the idea of simple book presentation.  I’m also thinking about whether files deserve to be printed and bound even though they may be far from perfect and whether this may contribute to my developing visual skills.

*   The treatment of the edges and planes does give a sense of depth and perspective which was not as noticeable in the originals so I am satisfied that this approach has some validity in photography.

*   Despite the foregoing positive results I am disappointed in the photographs themselves – they do what they are intended to do but I don’t really like them much.

Seaton 1 axm 2 axm2 backs planes-Recovered Brid 1 Lyme 2 Lyme 3 lyme 4 lyme 5 rous 1

Ex 5.3 Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’ and the Pivotal Point

Look again at Henri  photograph in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?   Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

I had the opportunity to see an original print of this photograph at the HCB Foundation in Paris earlier in the year.  My impression of the print was that it’s small and quite high contrast.  Somehow I was expecting something rather bigger and more dramatic, but the size of the thing does invite close inspection thereby establishing a certain intimacy between the viewer and the image.  So here is the photograph in question:

time-100-influential-photos-henri-cartier-bresson-behind-gare-saint-lazare-18

The print proportions (3:2) suggest that this is an uncropped image from a 35mm negative although I haven’t seen the contact sheet. The predominant pivotal point is the space between the man’s foot and its reflection – the tiniest space remains at the split second immediately before the foot hits the water and disrupts the mirror-like reflections.  The information here is primarily the unavoidable fact of a wet shoe.  . This is a much-studied photograph and other resonant points have been isolated; the reflection of his other foot just touching the ripples produced by his spring from the ladder being just one, the echo of the dancing figure on the poster another. Additional information can be easily extrapolated, limited only by the bounds of imagination but for me the content of the frame is sufficient.  It simply doesn’t need further dismantling or analysis because this would interfere with the honesty and simplicity of the photograph  HCB took this without looking through the viewfinder (he poked the camera through a fence) and when speaking of it was at pains to emphasise the importance of serendipity in photography rather than taking credit for impeccable timing and composition.

From my archive:

DSCF6208 The dog poked his head out for just a brief moment and I was almost quick enough to get a sharp shot – but not quite.

 DSCF6695This couple appeared to by studying carving but it seems that their sightlines have diverged somewhat.

Both the above images are happenstance shots whose value rests in oddity and humour. Each has a pivotal point (no pun intended) to which the eye returns repeatedly.  Neither of them are likely to grace the walls of the V&A, however,  because they have no satisfying  internal geometry or enduring compositional value.  But I won’t let that put me off.

Ex 5.2 – An Homage, a Response

Cala lillies are peculiarly graceful flowers, the shapes of the petals following classic Fibonacci lines.  Being white they can reflect subtle light and show their shape in a very elegant fashion.  They have been subjects for two photographers whose work I find particularly engaging: Robert Mapplethorpe and Imogen Cunningham.

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Imogen Cunningham

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Robert Mapplethorpe

These are in B&W, which would be my inclination also, but in trying to explore different approaches I’ve kept this in colour:

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They were lit simply with window light through a muslin curtain and a little bit of reflector fill from the lower right.  110mm (equiv) lens stopped right down to f16 to gain some depth of field.  The contact sheet shows the settings but not the aperture which was the same in each case.  I was a bit disappointed with the lilies’ performance, exuberance-wise; they remained stubbornly furled despite being left in the sun.  They cost £4.50 each as well, but I expect they’ll last a while on the window sill!

As for earlier homages I’ve had periods of interest in street photography in the past – here are a couple of my images from the Spanish city of Cartagena:

                                                         DSCF6598        DSCF6637

These fall easily into the run-of-the-mill street categories of perspective humour and poster incorporation.  They are quite amusing for a time but they don’t have any staying power and although I have quite a collection I now find them rather dull.   The Spanish like to talk in close proximity and become deeply involved in their conversation, which makes photographing them quite easy – one is rarely noticed.

Going much further back into my personal archive (how grown-up to think of it now as an archive; only last year it was a folder!) I unearth this image from around 2004:

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I recall being amused by the fact that the fencing had no sides but at the time I had no idea I was treading closely behind Mssrs Strand and Ormerod thus:

strand_the_white_fence_port_kent_1916    picket fence

Paul Strand ~ White Fence, Port Kent, New York 1916                                                                           Michael Ormerod: Untitled, Undated

 

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