Response to Tutor feedback on People & Place Assignment 4
As ever, my tutor gave me quick feedback which was much appreciated. Also, (as ever) it’s taken me a while to respond. It always takes me a while to absorb comments, particularly when my mind has moved ahead to what I’m doing next, and also, on this occasion, my tutor gave a different kind of feedback.
In his overall comments he wrote :
Overall this has been a very interesting assignment to review. I found it very encouraging that you managed to pry your lens away from the very obviously photogenic cathedral and concentrate on the visitors. The sublime beauty of the cathedral is something that immediately grabs attention and I could have seen you easily put together a series involving images such as _MG_4168 and _MG_4126 which offer a very majestic view of the Cathedral interior. Instead you have concentrated on something most would totally ignore and conceptually this is very interesting. I am not sure you have been entirely successful; with following this through to the final edit but then that is the purpose of this feedback process once a student moves beyond requiring basic technical instruction.
I found the idea of focusing on the visitors to the cathedral space very interesting and the thoughtful poses in which you have captured them reflects somewhat the philosophical idea of how a space becomes a place in our psyche. To this end I feel you might be better served taking the edit one step further and removing the two detail photos and replacing them with two more observed portraits so that the series becomes about the visitors and their looks of contemplation. You then have the option of either keeping everyone at roughly the same distance from the camera, and hence size in the frame (see Struth’s Museum visitors work or the closer up view of diCorcia’s Heads I have referenced in the suggested reading), or varying it a bit..
My original choice was related to the concept of people being faced with their own mortality when they go into a Cathedral and my thinking had been to include two detail shots illustrating this concept of mortality (it’s just occurred to me that, of course, the people being /remembered/ are now immortal through the remembering). However, maybe it isn’t necessary to show the detail shots given that I’ve explained the concept in my statement.
My tutor then queried , “…do all of the visitors need to be lost in thought? Is that the only thing people do when they go to the Cathedral?”. He referred to, for instance, a couple of other photographs showing people interacting with the space in a more tourist manner (yet not in clichéd smiling shots).
My thoughts around this are that, so far as my concept is concerned, the visitors do need to be lost in thought and they need to be large enough in the frame for this to be seen. The first image could possibly fit, especially if I cropped it but it doesn’t have the right mood for me somehow and additionally there is movement blur on the lady..
My tutor then continued by taking me through his own edit from the contact sheets I’d submitted, to give me an alternative view that sticks to horizontal images as he felt that the series as a whole worked better in this format. He selected 22 from which he selected 12. These are photographs where I have more distance from my subjects, allowing them to become more part of the scene.
He thought there were many different options for a final 6 and chose those that he felt worked well together “and feature a strong connection of the visitors staring up towards the architecture”
I realise this is a totally different edit than the one you have submitted but I felt this might be a useful exercise – seeing how someone completely detached from the work would edit the selection. If we compare this to the original edit you’ll see we have selected totally different images, which is quite surprising, and yet the overall feel of the series remains one of the solemn contemplation of the space by the visitors.
Here are my 6 again:-
Our selections are certainly different. I can see how my tutor’s edit places people in the Cathedral whilst showing more of the grandeur of its scale which is highlighted by the first image. My selection puts the visitors more in the foreground and captures their expressions. As I mentioned above, I do understand a different view concerning the appropriateness or not of the detail images.
In my Assignment 4 write-up I had also shown other selections – of Winchester itself and then the staff/volunteers in the Cathedral. What keeps coming into my mind now is a compilation storyboard of visitors as they enter the Cathedral; the scale of the building and the activity of the staff and volunteers within this. I would like to return to this so will add an addendum if I achieve it. (Assignment 5 awaits!). What I am particularly pleased about is that I had sufficient quantity and quality of images this time for several different edits to be made and to capture my tutor’s interest.
My tutor wrote that there were very few technical issues but reminded me to have fast enough shutter speeds to avoid camera shake and to be sure to straighten up any converging verticals or wobbly horizons. He also mentioned using smaller apertures so as to get both the people and the space in focus and to use a tripod when working with available light. I had mentioned in my write-up that I used a tripod wherever possible and also had the use of a T-SE lens on my final visit. I didn’t make full use of it because I became drawn into the visitors again. I certainly agree that this type of precision is very important in architectural work and using a T-SE lens certainly saves a lot of extra time in post-processing. I now also have Lightroom 5 which has a new straightening tool that cuts down on the editing process.
I had pondered covering this in a separate post but decided to keep it here as it’s a direct outcome of tutor feedback. These were the suggestions:-
I have already written about Simon Roberts here and here as I find his work inspiring and this encouraged me to experiment (in a small way so far) with medium format work. After reading this my tutor had suggested I look at Peter Bialobrzeski (b. 1961) who is a German documentary photographer. In fact I also saw one of his photographs at Landmark: The Fields of Photography an Exhibition at Somerset House this year but had become so absorbed by Simon Roberts that I hadn’t paid so much attention to it.
Peter Bialobrzeski has said that he advocates photography as a cultural practice as opposed to fine art, yet I think he combines both. His work is beautiful to my eyes (I make no apologies for saying that!) in terms of subtle colour and composition whilst portraying the effects of human hands on the landscape. He documents ways in which people on the one hand want to hang onto the old and resist change, whilst on the other hand have the desire to demolish the existing urban landscape and create anew. I am at an early stage of exploring his images to see how he evokes thoughts, moods and feelings so will write more in a future post.
His books are expensive but I’ve ordered “Case Study Homes” which is different from his usual dawn or dusk large format work. These are contraptions erected in a squatter camp near Manila and a take on the Case Study House Program initiated by Arts and Architecture magazine in 1945 in an effort to develop low-priced single-family homes. Looking at them makes me think of them as one step up from the ‘installations’ I photograph on the Common – see here . Well – maybe two steps!
Alexander Gronsky was born in Tallin, Estonia (1980) and is based in Riga, Latvia. In some respects his work reminded me of that of Bialobrzeski. I’m comparing here Gronsky’s “The Edge” with Bialobrzeski’s “Heimat” (“a personalized bit of visual and cultural history that goes beyond Germany’s dark past”.) Both photographers utilize pale layers of sky and earth with darker figures in a landscape, although the former has his figures in the middle third, which provides balance, whilst the latter has them in the bottom third, which gives one a sense of heaviness even in the delicacy of the composition. I am also drawn towards the colour palette in Gronsky’s “Pastoral” (Moscow) and Bialobrzeski’s “The Raw and the Cooked” (the Asian megacity).
Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Heads” (images on Google)
These images appeal to me with their gaze as if these people are simultaneously maintaining awareness of their surroundings whilst keeping an eye out on a busy area. There’s a similarity in the gazes I captured in the Cathedral but with a subtle difference which I think is to do with the quality of eye focus. Those in the cathedral appear more inwardly intense whereas those in the street are looking intently ahead. I could be imaging this of course to prove my point but this is how I’m perceiving the difference. Here’s a quote from the New York Times in 2001 :-
Unaware of the camera, they are absorbed in thought or gaze absently; they are how we act most of the time, walking down the street, in a crowd, focused on something or nothing. But enlarged and isolated, their expressions become riddles, intensely melodramatic and strangely touching.
Mr. diCorcia’s pictures remind us, among other things, that we are each our own little universe of secrets, and vulnerable. Good art makes you see the world differently, at least for a while, and after seeing Mr. diCorcia’s new ”Heads,” for the next few hours you won’t pass another person on the street in the same absent way.
(NY Times, Michael Kimmelman, 14 September 2001),
This work has been described as a departure from diCorcia’s usual staged scenes. . A large strobe flashlight was fixed to scaffolding over a subway in Times Square and shots of passers-by were taken covertly, in daylight, with a small or easily concealed camera. The series comprises 17 head and shoulder portraits chosen from 4000 photographs that were taken over a two year period. The comment has been made here that as the heads emerge out of the background darkness, “The surroundings have been reduced and largely eliminated, thereby extracting the genre of portrait from the genre of street photography”.
The author goes on to discuss how street photography “stands in the tradition of impressionist and pointillist painting of urban subjects” and how, in the latter the choices of formal composition and tonal value determine the distribution of figures in the scene whereas in photography the conscious distribution of figures is, “replaced by a hit and miss series of shots from which prints are selected that are suitable to be organised under a common theme or project”. In thinking of my own photographs in the cathedral I wouldn’t say they were hit and miss overall. Certainly, on the first visit, I photographed whatever I found interesting whilst keeping in mind “A sense of Place”. It was on looking through the photographs afterwards that a theme began to emerge and I followed this through on the third visit.
The author further comments that diCorcia,
…aligns himself in a tradition that is less concerned with capturing a particular psychological moment than with, isolating, stochastically, through selection and rejection of shots, a certain attitude in the series that is emblematic for what is understood as the ‘human condition’. DiCorcia, “seems to play out an essentialist gesture – cast away what is ephemeral and home in on the face, the carrier of the riddle, the dearest surface that is so telling and at the same time strives to hid its tale.
There is also reference to the plays of Samuel Beckett, earlier work by Robert Frank on the New York underground and Beat Streuli’s work that also singles out the individual in motion – this time with sunlight.
I certainly hadn’t been consciously aware of diCorcia’s work – maybe I had absorbed it subliminally at some point – but I can certainly see how, in my own much smaller way, I had been working through a similar process. My reading about “Heads” also highlighted another issue for me that I have referred to before which is the question of the ethics in this type of work.
In my post on Assignment 3 I had commented on my concerns about photographing inside a small church and whether I was respecting the space. In Assignment 4, I wrote that I felt easier about this in this large Cathedral that welcomes so many visitors (many with cameras). When I’d talked about the project one of my student colleagues had suggested obtaining photographs of people in prayer but I’d said that I didn’t want to do that because it would be too intrusive. Have I been intrusive though in taking photographs at a closer distance? My tutor chose his final edit from photographs taken further away where, certainly, faces can be seen but there is more anonymity in the distance.
There was an article in the New York Times in 2006 describing how Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew saw his picture in the “Heads”exhibition catalogue in 2005. If the photograph is the one I think it is then it is actually a wonderful study. However, Mr Nussenzweig sued diCorcia and Pace gallery for exhibiting and publishing the photograph without permission and profiting financially from it. The suit was dismissed at the beginning of 2006 but reading about it reminded me again of issues of privacy and intrusion of personal space in a public place.
I have to admit that I was rather taken aback at first by my tutor’s very different edit of my work. Photographing at shorter distances, and feeling more comfortable about this, had been a positive learning curve for me and so it was a surprise to see an edit based on images taken from further away. However it reinforced for me that there are as many ways of looking at a piece of work as the people looking. Feeling more comfortable with closer work doesn’t mean I have to do it all the time either. For me it’s a case of being able to recognize the kind of images that work well together and I still have a lot to learn about editing. This is where involvement in the Thames Valley Group and/or meeting in a focused way with other students, is invaluable for me as I gain the views of people who aren’t emotionally attached to the work.
I’ve also been pleased as I wrote above, that I had sufficient number of interesting images for different edits to be made.
The suggestions for further reading/research have been absorbing to follow. I haven’t mentioned them here but I have also looked at Robert Polidori and Luigi Ghirri and have additional notes on all the photographers in my paper log.
27th July 2013
Philip Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Heads’:
Peter Bialobrzeski -http://www.bialobrzeski.de/
Simon Roberts -http://simoncroberts.com/
Alexander Gronsky -http://www.alexandergronsky.com/
Luigi Ghirri -http://www.americansuburbx.com/channels/l/luigi-ghirri
Robert Polidari -http://arthurrogergallery.com/artists/robert-polidori/
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/17/arts/17iht-lorca.html?_r=0 [accessed 27.07.2013]