Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 8; ‘Speaking Photographically’, 17th March to 23rd March, 2018

This week we’ve been encouraged to think hard about the nature of our practice and how best to critically examine work in terms of professional aesthetics and reception by our target audiences.

Clarke begins his book by pointing out the importance of ‘Hermaneutics’ in understanding visual communication and that this represents a shift from what the artist or photographer intended to the interpretation of the meaning by the receiver. The photograph is often presented with the minimum of  textual backdrop, how the viewer responds to the image, particularly in terms of narrative, is highly open to question.

Berger uses examples from painting to illustrate how references can be effectively communicated visually. He also makes the point that painting can ‘obey’ cultural values and expectations whilst at the same time living with some artistic contradictions, such as the depiction of the nude and the use of perspective, he does not feel it is so simple with images produced by the photographic camera.

While the age of Berger’s books means that his commentary is totally missing the effects of the huge 21st century explosion in the use of imagery caused by the use of digital capture, image processing and internet propagation, he does make for me an interesting point on portraiture. He  feels that just as the formal painted portrait became more and more generalised over time and that the public personae of media folk like TV presenters and celebrities has become similarly anodyne.

Of particular interest to me are Berger’s comments on the power of photographs to misinform, and the adoption by campaigns of the photograph to proliferate ‘consumerist lies’. This is what I guess is being referred to when a few of my images for my Researchers and Influencers project are compared to ‘corporate advertising’. Not quite the same as swearing at them, but close.

Berger makes a number of interesting points about appearance and the importance of the an image reinforcing a subjective feeling. Key to this is the appearance of correspondencies that relate the viewer to that message. He feels the really expressive photograph has fulfilled universally the individual qualities in that image, in a positive way that is. On Cartier-Bresson’s death Berger quoted a photograph taken by him of a young Mexican girl taking a large portrait of a serene woman through a hole in a tall fence. Pointing out the transience of the scene is belied by the portraits serenity and the girl’s eagerness to carry it.

 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mexico City, 1963

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mexico City, 1963

Belting approaches the analysis of images from the perspective how the perception of images has changed some of the earliest art imagery, that done in various pre-Christian civilisations. He posits that while each generation has a new familiar in terms of what images it expects to see reproduced, there is a neuronal memory of recollection that ties the ‘real’ to the imaginery. He feels this anthropological interpretation provides an explanation to how we see images, that it is our mental memory of stored images that is behind our image perception. He feels this is particularly important with video, and will be even more so with the expected adoption of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets.

Later in his book Belting makes the interesting observation that photographs symbolise our perception and remembrance of the world. Acting as a mirror that changes in step with our technological life. Like Berger he sees many connections between the way photographic portraiture conveys a message and that of painted. He feels this connection is “the gaze of memory”. He also makes some interesting comments on a series of images in the influential photobook of Robert Frank called ‘The Americans’. Pointing out that one the one thing the book is missing is consistent of concluding narrative.

Cousins also makes the point that while photography began totally ‘unpainterly’, it did represent ‘the way it looks’, and that it was the ease of doing this that made some in the artistic community reject it. Cousins make the point that photographs work well with words, each provides something the other lacks.

 

References

Clarke, M (2007) Verbalising the Visual: Translating art and design into words, Singapore, AVA Publishing

Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing London, Penguin Classics (2013 reprint)

Berger, J (1967) Understanding a Photograph London, Penguin Classics (2013 reprint)

Belting, H (2002, 2nd edition) An Anthropology of Images Translated from the German by Thomas Dunlap, New Jersey, Princeton University Press. (2011 reprint)

Cousins, M (2017) The Story of Looking Edinburgh, Canongate Books.

Informing Contexts week 8 Activity: An interview with the portrait photographer Harry Borden

This week we’d been asked t”o source and post to this forum an interview with a practitioner who interests you and informs your practice in some way.”

I wanted to base my analysis on a particular contemporary practitioner who’s work informs my current environmental portrait practice, Harry Borden, said to be one of the UK’s finest portrait photographers who has won a number of awards. The National Portrait Gallery have placed about 100 of his portraits in their permanent collection. As I’d had some contact with Harry for an exercise in the previous module I decided the most effective approach was to ask him if he was willing to be interviewed, which he very kindly was. He has very kindly let me post a copy of a recording that I made of our call, slightly trimmed, see below. I’ve restricted this evaluative summary to the visual approach aspects of his current practice.

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On taking on a new assignment Harry generally has a fairly clear idea beforehand of the subject’s background. He tries to record the relationship he had with them on the day. He tries to avoid pre-conceptions as he finds spontaneous reactions provide the best images; “more authentic”. He’s much more open to chance; “letting things happen”, that he was in the past. As my own preference is the spontaneous, ‘natural’, look. I found these comments very reassuring. Much to improve on relationship-wise though.

Harry particularly admires the work of Diane Arbus, “she didn’t know what she was looking for but knew when she’d found it”. Harry feels this encapsulates his own approach, particularly now he is more experienced and confident. He can feel more relaxed going into a new assignment, he “doesn’t overthink it”, “trust that the magic will happen”, and it usually does. As an example Harry quoted his image of Bill Nighy, where he made an excellent set of images featuring Bill Nighy wearing both Harry and Bill’s sets of glasses. Above all Harry feels creativity on the day is key, and this comes from being relaxed, and having the conviction to persuade a subject like Bill Nighy to do it.

 Harry Borden; ‘Bill Nighy’ February, 2014

Harry Borden; ‘Bill Nighy’ February, 2014

At the shoot, if possible, he will try several different scenarios and environments, different lighting, different clothes, different backdrop, hoping to capture “a genuine moment”. He trusts his own instincts and one value of using digital is knowing immediately what he has captured. His long-standing practice is to use just two prime lenses; a 35 and 50mm equivalent, unless the assignment demands something different. He feels that with a wider lens it is a lot easier to assess the best composition for the frame, and is much closer to what the eye sees in real life. He rarely makes a significant crop to his image post-processing.

On keeping to just two choices of focal length I’m far from convinced, though I guess by basing the shot close to what the eye sees it does enable you to assess the composition pretty accurately before looking through the camera’s viewfinder. Especially valuable if capturing a ‘moment’. Unless the area is tight you can always move forwards or back too. I know from recently meeting him that the renowned David Hurn, the Magnum photographer, uses, and has used, almost the same lens combination as Harry (50mm and 28mm equivalent). Albeit on a half-frame Fuji rather that their new medium format that Harry has started using. For my current environmental portrait shoots, where I’m trying to get a more dramatic shot I’m often using a wide 20mm prime lens, I may however not be making as much use of the 50mm ‘as-the-eye-sees-it” field of view as much as I could, and there are certain issues in shooting really wide that trouble me.

Harry made the interesting remark that consistency in producing good images is the mark of a professional photographer. It’s certainly a way of differentiating from the many who produce wonderful images on not so many occasions. His expression that “there is a compulsion to take pictures a certain way” I found insightful. He felt it a very Instinctive attribute, to know when an image as a certain “graphic tension” to it. My suspicion that this instinctiveness comes with practice/experience, coupled with an understanding of what gives visual impact.

He doesn’t feel his approach today with his medium format digital camera, is that different to when he was using a 6×6 120 film Hasselblad. He does feel digital is an enabling technology, particularly in in providing fast auto-focus and a much greater ability to work in low-light. Allowing him to capture a lot more shots hand-held than in the past. Harry identified that one virtue of using film is that there are natural pauses when changing film, allowing you to chat to the subject. He’s aware of this so nowadays during a shoot he just breaks off periodically to have that same conversation. He also felt with digital there’s a risk of constantly taking pictures, getting mentally exhausted in the process.

I’ve started taking some shots for my project with a 90’s era tripod-mounted Hasselblad and I can see exactly what he means. I also have to add that for the much less experienced the slowing down forced by using an older medium format film camera also aids getting the optimal composition first time. Just as the Falmouth workshop portfolio reviewers who recommended it, and my tutors, said it would.  I quite agree about the conversational element too.

He finished this topic by pointing out that he sometimes uses his i-phone’s camera; “It’s all just a means to an end”. Which I wholeheartedly agree with.

The full interview can be heard here .

 

REFERENCES

Andelli Art website, unknown author “Harry Borden biography” Andelli Art website, accessed  31-3-18; http://www.andelliart.com/harry-borden/

Borden, H.,Website; http://harryborden.co.uk/, Instagram feed; #harryborden

Clark, D (13th March, 2017) “Photo Insight with Harry Borden: Bill Nighy” Amateur Photographer Digital Edition, Time Inc., London. See  http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/photo_insight/photo-insight-harry-borden-bill-nighy-101062).

Informing Contexts: Week 8, Commentary on Daniel Gustav Cramer's 'Trilogy' project

This week I was able to take part in a forum where we were asked to comment on the nature of the development of the German photographer,  Daniel Gustav Cramer’s ‘Trilogy’ project. For this project Cramer has very bravely attempted to make a whole of three themes; Woodland, Underwater and Mountain.

 Conor Clark:  Studio Visit. Daniel Gustav Cramer,  5th November, 2015

Conor Clark: Studio Visit. Daniel Gustav Cramer, 5th November, 2015

 Daniel Gustav Cramer; "Mountain 03 domobaal"

Daniel Gustav Cramer; "Mountain 03 domobaal"

Whilst the edit has I think been reasonably successful for the Woodland and Mountain themes, especially those images with shadow/mist (woodland) and cloud (mountain), the underwater images are much less moody and don’t seem to fit well together at all. I fully agree with the comment that the images struggle to give any consistent narrative. Darwent’s comments about them being all being fundamentally abstract I struggle with, though it could certainly be said of a number, I don’t feel it applies to the information rich others. It’s interesting to have them grouped as a trilogy, but does there connectedness truly stand up? Is the “absence of aspect” that Dillon identified sufficient? I have to question whether the concept is too wide.

If he was to proceed further with this project he could consider distilling his current edit to explore the unsettling effect of having a significant part of a landscape/nature image obscured. Perhaps shifting the underwater theme to images  obscured by a cloudy sea bottom or bubbly turbulence maybe. The other themes slightly narrowed to Mountain-cloud and woodland-mist.

A rather more dramatic shift would be to drop the underwater element altogether, but this seems to deny the viability of what should be a very reasonably concept. As it stands I think the images selected question rather than support the concept. Cramer’s mountain images are I feel a very interesting counterpoint to the dramatic mountain landscapes of his fellow German, the 19th century painter Caspar David Friedrich. They sort of provide the other side of that narrative.

In regard to my own work I guess it show the importance of good selection and consistency in approach. I also can’t help noticing that it seems so much easier to review someone else’s work than my own. It makes me wonder if I’m missing some very useful elements that I could bring in myself.

 

REFERENCES

Anderson, H (2014) ‘Interview with Daniel Gustav Cramer at his Friedrichshain studio’ Berlin Art Link on-line magazine, Berlin http://www.berlinartlink.com/2014/11/05/daniel-gustav-cramer/ (accessed 1st April, 2018)

Darwent, C. (2007) ‘Daniel Gustav Cramer: Mountain (Trilogy Part Three)’. Domobaal April [Online]. Available at: https://www.domobaal.com/exhibitions/41-07-daniel-gustav-cramer-01.html [accessed 1st April 2018]

Dillon, B (2007) Art Review, issue 13 pp 102–104 Canterbury. Note; used text from http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html (accessed 1st April, 2018)

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 7; ‘Responses & Responsibilities’, 10th March to 16th March, 2018

I would like to feel that most of my work as to some degree a ‘message’ narrative. Not in the wonder of life and nature seen in the images quoted by Ingrid Sischy on Salgado’s travelling retrospective. Mine are certainly not ‘stagey’, or so seductive to the eye. But while I feel the non-stagey aspect is all to the good, they could certainly be a little more interesting to the eye. Salgado in his interview with Rohter questioned whether any photographer can present himself as an artist, even though it his “lush aesthetic style” as commented  by Markogiannis that sets many of his images apart from simple photo-journalism.

The context by which they are seen is important. His is perhaps not such an issue for my new ‘Croydon Shop keepers’, where most will have an immediate familiarity with the type of environment my portraiture is being taken, It is however a likely issue for many of the images in my Researchers and influencers project where only a few of my audience will be familiar with the laboratory and certain other environments my collaborators work in.

Campany refers to the changing nature of ‘news’ photographs, the blurring between technologies and the much greater importance that cultural context has on imagery compared to the technological bias of the past, i.e. ‘coffee table large-format film imagery vs high-grain pixelated newsprint. Not that the technological divide has gone away, it’s just in different hands with a much greater likelihood of an artistic rather than documentary context applied. For instance the choice by Joel Meyerowitz to use a large format plate camera for his stunning ‘ground zero’ imagery. Whether he really has immersed himself so much in the technical aspects of his photography that creativity is an option, I doubt. Just comes more built-in than in his younger-past maybe..

Campany refers to the ‘late photograph’ as  being emblematic of contemporary photography. His point about the starkness of many current exhibited images and their juxtaposition between banality and the serene I can relate to, whether they will stay that way I doubt. It’s a fashion and fashion’s change. Video memories tend to lose their wonder with time, not so true for a powerful still image that is much more easy to remember accurately.

In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others’ Sontag talks about the power of war imagery in increasing the awareness of suffering and talks about George Bataille keeping an image of someone suffering the Chinese ‘Death by 1000 cuts’. These old 19th century grainy images of Lingchi execution still shock.

Ritchin discusses in his chapter ‘Other Alliances’ in his book Bending the Frame that the context at  which by images are picked by photo editors for publication often have a strong political context. He also feels that many powerful images are effectively suppressed  because of fears that they may incite hatred or additional violence. Currently this is now felt to be a concern with social media and the difficulty of channels like Facebook to police it’s billions of users.

Elsewhere Ritchin talks about the way photographic projects can communicate issues, citing Geert van Kesteran’s 2008 ‘Baghdad Calling” that used mobile phone images coupled with personal belongings to convey something about the unsettling nature of that conflict as one example. On a milder note he draws attention to the accusations of bias that were aroused by Newsweek article that showed an untouched photograph of Sarah Palin, the Vice-Presidential Republican candidate, that was said to draw attention to the imperfections of her skin and face. Clearly a challenge for the photographer, particularly given that reputable photojournalistic images are expected to be essentially untouched.

 Nigel Parry; Cropped by Newsweek image from his portrait of the Vice-Presidential candidate ex-Governor Sarah Palin

Nigel Parry; Cropped by Newsweek image from his portrait of the Vice-Presidential candidate ex-Governor Sarah Palin

So far I’ve done little to smooth skin blemishes in my collaborators, but I guess I can’t assume that it might not one day be an issue, particularly given the increasing emphasis on data protection and the use of ‘personal’ data.

 

References

Sischy, I Good intentions The New Yorker 9th September, 1991 pp 89-95.

Rohter, L Sebastião Salgado’s Journey From Brazil to the World 23rd March, 2015 The New York Times.

Markogiannis, N Aesthetics and Ideology of Sebastiao Selgado New York Photographic Diary 8th June, 2015.

Campany, D (2003) Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of “Late Photography”, In Where is the Photograph, Brighton, Brighton Photoforum.

Sontag S, (2004) Regarding the Pain of Others London, Penguin Books

Ritchin, F (2013) Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen New York, Aperture

Swaine, J (10 Oct 2008) Sarah Palin: Newsweek criticised for unflattering cover. Daily Telegraph online edition https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/sarah-palin/3171956/Sarah-Palin-Newsweek-criticised-for-unflattering-cover.html (accessed 22-4-18)

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 6 ‘A Sea of images’, 3rd March to 9th March, 2018

I’ve been asked this week to consider my practice within the context of other visual practices and any ideological adherence.

I’d say that if I do follow an ideology it is one derived from realism. Specifically I try to avoid my images appearing artificial, i.e. real as opposed to set-up. That doesn’t mean I’m following the  bourgeois realist doctrines of 19th century Russian literature, but it does mean that the images of human life portrayed in my  project only have relevance if the viewer perceives then as ‘real’. Barthes had I think mixed views on this. On one hand while he was happy to work with the concept of what he termed ‘signification’ in his chapter ‘on Myth today’. But he then later wrote that the mythological message should change the object itself to become a new, Marxian, message.

While I don’t support the 1928 view of the soviet photographer Rodchneko that the snapshot photograph is ‘factography’, I do like the capturing someone with a natural look on their face. David Bates talks about the influence Atget’s photographs of old Paris had, via Berenice Abbott and Walter Benjamin, as changing the way photographic documents people and place. My own view is simply that my images should convey a reasonably degree of authenticity to my viewer for my message to be communicated and possibly accepted.

Having said this I’m increasingly influenced by contemporary painted portraiture. For instance I greatly respect the work of the london-based artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg, who seems to be able to inject realism into a dramatically different views of a subject. One potential future project is for me to try and interpret one particular look of his photographically.

 T ai Shan Schierenberg  –  Self portrait as Janus , from his Alter ego series (2008)

Tai Shan Schierenberg Self portrait as Janus, from his Alter ego series (2008)

 T ai Shan Schierenberg  –  The Apostles , from his Winterreise series (2014)

Tai Shan Schierenberg The Apostles, from his Winterreise series (2014)

Philip Gettler wrote an interesting essay on photorealism in painting where he made the remark, “how to paint from a photograph was one thing, but to establish a photographic vocabulary within the realm of painting quite another”. I guess that the inverse case is even more of a challenge, particularly if not using the paint simulation tricks available through the application of advanced post-processing software.

From a theoretical point I guess I’ve been most influenced by more technically focussed authors such as Michael Freeman, David duChemin and Chris Knight. Whether my practice has been sufficiently influenced you could argue, but it has certainly had some influence on my composition and lighting. More recently this module has introduced me to the commentary of John Berger and Roswell Angier, so like many things my practice is in a state of flux.

Looking is an act of vision, seeing is an act of perception and recognition. It is only recently that I’m spending more time seeing more than looking. I certainly wish to avoid the type of pictorial bias described by Grundberg, I also don’t for a moment think it’s only a bias seen in the US’s National Geographic magazine. The nature of the bias varies, but I feel there’s always a degree of cultural leaning/bias in all major country’s public photographic lexicon.

 

References

Barthes, R. (1957) Myth Today, In Mythologies, translated from the French by Richard Howard (2012) New York, Hill & Wang.

Barthes R., (1977) Image, Music, Text, translated from the French by Stephen Heath (1977) London, Fontana Press.

Anchor, R (1983) Realism and Idealogy: The question of Order, History and Theory  Vol. 22, No. 2 (May), pp. 107-119 London, Wiley

Bates, D (2015) Art Photography pp. 58-66 London, Tate Publishing.

Gettler, P (2009) Keeping it Real; Photo-Realism. In Photography after Frank, pp40-44, New York, Aperture Foundation.

Schierenberg, TS, Personal Website – many examples of his work, see http://www.taishanschierenberg.com/ (last accessed 22nd April, 2018)

Freeman, M (2013) The Photographer’s Eye: a Graphic Guide, Lewes, Ilex

duChemin, D (2016) Within the Frame: The journey of Photographic Vision, San Franscisco,  Pearson-New Riders

Knight, C (2017) The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting light and Shadow, San Rafael CA, Rockynook

Berger, J (1967) Understanding a Photograph London, Penguin Classics (2013 reprint)

Angier, R Train Your Gaze (2nd edition, 2007) London, Bloomsbury (2015 reprint)

Grundberg, A (18th September, 1988) PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World New York, New York Times (provided as a pdf)

 

Informing Contexts, Reflections on Week 5 ‘Gazing at photographs’; 24th February to 2nd March, 2018

I’ve been asked to consider a number of questions this week around the nature of looking.

It terms of my own ‘look’, in terms of my portraiture I generally try to capture images that show something of the reality of that person as I can. They may not necessarily be taken in a way that flatters them, but they will be trying to reflect how I see them off-camera and until quite recently more confined to the upper body. My intended audience used to be almost always the subject themselves, but in the last few years I’ve taken an increasing number of images with a less-specific audience in mind. For instance, many of the images my last two book contributions were taken specifically for that section.

Belting’s anthropological perspective that “”we are not the masters of our own images” until recently was for me true a very literal sense. But this is not as true as it was, while I want to capture something of the character of that person, I’m now much more willing, and a little more able, to try to compose the image in a way that makes the subject and their environment more interesting, with a degree of distant contact.

My ‘gaze’ in taking street photographs has always been a little different. Here I tend to be trying to capture an image that in some way or another appears to tells a story or provide a mood. It may not necessarily reflect the ‘real’ situation of whom I’m photographing, but I like to try to make these images convey a narrative or mood of some sort. My intended audience is a bit wider, other photographers, particularly those also interested in street photography. Here I’m very open to others interpretations and may modify my style a little in the light of these comments. Similarly  contact-wise I’ve been closest to, and I guess more influenced by, other street and documentary photographers. I understand the point made by Solomon-Godeau that ’street photography’ is a problematic category in that it is relatively recent and is not within itself artistically coherent. Only a   However, if it’s regarded as a form of social documentary no problem? Solomon-Godeau also cites the research of Bannos who made the related observation that the posthumously celebrated street photography of Vivian Maier would appear to have been conducted compulsively as only a small amount of was printed in her lifetime. Perhaps street photography is also form of escape?

My most experimental are probably my nature images, here I’m much more looking for shapes and the play of light, possibly from a remote hand-held flashgun as the English sun is often absent. My macro-photography is just a desperate effort to get as much of interest to get as in focus for the viewer as I can without having to resort to the more planned and cumbersome means of zone focusing. The intended audience in both cases is primarily myself, though I’m happy for the better results to be seen wider. I’m hoping that they might be interpreted as providing something of the wonder of nature and the realisation of the never-ending complexity of detail that the macro view gives.

Until recently I’ve been I guess relatively isolated in terms of influence from others. While I’ve greatly admired the photography of well known photographers of the past like Edward Stiechen, Ansal Adams, Vivian Myer and William Eggleston it’s only since becoming a member of the Royal Photographic Society and some London Photography groups have I started going regularly to various talks and exhibitions, giving me much greater insight into a number of interesting visual approaches.

The work of William Eggleston in particular still impresses me, his studio and earlier outside shots are truly remarkable. The practices of a number of other earlier photographers interest me; August Sander’s consistency, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s environmental portraits that always engage the subject, Irving Penn’s creative use of lighting to outline both form and style, Diane Arbus’s very quirky and highly emotional portraits, the stark portraits of Lange, Evans, Brandt… And in more recent times Lee Friedlander, Bruce Davidson, and quite a few others, the list goes on. In terms of more current practice I follow Harry Borden, Mario Testino and  Annie Leibovitz in particular. But I’m now vastly more open to others style of practice than before.

Currently I’m most interested in enhancing my portraiture through better use of light and direction. I’m building up reasonable expertise at the use if fill-in flash, but it would be good to spend some time in a studio to get a greater appreciation of the finite control of light and shadow, as well as a better understanding of what works in retaining the features I want whilst adding a degree of drama. I fully agree with Rosswell’s observation that there is a degree of tension in August many of Sander’s environmental portraits, it would be interesting to get more in mine. I like to try and catch a certain look in people’s eyes too.

However, as Townshend said; “What you believe isn’t necessarily what the photograph contains.””

 

REFERENCES

Belting, H. “An anthropology of images” (2002) 2nd Edition, p. Translated by Thomas Dulap (2014) Oxford, Princeton University Press

Solomon-Godeau, A. “Photography after Photography”, Ch. 9 “Inventing Vivian Maier” (2017) London, Duke University Press

Angier, R. “Train your gaze: a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photograph” (2015) 2nd Edition, London, Bloomsbury Publishing’s Fairchild Books

Townsend, C. “Vile Bodies: Photography and the crisis of looking”, p.9 (1998) Munich, Prestel-Verlag p.9

 

OWN BOOKS INCLUSIONS QUOTED

Land, G (2017) “A Flavour of Soho Life” In: Bennet, N et al “Living London” London, Royal Photographic Society Urban Group

Land, G. (2017) “Windows on life” In: Barrington, F. et al “SW Twelve” London, Royal Photographic Society London Region

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 4 ‘Into the Image World’; 17th February to 23rd February, 2018

This week I’m going to describe my motives and where I feel I’m currently going.

The fundamental intent of my work, has it was from the start, is to improve the way I approach my photography, increase my understanding of what is good photography and most importantly change my mindset, the attitude by which I approach my photography. The MA award, if gained, is to a large extent a bonus. My focus was initially on relatively ‘pure’ portrait photography, but on the advice of my tutor in the last module I changed this to one with a more documentary theme based on environmental portraiture. This has proven to be both challenging and rewarding and has made me consider making my photography a full-time occupation post the MA course.

This past week, or to be more specific the workshop that I participated in (Falmouth University), has been very has been formative in terms of strategy. As part of the workshop we were offered the opportunity to have our current work reviewed by a number of different reviewers, some staff, some tutors and some external participants. I was able to get 1-1 slots with six reviewers, and a group portfolio review with my Course and current Module Leaders.

I will say more in detail about the advice I was given in a separate blog, but the result was that whilst I was reassured that a number of my images were reasonable, though by no means exceptional, there was a lot of room for improvement. The nature of my project wasn’t particularly queried, indeed, thought to be a good topic in that the people I were addressing were thought generally unavailable.

A significant change to my project did however results from the comments of three of the reviewers, all very experienced. They advised that I should consider creating a more detailed and thought through portrait composition by using a tripod and a medium or large format camera. Possibly with a specific background that would be common to all my subjects. At the same time I would still take more environmental images of my subjects in their workplace. One purpose of this would be to slow me down.

The choice of film camera is up to me and has not yet decided. One reviewer did suggest using a 4” x 5” plate camera using collidion gel plates. This I have already decided against, too big a jump at this stage in a course (I’m still struggling to get to terms with time-wise). I am however intrigued at the suggestion so it’s not ruled out as a longer-term option. My background as a qualified member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and ex-lab technician might also make that more doable than in might otherwise be. So it’s likely to be a second-hand 6cm x 6cm or 6cm x 7cm 120 film camera.

In terms of hare my current strategies working I’d have to say mixed. As I’ve described in the last three months my project strategy has made two major changes. The second has yet to translate to tactics, the former I would say has been reasonably successful. Whilst it’s not proving that easy to get collaborators, the seven photoshoots that have been conducted to date went reasonably well.

In regard to my general strategy of using the MA tuition to improve my photography is proving sound. Whilst my appreciation of my own photography has taken a resounding knock, largely on having a much greater exposure to the work of much more creative and experienced photographers, it has improved my understanding of what makes an interesting image. The assimilation process of translating this understanding unto my current practice if however only just beginning I may I suspect take some time.

So whilst at the moment I’m feeling on the whole pretty negative about my own photography, I’m sure that as the course proceeds and I incorporate more of my project approach into my general photography this will change.

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We’ve  been asked to comment on the statement: ‘is photographic ambiguity an intent in it’s own right? Well, yes, I feel it is. Whilst there is always a possibility that the narrative or nature of the sets of images that you put forward my be understood a different way by others, there are certainly many images that have been captured or created specifically to be ambiguous. I often wonder, particularly when looking at more abstract or less defined work, whether what I am seeing is what others see. Barthes described the ‘punctum’ as the feature that distinguishes the more interesting images but does I think not expect everyone to see the same ‘punctum’.  The signs and symbols may be shared, but they may well be not.

The created or captured ambiguous image is almost the very opposite of those described by Elkins in “How to use your eyes’. Instead of simply providing form that the viewer can ‘see’ in a very detailed and definitive way, the viewer is being lift much to their own devices in deciding what is the nature and message contained within this image.

Whether adverts themselves are ambiguous I’m not sure. They certainly have often have hidden meanings and prompts, but is this really ambiguity or just more than one thread communicating the same message through multiple rationales. A message might be hidden, but is it truly ambiguous if in the end there is only one meaning, ‘Buy My Product’? So while exposing the existence of loneliness was an hidden theme in the 2015 John Lewis Christmas Campaign, it did in consequence enhance the view of John Lewis as a charitable-minded organisation. i.e. that it would be good shop for charitable folk to buy from. Not very different perhaps to the ubiquitous use of sports sponsored branding on the participants clothing and equipment.

Williamson made the point that “Advertisements must take into account not only the inherent qualities and attributes of the products they are trying to sell, but also the way they can make these properties mean something to us.” <authors italics>. So perhaps they are ambiguous, but only in that there is more than one message, not that there is more than one meaning. Similarly Barthes talks about the different degrees to which narrative is coded, classifications and other societal or cultural meanings intrude. Though as Barthes points out, the words used in theatre or film may lead to multiple potential meanings, particularly in languages less defined than French or German (such as English or phonetic Japanese). Thus narrative can easily have degrees of ambiguity. Photographic imagery narrative is no different and less constrained by linguistical rules and common understandings, though maybe more effort is needed. To paraphrase Barthes “it ceaselessly substitutes meaning for the straightforward copy of the events recounted.”

I finish with the comment made by Stephen Shore on a Nicholas Nixon image; “In bringing order to the situation a photographer solves a picture, more than composes one”.

 ‘Friendly, West Virginia 1982’ by Nicholas Nixon

‘Friendly, West Virginia 1982’ by Nicholas Nixon

Sometimes the photographer is catching meaning in an otherwise ambiguous situation.

 

REFERENCES

Williamson, J .”Decoding Advertisements – Ideology and meaning in Advertising” (2002) New York, Marion Boyars,

Barthes, R .“Camera Lucida”(1980) translated by Richard Howard(1981) London, Vintage Books – Random House (Penguin)

Elkins, J. “How to use your eyes” (2000) New York, Routledge,

McCabe, M “John Lewis extends Age UK partnership with behind-the-scenes ad” (2015) Campaign’s on-line magazine 20th November, 2015 (accessed 2nd April, 2018; https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/john-lewis-extends-age-uk-partnership-behind-the-scenes-ad/1373626#8xBCeC75Pl1Qki4T.99

Barthes, R. “Image Music Text”(1977) translated by Stephen Heath(1977), London, Fontana Press (Harper Collins Publishers)

Shore, S “The Nature of Photographs” (2007) London, Phaidon Press

Informing Contexts; MA activity log, Week 2, 3rd February – 9th February, 2018

Plenty to do on the course study front.

For the forum we were asked to comment on Roland Barthes’s thoughts on ‘Authenticity’ and the difference between authenticity and representation.

I said that I agreed with Bathes, at least with his basic concept that it is likely that the representation of an image created through a photographic process it will have the ability to be treated by the viewer as authentic to a much greater extent than what the person who captured/created that image actually represents it has.

The key as usual with photography is context. My reading is that that Barthes is using this phrase in terms of the likely influence on the viewer. Thus, even though the photograph may potentially have been produced with a high degree of fabrication. Roland Barthes is postulating that our treatment of the image will be similar to how we see of the world with our own eyesight, especially if classed as comparable to an instantaneous glance. Thus it gains a degree of authenticity that is, at least initially, independent of our understanding of how the photograph was produced. The same is certainly not true for oil painting.

It’s an important aspect of my project, particularly as I’m trying to convey something of the reality of my collaborator’s working life as well as personality through the inclusion of part of their working environment. The more posed my images look, the less conviction my images will give. That my medium lends itself for my images to be treated as likely to be authentic/real is helpful in attaining that goal. Whether it can be relied upon, especially on longer examination, is questionable. Especially if there are some aspects of the image, such as expression or surroundings, that don’t appear to fit.

So while Barthes is making an important point, the more an image differs from the viewers expectation of that ‘reality’, the more important is the authenticity of that representation. This is a particular issue at this strange time of ‘Fake News’ accusation.

For our week’s activity we were asked to post Post a short response below that outlines your own position regarding the nature of the photograph as ‘really real’.

I begin with a personal observation. I guess in many ways the biggest factor that influences me in terms of whether the photograph that I’m looking at is ‘real‘ is it’s ordinariness. The more visually stimulating or intriguing a photographic image is, the more I will tend to question the reality of it. This is partly  through my experience of camera club judges who often make the point as to what could/should be done to ‘enhance’ the entrant’s image. That doesn’t mean however that I don’t appreciate the impact and effect that such a more distinctive image gives.

Scruton’s argues photography is not representational. Providing an analysis of representational causality he argues that by it’s visually representative nature the photograph tends to automatically define itself as ‘real’. Or at least it does in terms of a visual reproduction of the scene in front of it. While I’m happy to support that we see most photographs automatically as real, I’m not convinced by Scruton’s argument.

I also lack conviction that we assess photographic and painted portraits so differently. He argues that “if one finds a photograph beautiful, it is because one finds something beautiful in its subject. A painting may be beautiful on the other hand, even when the subject represent an ugly thing.” While photographic portraiture, like painting, tends to flatter the subject, like painting there’s quite a few powerful exceptions. John Szarkowski made the point that just as modern painting has been greatly influenced ay photography, so photography has been greatly influenced by painting. This is certainly a consideration in my own work.

Barthes talks about “the punctum” as a way to describe the presence of a certain aspect or detail in a particular image that raises it in the eye of the viewer, giving it ‘grace’. He also says that this ‘punctum’ is missing in what he calls ‘unary’ photographs. Most journalistic and all pornographic photographs are placed by Barthes in this group. While I can sort of see what he means, so much is in the eye of the beholder I question this as a feature that could be reliably identified. Though I do suspect what I see as ‘ordinary’ in an image is Barthes’s ‘unary’. Similarly Victor Burgin talks about visually consuming the photograph, an act of looking. Like Jacques Lacan’s use of ‘gaze’ he interprets this act in a psychoanalytic way. Personally I find this approach shaky, attempting to pigeon-hole artistic appreciation to a male/fetishist reaction. Easier to fit within the Austrian society of Freud than modern global living maybe?

I’m happy to agree with Lev Manovich that those, like Mitchell, who argue pre-digital photography (i.e. film) is different, are wrong. Manovich feels digital photography is simply a continuation of analogue reproduction and even has the ability to reinforce it. While earnestly agreeing I’d have to point out that digital is at least as capable as analogue of producing blurred and distorted imagery, digital doesn’t have to be pixel-perfect HD.

I can’t question that compared to other art forms, excepting the non-camera and abstract forms of photography, the photograph is fundamentally different. By the nature of optics the scene, however framed, is imposed. While we can talk about art photography as separate from photography I feel this distinction is questionable when the camera is in the hands of an exceptional photographer, like Bill Brandt or Richard Avedon, who were able to both record and create with exactly the same set of photographic tools.

 

 Bill Brandt:  London, 1954

Bill Brandt: London, 1954

 Richard Avedon:  Volpi Ball, Venice, Italy 31st August, 1991

Richard Avedon: Volpi Ball, Venice, Italy 31st August, 1991

I suspect that with the present ubiquity of digital photography the difference is perhaps much less marked than it was. David Bate makes the point that “photographic interventions in art are multiple and diverse, eclectic even, and art is unthinkable now without them”. Bate also talks about one response to the 21st century’s heterogenous use of digital manipulation is to refer to the digital photograph as ‘post-photographic’, merely a form of ‘data space’. This distinction I’m unsure about.

Stephen Shore talked about ‘levels’ within an image, that “the print provides a physical framework for the visual parameters of the photographic image”. He felt it was our mental perceptions that changed this “piece of paper into a seductive illusion or a moment of beauty and truth”. And while the photograph is now as likely to be seen on a large or small electronic screen as in a printed form I feel this phrase is for me describing the nature of the photograph.

Certainly. If you look at contemporary work a huge range of approaches are taken. From the quirky use of pareidolio (seeing patterns of light and shadow as faces) by Justin Sutcliffe to the colourful digitally manipulated compositions of Kenta Cobayashi, photography now takes on a multiplicity of visual forms, without entering the even more diverse realms of videography. Perceived reality, such that seen in documentary and nature photography, is just one of them.

 Kenta Kobayashi:&nbsp; Chel3

Kenta Kobayashi: Chel3

 Justin Sutcliffe – “Parking, Ipswich”

Justin Sutcliffe – “Parking, Ipswich”

 

References

Barthes, Roland (1980) Camera Lucida translated by Richard Howard (1981), London, Vintage Books – Random House <Penguin>.

Elkins, J (Ed) (2013) Photography as Theory London, Routledge

Scruton, Roger (1981) Photography and Representation Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring), pp. 577-603, The University of Chicago Press.

Szarkowski, John (1980) The Photographer’s Eye London, Secker and Warburg

Bates, David (2015) Art Photography London, Tate Publishing

Shore, Stephen (2007) The Nature of Photographs 2nd edition London, Phaidon Press

 

Images – more on that photographer

http://www.henricartierbresson.org/en/expositions/bill-brandt/

http://time.com/67575/let-there-be-dark-bill-brandts-shadow-and-light/

https://www.avedonfoundation.org/the-work/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/aug/09/ojbects-people-too-facial-pareidolia-in-pictures

https://justinsutcliffe.pixelrights.com/

http://kentacobayashi.com/ (see the ‘photographs’ tab)

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 3 ‘Constructed Realities’; 10th February to 16th February, 2018

I’ve been asked this week to pick three images that  involve multiple interpretations of the world and a ‘constructed approach’ that interest me.

The first is a very simple image by Nadav Kander, ‘Dinah Gould’, part of the ‘Torchbearers’ section which were shown in the ‘Road to 2012’ exhibition at the National Gallery, London during 2011. By showing one unexpected action throws into question exactly what is being portrayed. On one hand we have the well-executed image of a an elderly lady in a summer dress holding a crumpled tissue, on the other hand her shoes are facing down and she appears to be in the act of jumping vertically, a faint shadow appearing to add collaboration to this incongruous act. The whole series of eight are similar, while his subjects vary, all appear to be in the same act of jumping. It’s odd and does show the tension that can be added to an image by including something that is unexpected and inconsistent with your first look at the image.

This relates to my own practice as it shows that a strong thread can be added to what would otherwise be unrelated images by having them perform a similar, unexpected, action or I guess by all of them handling an object that they might not otherwise be associated with.

______________________________________

The second image, ‘Kana and Edouard, Paris, 2012’ was taken by Mami Kiyoshi as part of a fifteen year long project of couples in Japan and France; ‘New Reading Portraits’. Kiyoshi finds her subjects by placing adverts on posters and online. She then chats to them about their lives, their passions and their homes before taking their portrait. Her images are contrived to show something about the objects the couple possess, and often something about the personality of one or both of those taking part. They are produced in very rich vibrant colours, and I’m sure are best seen as a large print showing as much of the image detail as possible. As might be expected from such  long project her website shows many more images from this project, it wasn’t easy to decide which single image to show.

 Kiyoshi Mami ‘  Kana and Edouard, Paris, 2012  ‘

I feel this could sort of approach could relate to my own project, both in terms of having a particular ‘look’ on the final printed image, to the use of their objects, or object, to give an extra dimension.

________________________________________________-

The third image is the one I feel the most magical. Produced by the Nederlander, Ruud van Empel ‘world 7’ is one of a large series of images entitles ‘World’.  Every image is highly constructed, I’ve suggest following the provided link to his gallery as I feel it is best to view the set as a group. There is a central theme and style that connects all of this series. While I feel the one I’ve picked has particular impact from the way the boys round head, with insect on top, fills the centre of the image they all have exceptional ‘unrealness’ and I feel happier to talk about the group as a series rather than a single image.

 Ruud van Empel ‘ World 7′  See  http://www.ruudvanempel.nl/works/130-world-7.html

Ruud van Empel ‘World 7′ See http://www.ruudvanempel.nl/works/130-world-7.html

Van Empel calls these image productions ‘digital collages’. A key element is that none of these faces are whole. Van Empel shoots a variety of young models, and then separates their facial elements to re-construct a hybrid photoshopped face. He does this to has a very high standard of photorealism and it is far from obvious that this has taken place.  In this series Van Empel is portraying young , very black, children in a very tropical, incredibly green, environment. Often partly submerged in a pool of water surrounded by floating lilies and colourful flowers and small insects. When not semi-submerged the boys are generally wearing shorts while the small girls are in a smart summer dress. It’s all very odd, and with the look of innocence attached to their expression and age, a little disturbing, dressed as they are in a very Western attire.

Then you have the apparently clean and bright look of the vegetation, and a composition that has subtle hints of menace. Again this vegetation is from individual fine leaves, perfect ripples, clean branches, all photoshopped incredibly cleverly  together. A lot of effort, with photography playing only a minor role, but a very powerful image results. It is perhaps ‘magical realism’ at it’s best.

There are so many threads running though these images it’s difficult to know where to start. But the strongest common feature is that the faces don’t seem quite right. The human brain has evolved to be very acute to facial detail and expression. We do not expect to see all of the children with a near identical expression and poise. Like the identical children portrayed in the 1960 film Village of the Damned (based on John Wyndam’s book ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’) there is something very troubling about the portrayed perfection. In John Wynham’s tale the children concerned have none of the genetic characteristics of their parents, for different reasons Van Empel has produced a  similar look.

In this case I do find it hard to relate this to my own work. Van Empel’s approach is in many ways the antithesis of my goal. I’m wanting to portray the reality of my subject’s work environment and something of their personality.

 

SOURCES

Nadav Kander website, last accessed 5th April, 2018; see https://www.nadavkander.com/portraits

Mami Koyoshi Facebook page last accessed 5th April, 2018; see https://www.facebook.com/MamiKiyoshiArtist

Ruud Van Empel website, last accessed 5th April, 2018; see https://ruudvanempel.nl/

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 2 ‘The Index and the Icon’; 3rd February – 9th February, 2018

In this week’s module we covered authenticity and the question of how much of an image is artifice, how much is ‘real’. We were asked to examine Barthes’s statement that ‘In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation‘. We also had a number of texts to consider, several of which I’ve found has taken some time to properly assimilate. Th appearance of this CRJ has been delayed for this reason, my apologies if it seems heavy going in places. It does however have a reasonable impact on my project.

While I agree with Roland Barthes that an image created through a photographic process will have the ability to be treated by the viewer as authentic, and this effect may be stronger that the photographer intended. Even with the ease at which hidden digital manipulation can now alter an image I suspect in general this will stay true.

It’s an important aspect of my project, particularly as I’m trying to convey something of the reality of my collaborator’s working life as well as personality through the inclusion of part of their working environment. The more posed my images look, the less conviction my images will give. That my medium lends itself for my images to be treated as likely to be authentic/real is helpful in attaining that goal.

Thus, even though the photograph may potentially have been produced with a high degree of fabrication. Our treatment of the image is similar to that we see of the world with our own eyesight, especially if classed as comparable to an instantaneous glance. Thus it gains a degree of authenticity that is, at least initially, independent of our understanding of how the photograph was produced. The same is certainly not true for an oil painting.

In their 1975 article Snyder and Allen questioned whether photography is ‘peculiar’ in that it is different to other forms of making a picture. Pointing out that most commentators and practitioners have felt this was the case, at least since the early 1900’s when Stieglitz moved from promoting pictorialism to a form of photography based on what the Anglo-American writer, Charles Henry Caffin, described ‘…will record facts, but not as facts’. Later on Snyder & Allen observe that if a theorist has defined photography has an automatic process that doesn’t involve the manipulation, inventiveness and imagination integral to ‘Art’, then it is logical for the theorist to define it as different.

In response to this they make the observation that the way someone like Edward Steichen or Walker Evans composed their photographs of Brooklyn Bridge was probably not that different to the way someone like Constable, or Turner approached their paintings. Their point being that often the “creative task of the artist is to decide just what the subject is”, and thus in creative hands photography is not conducted differently to other means of representing a subject.

 Edward Steichen –   Brooklyn Bridge , 1903

Edward Steichen – Brooklyn Bridge, 1903

 J.M.W. Turner  Sunset and Dark Clouds over the Sea , c1845 ( From The Whalers Sketchbook) – Tate Britain, London

J.M.W. Turner Sunset and Dark Clouds over the Sea, c1845 (From The Whalers Sketchbook) – Tate Britain, London

While agreeing with their view it needs also to be recognized that many images are created with little artistic intent or creative purpose. The most ubiquitous use of photography has always been to simply to record a scene. However, even in the early days of photography when technical options were much more limited it was perhaps never been quite as simple as that. Creative elements soon appeared, from the treatment of light & shadow to composition. As in Fox Talbot’s ‘Haystack’ (1844) and Edouard Baldus’s ‘Cloister of Saint-Trophime, Arles (1851). While the last image involved creating a print from multiple negatives and manual re-touching, it also shows creative manipulation appeared at an early stage of photography’s path.

 William Henry Fox Talbot –  The Haystack  c1841 –  The Met, salted print from paper negative

William Henry Fox Talbot – The Haystack c1841 – The Met, salted print from paper negative

Scruton argues photography is not representational. Providing an analysis of representational causality he argues that by it’s visually representative nature the photograph tends to automatically define itself as ‘real’. Or at least it does in terms of the visual reproduction of the scene in front of it. While I’m happy to support that we see most photographs automatically as real, I’m not convinced by Scruton’s argument, detailed though it is.

Barthes feels that in his view photographs can be split into two groups, those that prompt no more than general interest and those that have something that stands out or intrigues him. Or as Barthes puts it, “the punctum” is a way to describe the presence of a certain aspect or detail in a particular image that raises it in the eye of the viewer, giving it ‘grace’. He also says that this ‘punctum’ is missing in what he calls ‘unary’ photographs. Most journalistic and all pornographic photographs are placed by Barthes in this group. I feel this is a little dismissive of what makes, at least journalistic images, ‘interesting’, but it is an interesting observation. I wonder if  what I see as ‘ordinary’ in an image is Barthes’s ‘unary’, but maybe little risky to assume anyone’s view of an image is the same a one’s own. I’m wary of over-classification, particularly when whole genres are involved.

Victor Burgin talks about visually consuming the photograph, an act of looking. Like Jacques Lacan’s use of ‘gaze’ he interprets this act in a psychoanalytic way. Personally I find this approach questionable. Can you really pigeon-hole artistic appreciation to a male/fetishist reaction? But Freudian psychoanalysis is not something I know much about.

I’m happy to agree with Lev Manovich that those, like Mitchell, who argue pre-digital photography (i.e. film) is different, are wrong. Manovich feels digital photography is simply a continuation of analogue reproduction and even has the ability to reinforce it. While earnestly agreeing I’d have to also point out that digital is at least as capable as analogue of producing blurred and distorted imagery, digital imagery doesn’t have to be in pixel-perfect HD.

Compared to other art forms, excepting the non-camera and abstract forms of photography, the photograph is fundamentally different. By the nature of optics the scene, however framed, is imposed. However, while we can talk about art photography as separate from photography I feel this distinction is questionable when the camera is in the hands of an exceptional photographer, like Bill Brandt or Richard Avedon, who were able to both record and create with exactly the same set of photographic tools.

I suspect that with the present ubiquity of digital photography the difference is perhaps much less marked than it was. David Bate makes the point that “photographic interventions in art are multiple and diverse, eclectic even, and art is unthinkable now without them”. Bate also talks about one response to the 21st century’s heterogenous use of digital manipulation is to refer to the digital photograph as ‘post-photographic’, merely a form of ‘data space’. This distinction I’m unsure about.

The images I capture for my project should involve little post-processing, digital manipulation. My main involvement is before the picture is taken; finding the right frame for my subject within their working environment, encouraging/directing them to bring something of their personality out within the image. This is a little tricky when you’ve only just met this person for the first time, as was true so far for the majority of my shoots. Then there also the technical aspects of appropriate lighting, exposure compensation, depth of field chosen etc. Of course these aspects are really a bit more than simply capturing an image acceptable quality, you’re also trying to use the colour, light and shade to it’s most effective in bringing that person to life within your 2-D image.

Stephen Shore talked about ‘levels’ within an image, that “the print provides a physical framework for the visual parameters of the photographic image”. He felt it was our mental perceptions that changed this “piece of paper into a seductive illusion or a moment of beauty and truth”.

This phrase for me describes the nature of a great photograph. I only wish my own images were a little nearer to that goal.

_________________

Other than doing a lot of reading I attended a short evening course in the week on the use of studio equipment by Gabriel Nita at Stratford Workshops. This was in preparation for a session on advanced studio work at the next MA four-day workshop that will be taking place at Falmouth University’s Penryn campus next week. Gabriel was very good, no photography but lots of hands-on experience wit his studio equipment, with a very informative hand-out to boot. Covered a lot of ground in quite a small time. Much better than the other studio workshops I’ve been on, which were much more about giving you the opportunity to shoot with their equipment than actually understanding how and what to set up.

 

References quoted

Barthes, R “Camera Lucida”(1980) translated by Richard Howard(1981), London, Random House/Penguins’ Vintage Books’

Elkins, J (Ed) “Photography as Theory” (2013) London, Routledge

Hacking, J (Ed) “Photography – The Whole Story” (2012) London, Thames & Hudson

Marien, MW “Photography: A Cultural History” (2014) London, Lawrence King Publishing

Scruton, R “Photography and Representation” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1981), pp. 577-603, Chicago,The University of Chicago Press

Szarkowski, J “The Photographer’s Eye” (1980) London, Secker and Warburg

Bates, D “Art Photography” (2015) london, Tate Publishing

Shore, S “The Nature of Photographs” (2007) 2nd edition London, Phaidon Press

Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 1, 27th January – 2nd February, 2018

We began the first week with a forum discussing out current practice. I described mine as having two arms:

he first, fed by my interest in portraiture, is in transit, expanding from taking primarily single portrait imagery to creating more environmental or story-telling imagery. This has been largely stimulated by the recent change in my project goal to capturing images exemplifying those involved in scientific research and encouraging the technical innovation. Examples of recent images can be seen in my portfolio http://graham-land.format.com/maportfolio-pri-dec2017, more recent and allied images in my instagram site #graham_photoprojectprojects <replaces previous graham_sight label>. I feel I’ve only just began to understand the human-side of the project and how best to capture and portray the individual and their role in my narrative.

The strength in this new approach is the ability to build on my years of experience at working with, and organising meetings for, this type of individual. Utilising knowledge and contacts from my previous career(s). Until beginning the project in November I had zero experience of walking into a working environment totally unknown to me and then shooting with an individual that I’m generally unfamiliar with. Having to quickly work out the optimum approach to capturing a suitable set of imagery. I also need to be better versed in how to decide the storyline, as well as presenting it as a collection with coherent imagery and narrative.

The second part of my current is much more general and less focussed. My intention is to build on the much closer exposure to other forms of photography that the MA course is giving me. Stimulated only partly by study, the major influenced is probably exposure to others with very different interests and practice. At present I’m generally unhappy with the results from such experimentation, though the odd image can be pleasing.

The other activity in this first week was to provide for discussion a commentary on the inherent characteristics and nature of our individual practice.

Like a number of others I feel my own practice is linked to the views of Szarkowski, who stated that “our faith in the truth of a photograph rests on our belief that the lens is impartial, and will draw the subject as it is”, that a photograph conveying a ‘tangible presence of reality’. In providing a commentary on a particular photographic representation of a room he quotes George Bernard Shaw’s statement (in an article for a photographic magazine); “There is a terrible truthfulness about photography”. My project relies on this belief, using the photograph to portray the reality of my subject’s working environment, as well as something of their own personality.

A key aim of my project is to capture images of a number of different collaborators in different roles, integrating the future usefulness of their purpose into my narrative. Barthes uses the term ”isotopy” to describe the integration of discontinuous elements into a heterogenous, contiguous narrative theme, a very relevant analogy. Going back to Szarkowski, in a book accompanying a later exhibition, he singled out August Sander’s published imagery for it’s effectiveness in portraying a wide swathe of German society. Communicating both the social abstraction of their occupation with the individual soul who was serving it. “His pictures show us two truths simultaneously, and in delicate tension”…

On a more direct plane, Shore, in his chapter on the Depictive Level, talks about the frame defining the photograph for those images where the frame is active. While most of the examples he shows  are not directly relevant to my own project or work I do feel his statement is. The frame is very important, defining the immediate environmental context of the collaborator who’s working life I’m attempting to portray. Similarly Szarkowski talks about the importance of the vantage point in giving the sense of the scene. My recent move to use a wider lens than I’ve used in the past for my environmental portraits is very influenced by the impact that this more unusual perspective can give.

Martin Hand, and those investigators that he quotes, question whether the ubiquitous nature of imagery in our internet enabled age undermines image authenticity, particularly that seen through digital media.  While his slightly long-winded book is primarily focussed on ‘personal’ photography, his comments do have some relevance to my own project; the constant exposure to corporate advertising and other messaging may promote my own audience to question my image’s apparent meaning. Therefore care has to be taken to ensure that the truthfulness, as well as the meaning, of the message that my project is trying to convey is unquestionable. Whether this is best done through accompanying text, or avoiding a corporate/organisational PR look, is something that will need to be assessed.

Szarkowski, in the introduction to his chapter on Detail, talks about the use of detail to provide a narrative. Exemplifying his comments with the use of the photograph of littered, numerous cannon balls portrayed by Roger Fenton in his 23rd April 1855 image of the empty Crimean road named by British Soldiers as ‘The Valley of Death’. However, even with this very famous image there has been some question as to the exact authenticity of the message the detail conveys. There is a second image taken around the same time that shows an empty road and it has been hypothesized that many of the cannon balls in Fenton’s image had actually been moved there prior to collection for artillery re-use. Therefore while the image gives the viewer a good representation of the type and quantity of munition that the Light Brigade faced, it is not an accurate depiction of the battlefield immediately after their charge.

 

REFERENCES

Szarkowski, J (1966) “The Photographer’s Eye”: New York, The Museum of Modern Art (Exhibition catalogue)

Shaw, GB (1909) Article by George Bernard Shaw Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, LVI,

Barthes, R (1977) “Image, Music, Text”, translated by Stephen Heath: London, Fontana Press p.122

Szarkowski, J (1973) “Looking at Photographs – 100 pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art”: New York, Museum of Modern Art (Exhibition Catalogue)

Shore, S (2007) “The Nature of Photographs – A Primer”: New York, Phaidon Press 2nd Edition.

Hand, M (2012) “Ubiquitous Photography”: Cambridge (UK), Polity

Valley of the Shadow of Death (Roger Fenton)’ Wikipeadia, accessed 05-02-18. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Shadow_of_Death_(Roger_Fenton)

Project log – Week 11 of Informing Contexts; 14th April to 21st April, 2018

On the 20th April my first shoot was with a collaborator I’d been considering for some time. Mano Vadhar of Taps’, a very small shoe/bag/key repair shop next to West Croydon station. This is not the safest of areas to conduct photography in Croydon, but it was an unusually sunny day and all went well.

 Graham Land:  Mano Vadhar , April, 2018

Graham Land: Mano Vadhar, April, 2018

The second shoot of the day was with a very interesting looking bakery, ‘Shadi Bakery’, which I soon found out was Kurdish. There has been a couple of incidents in Croydon between locals and migrant Kurds, but they were happy to take part and showed no lack of expertise in their bread making.

 Graham Land:&nbsp; Salal Hama-Raspidy (back) and colleague at Shadi Bakery , April, 2018

Graham Land: Salal Hama-Raspidy (back) and colleague at Shadi Bakery, April, 2018

I’d thought I’d arranged a shoot at one of West Cryodon’s very large greengrocer/Halal meet shops on the next day, Saturday 21st., but sadly the owner didn’t turn up at the time he said he would. Instead I approached two very different shops that I’d considered and wa able to arrange a time in the afternoon to shoot both. The first was with Sophia who runs a very eclectic African-ish shop in the North side of Croydon. The shoot was one of my shortest, too many customer arrivals and a second appointment to keep.

 Graham Land:  Sophia , April, 2018

Graham Land: Sophia, April, 2018

The last shoot of this period for my “Croydon Shopkeepers of Distinction” project was with Dev, who helps her brother with his very traditional family pie-mash and eels business in central Croydon. This went reasonably well. One image from each of the days’ shoots has been chosen for my portfolio.

 Graham Land:  Dev of Cockneys of Croydon , April, 2018

Graham Land: Dev of Cockneys of Croydon, April, 2018

o, to summarize my project activity during this module I’d say:

 Main Project: “Researchers & Influencers”

Four shoots; two senior scientists and two scientific communicators. The introduction in the last shoot of the use of a6x6 cm film medium format camera (Hasselblad 503Cxi) on a static tripod.

Before the next module commences I need to be much more active in identifying/inviting  new collaborators. I need to consider how to improve my current ‘hit’ rate.  I need to be more relaxed, especially when working with my more senior collaborators. My suspicion is that I’m trying too hard to perform in their case, and not thinking enough about the visual opportunities in front of me.

 Graham Land:  Professor Geoffrey Maitland in his office , April, 2018

Graham Land: Professor Geoffrey Maitland in his office, April, 2018

I did try and take some shots with my last subject holding an object, a special award for services to Chemical Industry communication that he is deservedly proud of. This focus on an associated object could work as a new sub-theme?

 

New sub-project “Croydon Shopkeepers of Distinction", (initiated in week 9)

9 shoots; all in Croydon, succeeded in identifying collaborators who has shops distinctively different from those in the area. Almost all have been in that location under the same proprietor for twenty years or longer.

I may consider going back to the most recent ones and taking some additional new shots using the tripod mounted Hasselblad at a quieter time.  I also need perhaps to identify new opportunities in a wider area of Croydon. So far all but one has been taken on the main road that runs through the older part of Croydon.  Much depends on my feedback from the recent portfolio review submission.

General Comments

The use of a medium format film camera has indeed slowed down my photography and  encouraged me to take greater effort to get the best composition. Interestingly it’s also reduced my taking rate with my digital cameras, probably taking more time to get their compositions right too.

The other thought is that I’m generally taking better shots when relaxed. I’m not convinced I’m always gettig the best shot from some quite interesting people in some splendid, if difficult to shoot in, locations. The recent interview with Harry Borden on his visual approach was very helpful, maybe I should do more?

I’m much happier than I was.

Project log – Week 10 of Informing Contexts; 7th April to 13th April, 2018

Over Easter I managed to arrange three shoots, two for my Croydon shopkeepers project, one for my main Researcher’s and Influencers project. I also received my processed film back from a developers I’d sent it to in Birmingham. Quicker than Aperture the use of post still ads some time to the process.

The shoot with Alfonso took some time, more time talking than taking pictures. Easily the most difficult environment so far, While his shop isn’t that small he has it chock full of equipment that is either in a process of repair available for sale. Just setting up the Hasselblad on it’s tripod was not so easy.

 Graham Land:  Alfonso Camisotti , April, 2018 (digital scan from 6x6 cm film negative)

Graham Land: Alfonso Camisotti, April, 2018 (digital scan from 6x6 cm film negative)

The shoot with Carl Nielson at Rockbottom was more productive,. The main challenge here was his lighting. Fill-in flash proved tricky to use without removing the normal look of the displayed products on sale. So in the end I largely used ambient.

 Graham Land: Carl Nielsen, Rockbottom, April, 2018 (digital scan from 6x6 cm film negative)

Graham Land: Carl Nielsen, Rockbottom, April, 2018 (digital scan from 6x6 cm film negative)

I immediately took my exposed 120 film from my Hasselblad to Metro Imaging in the City of  London. Picking up the more than acceptable results when I delivered my film from my third shoot of the week.

This shoot was with Professor Geoffrey Maitland, Geoff. Geoff is an ex-industry academic who runs a department researching and training ‘Energy Engineers’. Chemical engineering that includes the very new subject of carbon capture.

 Graham Land: Energy Engineer, Professor Geoffrey Maitland, April, 2018&nbsp;

Graham Land: Energy Engineer, Professor Geoffrey Maitland, April, 2018 

The shoot went reasonably well, we shot in his carbon-recycling research laboratory and an inaging lab that hosts a human CAT scanner, though in his case it’s applied to carbon-dioxide soaked ore samples. Afterwards I was disappointed to realise I’d missed a very obvious white post that mucked up the background of a number of shots. I was further disappointed when on the Monday, a couple of days later I discovered that I must have loaded the film the wrong way  round, the backing paper facing the lens. A blank roll of developed film.

Project log – Week 9 of Informing Contexts; 24th March to 30th March, 2018

I conducted the first of my Croydon Shopkeepers of Distinction shoots. Actually two shoots, one of Jonathan in his very unusual office and shop, and Ian with some of his associated in his workshop. For the first time used the Hasselblad, oddly afterwards I realised I’d seemed to take less digital shots than I normally do on a shoot of that length. Perhaps it is slowing the way I’m generally composing a picture?

 Graham Land:  Jonathan Myall in his office,  March, 2018

Graham Land: Jonathan Myall in his office, March, 2018

 Graham Land:  Headjoint Specialist,&nbsp;  Ian McLaughlin in his workshop , March, 2018

Graham Land: Headjoint Specialist, Ian McLaughlin in his workshop, March, 2018

I finished the week by getting the agreement to take part in my sub-project of another interesting shopkeeper, Carl Nielsen, who has owned more pop oriented music shop in West Croydon called ‘Rockbottom’ since the 1970’s. It’s quite a big place, much bigger than you’d think from the outside. Five floors in total with two sales areas and five studios.

Project log – Week 8 of Informing Contexts; 17th March to 23rd March, 2018

I began the week attending the Photography Exhibition at the Birmingham NEC. As well as a number of interesting talks in their Pro session, I was able to meet again the now famous photographer David Hurn when he showed a group of us around his swaps exhibition that is part of the show. Apart from the quietness of his voice in that noise venue he gave us an excellent briefing.

I was able to get a good deal on a very nice Rollei carbon fibre tripod, much lighter than the one I currently use, a better head too. On the negative side I’m increasingly questioning the use of a screen for the head-shots. I’m not sure this would be easy to set-up in a strange location and could unduly limit the time available for photography.

Later in the week I was able to get the agreement of Alfonso, who runs an intriguing HiFi repair business from a shop on the South side of central Croydon, and Jonathan who has a music shop in what I now realise is one of the oldest buildings in Croydon. It looks Tudor because it is! I also hadn’t realised there was actually a separate custom flute manufacture and repair business run by an ex-music college mate of his, Ian, in the back of the building. They’ve been working together for over thirty years at this same location. I was able to do a few quick shots with my small half-frame Fuji X-T20, will be coming back with my full kit in the next week or so. Exciting, there’s not that much time left…

Project log – Week 7 of Informing Contexts; 10th March to 16th March, 2018

I’m concerned about the difficulty I’m having recruiting new researchers and have become aware I could run a second sub-project concurrently with my existing one. I took a very reasonable shot back in January of an elderly local Croydon photographer who runs  a shop with his son that seems barely changed from when he opened it in 1959.

 Graham land: "Reg"

Graham land: "Reg"

Provisionally entitled ‘Croydon Shopkeepers of distinction’ this week I’ve been walking a couple of miles assessing potential places. I’d like them to be distinctive, different from other shops that sell that type of good. There are some possibilities. One factor with my second-hand 120 format film Hasselblad that I need to take into account is the speed of film development. The place I took my test film to, Aperture, take almost a week to developed scan it.

Project log – Week 6 of Informing Contexts; 3rd March to 9th March, 2018

I’ve been evaluating which second-hand medium format film camera to go to and whilst I almost went for the very good value Mamiya RB67 I decided in the end to go with a more expensive, but much lighter, late V-series Hasselblad Cx503. Since I’ll be taking a tripod and pretty much the same digital kit as before; Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 and probably my back-up Fuji X-T20 camera and two small Fuji lenses, I’m going to be loaded down.

Should arrive with a few days from a specialist photographic shop in Cornwall, sourced via eBay. I’m planning to got to the Photo exhibition at the Birmingham NEC in a couple of weeks, plan to get a light carbon fibre tripod then and decide on a suitable backing frame for the headshots.

Project log – Week 5 of Informing Contexts; 24th February to 2nd March, 2018

This week I participated at another Virtual Futures Salon event. Again it was a panel discussion on a topic perfect for my project theme; the human exploration of space.

The venue, ‘Ninety One’, proved to be tricky. A bar/auditorium the area was quite dark away from the lit stage. While I was able to take shots of several participants, only the one I took of the TV science presenter and author of ‘Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet’, Dallas Campbell, proved acceptable. There were also large speakers sited at each end of the stage, making it very difficult to get any group shots.

 Graham Land: Dillon Campbell, February, 2018

Graham Land: Dillon Campbell, February, 2018

Project log – Week 4 of Informing Contexts; 17th February to 23rd February, 2018

The Falmouth Workshop proved to be excellent. As well as various weekend experience events we had the opportunity to schedule with a number of staff and external visiting reviewers a 1 to 1 or group review of our portfolios. While these weren’t as positive as some of the kind remarks I’d had from my peers in a photo-swap event the previous day, the comments were all constructive.

Two major suggestions were made to me for my ongoing project. One was to use a medium or large format film camera, with tripod, as part of my shoot. Suggested by several people that this could be in addition to the environmental images that I’ve been capturing of my collaborators in their workplace and should be more of an headshot. Using the best image from each for my portfolio. It was also suggested that I will benefit from being made to slow down. The other suggestion, by Jonathan Simms, Head of Fashion Photography at Falmouth, was to use a 4×5 plate camera with wet  collodion plates.

I’m strongly tempted to go with the first suggestion, but not as convinced by the second. I have seen wet collodion work published and understand what makes it different from digital or film, but it seems quite a jump to do as I proceed though what is proving to be a very content-rich module with masses of reading. I’ve also no idea how difficult it is to do, though I suspect with my chartered chemist background it is doable.