OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th August 2013: (A) Overall View

Thames Valley Group Meeting : 17th August, 2013 in Thatcham

(A) Overall View.

I missed the third meeting and so it was good to meet up with everyone again. Nine of us gathered together, with Sharon our attending tutor, for what proved, as usual to be a very full day.

Portfolio Review

As before I was struck by the sheer variety of work and interests, indeed passions, that absorbed each of us, and how much we could learn from each other. What was also reinforced for me was the importance of expressing our own vision.  I know this is pretty much drummed into us by tutors but I always realise it anew when I see so many different responses to a piece of work.

Interesting aspects and questions raised included:-

  • If photographs have been taken in a particular location is that location the best place to exhibit them and how can/should ‘permissions’ be handled (e.g. release forms)?
  • The contrast between seeing a person and then hearing their voice separately illustrates how the image can deny the reality (reference made by Sharon to Taryn Simon’s work)
  • How attaching one image to another anchors them together and so follows the voice of the artist and his/her intention. What effect does this have on the viewer?
  • How does contextual information in an image inform the reading of that image?
  • Is there an actual difference between female and male landscape photographers?
  • How captions; text and words influence the reading of an image. How they can be used to add information rather than directing it.
  • Much discussion on editing/processing photographs. How far can we go with this? Should there be ‘rules’; do each of us have our own ‘rules’.
  • If I take a photograph of a work of art – whether the whole or a detail, can I call it “my art”.
  • Thinking how taking photographs at the same event, by the same photographer,  can lead to very different outcomes and effects depending on how they are to be used.
  • Using an evocative approach in building a narrative around place and the use of sound. Sharon provided the example of Interval II  the work of Suki Chan, a video that including the murmurations of starlings.

I presented some work I’ve been doing towards Assignment 5 of People & Place and the feedback was very helpful for me in clarifying my emotional response to that environment. I’ll be writing more on this in a subsequent post.

Afternoon Discussion

We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked for the discussion on Martha Rosler’s 1981 Essay In, Around and Afterthoughts. It raised some complicated issues regarding the nature of, intentions and effect of photography, particularly documentary and so, for me, it deserves a separate blog post – to follow.

Conclusion

Everyone had brought work to show and discuss and so this took up much of the day. As I said above, I gain a lot from seeing and discussing other people’s work as well as my own, but concentration can fade after a few hours. The discussion on Martha Rosler’s piece was therefore limited. It raises a lot of complex issues and so I came away thinking I/We had only skimmed the surface and it deserves much deeper analysis and discussion, particularly as we touched upon some wider issues. I have done some more reading on Rosler and the Study Group she belonged to and so now feel much clearer about the issues which is why I’ll be writing a separate post.

I’ve given myself a lot of general questions as well – all of which arose from the morning discussion.  To begin with I’ll be thinking and reading more around the area of Women Landscape Photographers.

19th August 2013

References

Rosler, M ( ) In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) (1981)  in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings 1975-2001 (2004) MIT Press, London

http://martharosler.net

http://www.sukichan.co.uk/interval2preview.htm

Assignment 4 : Response to Tutor Feedback

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..

Tutor’s edit

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.

Tutor's 12

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.

Technical aspects

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.

Suggested Reading

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:-

Philip Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Heads’: also here

Peter Bialobrzeski

Simon Roberts

Alexander Gronsky

Luigi Ghirri

Robert Polidari

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 

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 

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.

Ethics

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.

Summary

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

References

Suggested Reading

 

Philip Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Heads’:

http://www.pacegallery.com/newyork/exhibitions/11963/philip-lorca-dicorcia-heads

http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-10-2002

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/

Other websites

http://beatstreuli.com/random-largeformatprints.html

http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/11/review_case_study_homes_by_peter_bialobrzeski/

http://uk.images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=yfp-t-702&va=philip-lorca+diCorcia%27s+Heads

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/3882434414

http://www.houkgallery.com/artists/robert-polidori/

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/14/arts/art-in-review-philip-lorca-dicorcia-heads.html [accessed 24/7/2013]

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/17/arts/17iht-lorca.html?_r=0 [accessed 27.07.2013]

http://www.oturn.net/probe/heads.html

OCA Study Visit : 7. William Klein + Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern, 12th January 2013

OCA Study Visit :7. William Klein +Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern – January 2013

I’m catching up on Study Visits but so slowly!

What happened with this particular one was that I felt I needed to have more understanding of the links between these two photographers and why they are considered so important. This entailed me in quite a lot of reading and research and, as usual, I went along some highways and byways.  What I’m aiming to do here is to summarise my understanding of the beginnings of both photographers and then concentrate upon their impact upon me. I clearly see how creative and talented each of them is but didn’t feel attracted towards their work as I viewed it in the Exhibition. My immediate reaction was that this type of work ‘isn’t me” and I’ve slowly worked out  “Why?”

Reading Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Robert Frank’s “The Americans” gave me a greater understanding of some artistic perceptions of 1950s America and a movement towards spontanaeity of expression that showed itself as ‘stream of consciousness’/diaristic . In photography this was rough, raw, informal,  and grainy , tending to capture the ‘indecisive’ rather than ‘decisive’ moment. Art was flavoured with some rebellion against ‘consumer America’; irony; a move towards existentialism and the life is for now attitude of the Beat Generation.

William Klein was born in New York in 1928  but has spent much of his adult life in Paris, whereas Frank was born in Switzlerand but settled in the United States. Whereas Frank put the searchlight of his lens over ‘America’,  William Klein’s “New York” (full title “Life is Good and Good for You in New York: Trance witness Revels”) portrayed his view of one City.  He had worked in Paris for 8 years and moved from abstract painting to abstract photography. He returned to New York with fresh eyes.  He has said that he thought he could use what he learned in painting in photography.

The kinetic quality of New York, the kids, dirt, madness – I tried to find a photographic style that would come close to is. So I would be grainy and contrasted and black. I’d crop, blur, play with negatives. I didn’t see clean technique being right for New York.

                                               (p. 12, Howarth & McLaren, (Ed) 2010)

I think I’m right in stating that Klein’s view in “New York” is less pessimistic than that of Frank and yet more aggressive and ‘in your face’.  He comes through as delighting in the energy of the City, wanting to be in the thick of it,  and certainly seems to me more of a ‘participant observer,’ whereas Frank strikes me as an ‘observer’. How far this is a matter of personality, upbringing and lifestyle is probably  complex and hard to unravel.  Similarly to Frank’s book, no American publisher was interested in Klein’s work. In the Tate video (c. 5.46 in on William Klein in Pictures) he says the New York editors believed the photos were the least publishable at the time being ‘too funky, grungy” and showing New York like a slum. His argument back was what did they know living on 5th Avenue as they did.  The book appeared in Paris published by a very traditional publishing house.

Daido Moriyama was born in Osaka in 1939. How does he come into this equation and what links him with Klein? A review by Marco Bohr in Photomonitor reminds us that Klein initially practised as a painter and started taking photographs as a way to experiment with optical and visual perception , whereas Moriyama, “ turned to photography to deconstruct his perception of the urban landscape”.  They both used photography, “as a method of visual interrogation, abstraction and deconstruction” both experimented with a wide range of techniques, not to mention photobooks.

Moriyama discovered Klein’s “New York’ Photobook whilst working as an assistant to Photographer Takeji Iwamiya. The Exhibition booklet refers to this as a crucial influence upon him as was Klein’s Photobook “Tokyo” photographed in 1961 and printed in 1964 – this functioned as a guide book to Japanese photographers in the mid to late 1960s including the then aspiring photographer Moriyama. Moriyama had  moved to Tokyo in 1961, working for photographer Eikoh Hosae before turning freelance in 1964. Moriyama read Kerouac’s “On the Road” in the late 1960s and, in response began to photograph highways out of Tokyo, “shifting focus from cities and towns to the roads that connect them. The resulting book “Hunter” was dedicated to Kerouac.  Moriyama photographed New York and produced his Photobook “ANOTHER COUNTRY IN NEW YORK in 1971.

The Exhibition

The Exhibition was divided into two – each half being further divided into ‘rooms’ (7 for Klein and 6 for Moriyama) and was organised in such a way that you began with Klein’s work first, whilst being able to see snatches of Moriyama’s work through the partitions in the centre room (and vice versa). Bohr writes that this presentation “appears to promote the classic paradigm of a Japanese avant-garde apparently borrowing from the epicenters of cultural productions, New York and Paris” and that places much emphasis on individuals. ”either being inspired or inspiring others”. He points out that both photographers produced works, “in a very specific political, social and ideological environment that not only accepted their photographs, but also, that actively promoted them”.  I’m sure I’m stereotyping here but it does seem to me that modern Japan, particularly its large city youth, does seem to be undergoing the type of changes prevalent in the New York of the 1950s – that clash between old values and the brash new world where an outgoing hip generation both questions and adapts everything for itself whilst artists, including photographers, observe, record and draw attention.

We were a large group of students and so we worked through on our own, falling into pairs and groups as we came together at times, often with one of the tutors, to discuss views.

I’ll now record brief impressions:

William Klein

We began with his film “Broadway by Light” (1958) a portrait of New York through its gaudy neon signage. In some respects I thought it was of its time in terms of the quality of the film and colour.  I remember travelling down Broadway, in a taxi in 2004, and feeling almost overwhelmed by the litter and sense of speediness with traffic rushing and horns blaring whilst skateboards weaved their dangerous path between them all. Thinking about it, as there must have been less traffic then (?) Klein chose well in using the signage to signal the pace.

As I continued, and absorbed the wide-angle views I began to think about the differences between Klein and Henri Cartier-Bresson – the one wanting to be seen and the other ‘unobtrusively’ capturing the decisive moment. Images were twice as large as life and lens distortion was obvious.  I was caught by a photograph in Grand Central station where the only stillness came from an old woman, wearing a headscarf – just sitting – a punctum for me amongst the throng.

In Room 3 and 1960s Tokyo – carefully sequenced photobooks yet capturing the haste and bustle of the street. Splodgy, early film; in your face (reminded me of Joel Meyerowitz, b. 1938 but colour is his medium),  grainy b+w.

Room 4 and back to Klein’s beginnings as a painter; his early wooden panels and use of typography, where  I recognized the influence of the Bauhaus movement.

Klein came over to me as a large intellect, and extrovert presence with a great zest for life, and continuously experimenting with all types of artistic expression. From the video of him wandering the streets and engaging with people I could see that, despite his age, he still retains this psychic energy.  Watching the video I found him engaging and easy to listen to. He talks about the way in which his contact sheets bring back all the memories of when he took them and his fascination with faces.  To be honest I found it quite overwhelming and was questioning myself continuously around this. Is it to do with the different ways we see?  I’m naturally long-sighted and tend to draw back to see something clearly.  If something is too close I get a feeling of slight claustrophobia.  Similarly, I don’t like it if someone shoves a camera in my face and feel very reluctant to do the same to other people; and yet I do engage with people.  I actually did some web searches to see if there is any evidence that long-sighted people tend to be more introverted and vice versa but couldn’t find any conclusive proof

Daido Moriyama

I felt a similar sense of motion as with Klein but it was different in the sense of  his photography being even more grainy and amorphous. There is a quote at the beginning of the Exhibition Guide:

For me photography is not about an attempt to create a two-dimensional work of art, but by taking photo after photo, I come closer to truth and reality at the very intersection of the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time.

To achieve this Moriyama moved away from accepted conventions in Japanese post Second World War photography. He photographed things on the move,  shooting without looking in the viewfinder; working often at night, in poor light, and using slow shutter speeds and deliberate camera shake. This is an aesthetic in Japanese known as are, bure, boke: blurry, grainy, unfocussed. (G. Bauret, 2012, in R. Delpire, 2010).

I’d stopped to have various brief discussions with some of the other students as I was walking around and, at one point, Keith and I got to talking about language and culture and how much that affects both the photographer and the viewer’s perception of the work.   We may share some cultural attitudes and nuances with European and American artists but how possible is this with a country like Japan?

There is much about Moriyama’s  fascination with the Shinjuku district in Tokyo which began in 1965 and continues. He talks about this in the Tate video Daido Moriyama in Pictures and how he sees it as a “stadium of people’s desires (2.02 in). Moriyama takes us to a room above a bar, saying “I think of this place as my room in Shinjuku. We see him at night prowling the streets.  I say ‘prowling’ because that’s the way I see it.   For me,  Klein’s wandering produces “This is how I’m seeing the World” and I still get a sense of his retaining some distance and recognition of himself as a separate individual. However, through the grain and almost seeping of black into white, I imagine Moriyama as edging towards that boundary between ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ that can lead to loss of self. I wondered if he is looking for a grounded sense of self as he walks those streets. I was caught by something he said in the video which connects with this for me.

Japanese people often talk of home as a place where you are born, grow up and everyone is there but I don’t have such a home. I’ve been moving a lot since I was a child.  I am creating my own home by connecting pieces of images from my imagination and things I saw as a child (3.15 in ibid).

What he said very much reminded me of how Elif Shafak, the Turkish author likened her imagination to being her only suitcase when she was travelling around with her mother (see here).  In fact it was listening to her that made me think about the whole issue of language and culture in relation to understanding Art and encouraged me to explore this further.

One further aspect is the Black Dog, the image that is almost Moriyama’s signature and, to me, very much conveys that sense of prowling in the dark. He describes how the dog was ‘just there’ as he stepped out of his hotel to do a photo shoot, “and this dog instantly became a part of me” (c. 4.48 in). I can almost feel his attraction towards it as I look at the image. It also reminded me of how William Churchill referred to his depressive periods as “The Black Dog”. I certainly wouldn’t want to say that I think Moriyama generally suffers the same, although I know that when he was young he did go through a period where he felt the world was fragmenting and questioned why he took photographs (cf his series Farewell to Photography).

Maybe, though, the style of Moriyama’s images; lack of clear form and blurring of darkness into light does give me an impression of what it might feel like to be drawn towards the darker side of life; the slide into depression. I’m probably allowing my imagination too much rein here but thinking along those lines does help me to understand my own reaction to his photography.

Further thoughts

When I have a strong negative reaction towards a particular photographer’s work then I really do need to analyse “Why”. I read about their life/background and try to look at it all from their point of view and then translate that into photography. In fact I’m sure I work harder than I do when I feel drawn towards a photographer.

William Klein said something that very much struck home for me. He said that when he was photographing children in New York he was also photographing his memories.  I generally try to avoid photographing children because of all the issues involved but I did post one on the blog recently here – a much softer and more innocent feel to it than Klein’s boy with toy gun . Thinking about this again in terms of Klein’s remark, I realised that I was one of those children and remembered the make believe games we played; my gang of boys, and how I loved climbing trees and always had dirty knees. The streets and local parks were my playground with none of this middle-class way of inviting friends home for tea!  Thanks for reminding me William.

6th June 2013

References

Delpire, R (Ed),(2012) Photofiled: Daido Moriyama, Thames & Hudson, London

Howarth, S and McLaren, S (ed) (2010) Street Photography Now ,Thames &    Hudson Ltd, London

Klein, W, (2012) William Klein: ABC, Tate Publishing, London

http://masters-of-photography.com/K/klein/klein_boy_pointing_gun.html

http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hpj/badger.htm

http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2012/11/klein-moriyama/ [accessed 13.5.2013)

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/william-klein-daido-moriyama [Accessed 6.6.2013]

People & Place Assignment 4 : A Sense of Place

People & Place Assignment 4 : A Sense of Place

A: The journey from Assignment 3

This journey has been a long one as Assignment 3 was completed at the end of January and my response to feedback on that is here . I still have to write-up the study Visit to the’ Klein/Moriyama’ Exhibition in January plus the informal visit to the ‘Cartier-Bresson and a Question of Colour’ Exhibition at Somerset House. In February I went solo to the ‘Light from the Middle East Exhibition’ at The V&A and the ‘Nadav Kander Exhibition’.  In March I went on an OCA organised talk by Tom Hunter in Dalston. I’m not happy about the delayed write-ups but, on the positive side I have  put together a new blog category on “Writing, art and Photographers” here  and have already written about Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, Robert Frank’s “The Americans”  and Elif Shafak, the Turkish author.  Shafak writes eloquently on language and culture and how storytelling can puncture holes in the cultural cocoons that we weave for ourselves.  I believe that photography can do the same.

Additionally, I’ve attended two meetings of the newly formed OCA Thames Valley Group which I’ve written about here . We’ve been fortunate to get some funding from , the OCA Student Organisation (OCASA) so that we can have OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd in attendance. It makes such a difference to be able to meet with people for a more intense discussion on photography/photographers and share work in progress. The physical act of taking along prints and having others comment on them is so different – it’s as if I’m looking at my work through other eyes.

I’ve also begun to work with a medium format camera and written about that here  It’s the kind of photography I want to continue with.

All in all, reading back on this, I think I’ve achieved more than I thought I had so that’s good. I just need to curtail the extent of my reading and be more focused instead of reading anything and everything and then thinking I have to write about it all!

Onward now to Assignment 4.

B: Assignment Brief

To draw together all the various strands explored so far, including technical skills,; observation and reaction and “the underlying appreciation of what spaces and buildings mean for people who live in and among them.”  6 images as final selection but to choose from a strong selection of 12.

Imagine that I’m on assignment for an intelligent, thoughtful travel publication (not tourist promotion) that is demanding a considered, in-depth treatment. To me this means that I will look at the less good/mediocre as well as the positive aspects of the ‘place’. The aim is to show the character of the place and people who live there with as much visual variety as possible, resulting in 6 images as the final selection, chosen from a strong selection of 12.

I intended to follow my tutor’s suggestion of sticking to my 60D.

Choosing the Location

I had carried out the Projects/Exercises for this Part of the Module   in various locations in London and, at first, thought I might go back for a more in-depth look at the V&A which had the advantage of being indoors (good for the ongoing bad weather) and photography being allowed, unless otherwise indicated.  However I decided on Winchester  Cathedral for two reasons. Firstly, I’d been inspired by Peter Marlow’s book “The English Cathedral” (2012) and, secondly, I know Winchester reasonably well as I’ve worked there from time to time in the past.  I also knew that cameras and even tripods are allowed in the cathedral subject to special Services and events.

Questions/Thoughts

How is the character of a place conveyed visually? What is it that speaks to me and makes me want to return to a place? A purposefulness about the people – being busy and active; animated or looking relaxed and calm; at peace with what they’re doing; therefore people at work and play; singular or interacting. It doesn’t matter whether rich or poor but a caring for and about the environment. I look for a sense of history about a place as well and so Winchester appeals to me on all these levels.

Resources/Inspiration

I’ve already mentioned Peter Marlow.  I also looked at all the suggestions from my tutor  (see response to feedback on Assignment 3) – Simon Standing and Peter Fraser  seemed particularly relevant here . I also reminded myself of Thomas Struth’s work  that I’d seen at the Whitechapel Gallery  when I was studying AOP – all those groups of people visiting various types of places of worship  and being engaged in different ways of looking. I also have a book by Karen Knorr, Genii Loci (2002)  including her series on Connoisseurs  as I appreciate her images that combine elegant grandeur with historical reference  and a wry look at  how the connoisseurs behave.  Whilst at the second meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group in April I was also recommended to look at Mark Power’s “MASS”   – the work he did in Poland and the way he took the same viewpoint in each church, paired with a close-up of its ‘slot’ where the congregation are encouraged to place money.

I have read Joel Smith’s book The Life and Death of Buildings: On Photography and Time (2011) which was an accompaniment to an Exhibition at Princeton University Art Museum in 2011. Smith writes:-

Photographs are made of time. …… Because they are made of time, photographs, in the plural, are good at reflecting change, whether of a person’s maturing face or of a building as it rises, or as it disappears
.….. buildings and photographs are concrete instances of social memory in action: they are, from corner to corner and from subcellar to roof peak, impure fragments of the churn of time”
(p. 14/16 2011)

I  acquired some old postcards in between my three visits to Winchester   because I was interested in how the Cathedral had been portrayed earlier for tourists and how my images might compare. Here are four of them.

Winchester Cathedral 1 Winchester Cathedral 2 Winchester Cathedral 3 Winchester Cathedral 4

There are two  from Francis Frith (a matt sepia)  which, I think, must be late C19th/early C20th. They are unused so no postage stamp to give a clue but they are similar to images I found on the Francis Frith website . The third is a Tuck’s glossy  monochrome of the C12th  black Tournai marble font, that could be 1930s,again no stamp. The fourth was posted in July 1967 (glossy b+w) and is of the Presbytery. I was interested that the Frith cards seem to represent the cathedral as almost a gothic ruin, aided by the fact that there is no seating which can serve as a reminder of people (it’s only in the modern era that people are no longer expected to always stand in Services).

Winchester and its Cathedral

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In his welcome to the Guidebook Winchester Cathedral (2012) the Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd James Atwell, states that the Cathedral was “the Crown of Wessex that first united the English people in a single identity” and many of the early monarchs rest in an honoured place near the high altar. The original church was started on the orders of King  Cenwalh of Wessex  around 645 and the present building was begun in 1079 by Bishop Wakelin at the side of the early church (which was demolished), with some remodeling in the late C14th. It’s said to be the longest Cathedral in Europe and is also very narrow.  I won’t write more about its history and the famous people connected with it because it’s all summarized on the Cathedral’s website . The now ruined Wolvesey Castle was the Norman Bishop’s  palace , dating from 1110 and its chapel was incorporated into the new Palace, in the 1680s of which one wing survives. The Great Hall of Winchester  Castle (founded in 1067)  still stands nearby.  I’m mentioning this because it seems to me that those early Kings and Bishops lived side by side ruling their separate kingdoms – the temporal and the spiritual; the secular and the sacred.

The process of the assignment

The Cathedral sits within its own green space with its shop and refectory close by and the town streets a short distance away.  I visited on three separate days for the purpose of the assignment. The Cathedral staff and volunteers were most friendly and welcoming and it was good to wander around for a few hours on the first day to get a sense of the place and absorb the atmosphere, including light lunch in the refectory. On reviewing the photographs I thought it was insufficient though, too bitty to get a sense of people interacting there.

I thought maybe it would be better to go into the town so I returned on a very cold day to find shoppers, street musicians. I also became more aware of the immediate area round the cathedral;

Winchester people

going back into the Cathedral again is struck me how much it is like a small city on its own where everything is organised and in its place. The volunteers are friendly and helpful. They walk around and stop to chat to check that you’re okay and ask if you need any information. There are regular guided tours by trained guides.

Cathedral Staff:Volunteers

The clerics themselves seemed to drift by occasionally with an air of going somewhere on an important purpose.

I saw more clearly how this large cathedral is divided into separate areas – smaller chapels going off to one side and places where some people (presumably staff) gather to talk in twos and threes. There was a whole sense of business going on behind the scenes. I began to think how ideal it would be, if I became a well-known photographer, like Peter Marlow for instance – to be able to have access to these other areas of the building and staff to gain a real sense of how everything operates as a microcosm.

I came away, still unsatisfied somehow wanting to have more photographs of people, especially as, on this particular day there were few visitors.  I began to think maybe I should go somewhere else instead and had the idea of re-visiting Sunbury on Thames where I used to live.  I did this – again during the continuing bad weather – and wrote about it here .I still felt that pull towards Winchester though and so returned for the third time.

The editing and evaluation process

I used only my Canon 60D camera, mainly with zoom lens but I also used a wide angle Sigma 10-20mm and Canon TS-E  24mm lens – having acquired the latter just before I went to Winchester for the third time. The light in the cathedral was much kinder that that in the two churches I visited for Assignment 3. The problem this time was more in converging verticals and the perspective etc of a tall building – hence the desire to obtain a TS-E lens (shared with my husband so I could convince myself it was cost-effective!)..In total I took 291 photographs (I’m expecting, again, that my tutor will say it wasn’t enough!) From those I selected 110 to process and convert to a mix of jpegs –  the Cathedral, its precincts and the City.  On looking at these 112 it was the Cathedral and the people inside it that began to weave me a narrative.

I’ve mentioned above my impression of the cathedral as a world within itself, with its different groups and routines.  I also became much more aware of how it serves as a monument and memento mori.  Despite the welcome I don’t experience it really as a spiritual place – certainly not like St Nicholas Church near to me. The Cathedral is a more masculine place to me – tall, hard, lofty, angular – whereas St Nicholas is small, rounded, enclosing and maternal, more of a mother Church maybe retaining more sense of its earliest beginnings in a different religion and way of looking at the world. The Cathedral appears to me as a monument, certainly to the glory of God but also to the priests who built it, the powerful,  and its wealthy patrons. Its tombs and effigies reminded me of the verse

Stop ye travellers as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, soon you shall be –
Prepare yourself to follow me.

I had a discussion with one of the volunteers as to where this originated but neither of us could remember. I researched when I got home and discovered here that it’s an unknown epitaph from Tasmania, Australia. There are two monuments that explicitly represent this because they are cadaver effigies and the one most finely worked is this one of  Bishop Richard Fox.

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I’m certainly not saying that there is a deadness about the Cathedral. There is a beauty of light, form, glass and glowing wood lovingly carved by expert craftsmen over the centuries.

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However, with its contents it is a time machine with a life of its own. It embodies time in its fabric, like the photograph but more so as, together with its people it is a three dimensional object. Anonymous visitors become Everyman as they come face to face with their own mortality and, as they gaze for a long time.,they become like living statues. The crypt of the Cathedral also holds the sculpture Sound II (1986) by Antony Gormley .  I hadn’t realised until I watched a TV programme recently, that Gormley uses his own body for his sculptures. He makes himself into monuments of himself, as it were, in many different places and here he is in the cathedral also.

This idea of memento mori and the entranced gaze of visitors is something that stayed with me and informed my selection from the processed jpegs. I also discussed my ideas and shared some of the prints at the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting (link given above). It makes such a difference to have other people look at the physical prints and shuffle them around to form different narratives.

Working towards the final selection

110 jpegs became 52 as I discarded all except those inside the Cathedral. 52 then became 25 as I concentrated on the people; monuments; statues and tokens of remembrance.

The next selection of 12 included volunteers/staff as they worked.

Selection of 12

Reasons for exclusion:-

4391, 4662 and 4735 – reluctantly as they were focused on a task as opposed to ‘gazing in stillness’;  plus the colour palette was different.

4126 – the close-up of the head and hands seemed more appropriate than the full-length.

4160 – I had to exclude this because it was the only one in portrait format so it stood out as being different, I would have preferred it otherwise to  4111. My tutor had previously commented (Ass 3) where I had just one image in a different format. I could have justified its use because the effigy was gazing down but couldn’t work out how it could fit in the layout I wanted.

4168 – the colour palette was different.

The 6 selected for prints to be submitted

The order above is the order I envisaged for the layout and I have also printed a composite for my tutor to see. The prints are on Epson Premium semi-gloss photo paper. I will also be submitted printed contact sheets of the selections of 25 and 12 images plus some composites I did for the other themes I had discerned regarding the people of Winchester and the staff/volunteers in the Cathedral. These contact sheets have been printed on Permajet Matt Proofing paper – less long-lasting but with the advantage of giving a good representation plus cost-effectiveness. My tutor will also have access to a Dropbox folder containing all of these, plus full-size jpegs of the final 6 and contact sheets of the original 291 RAW images and the initial selection for jpegs.

 

Conclusion

What I set out to achieve/how I see the essential character of the place

As mentioned earlier it was Peter Marlow’s book on English cathedrals that initially sent me to Winchester.  I diverted along the way with a diversion to Sunbury and also a look in Winchester City.  Another book I’ve read is ’Townscape with Figures” by Richard Hoggart (1994). The book is actually about Farnham where he lived for some time but, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a Cathedral, Farnham does remind me of Winchester as it has retained old buildings, narrow streets and independent shops. Hoggart refers to writing one more book “which aims, by looking at a particular place and its people, to offer some ‘representative significance’: whilst also recognizing unique characteristics.”  and the tricky element of finding the right balance between the two.  He continues:

If the book so focused on the special nature of Farnham that it appealed to hardly anyone who did not live there or have a prior interest in the town then it would have failed …….because I had not made the place seem interesting, in its own right, to people who had not heard of it until they began to read”  (1994 Introduction xvii)

I think it’s easier with photographs, perhaps because photographs capture people’s attention in a different way, but this is what I’ve struggled with.  If I had been taking photographs with no end result in mind I think I would have been inclined to concentrate on the interior of the cathedral but not the people inside it.  This is why this particular assignment has been another learning experience for me.  I became more interested in the interactions and reactions of the people there.  The visitors behaved in such a different way.  I could see how they were being drawn into the atmosphere of this beautiful cathedral and behaving in similar ways.  In this sense I hope I have captured some ‘representative significance’ within the unique building that is this cathedral. I actually used a variety of focal lengths when I was photographing but notice that the six I’ve chosen are fairly similar. I used a tripod for the first 4 with a lower ISO. The selected photographs are also in landscape format – to me this seemed better suited to a wider view of People in Place. I have written about the layout I envisaged above.  If I had had more confidence I would have devised a more complicated slideshow where I could juxtapose the gazing visitors with images of the effigies as they faded in and out.  I intend to practise slideshow creation and, hopefully, do some work along these lines for Assignment 5.

It was hard to let go of some of the photographs of  staff/volunteers etc in my final selection but they didn’t fit my  emerging awareness of a theme that seemed important – that everyone who visits there is surrounded by reminders of their own mortality.

13th May 2013

References

Hoggart, R (1994) Townscape with Figures, Chatto & Windus, London

Knappett, G (ed) (2012) Winchester Cathedral, Pitkin Publishing, Andover.

Knorr, K (2002) Genii Loci, Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London

Marlow, P (2012) The English Cathedral, Merrell, UK

Smith, J (2011 )Tthe Life and Death of Buildings” On Photograph and Time, Yale University Press

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Epitaphs

http://winchester-cathedral.org.uk

http://www.francisfrith.com/winchester/photos/

http://thomasstruth32.com/smallsize/photographs/places_of_worship/index.html

http://www.karenknorr.com/photographs/connoisseurs/

http://www.markpower.co.uk/projects/MASS

http://www.peterfraser.net/

http://www.simonstanding.co.uk/Portfolio/Portfolio.html

3. Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4:- Sunbury-on-Thames

Sunbury-on-Thames : Exploring an alternative for Assignment 4

When I was uncertain whether I had the right approach towards a Winchester series, I decided that, maybe, I needed to go to a smaller place that I could explore in more depth. I realise now that I had a village or small town in my head. I thought of various places nearby then decided to go to Sunbury-on-Thames. We lived there between 1978 and 1986 in what is called Lower Sunbury, near the river Thames.

The Assignment brief says:-

Decide on a place that you know well, or are prepared to take the time to know well, and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of a dozen images……… Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much variety as possible. ‘Variety’ should include a variety of subject matter and of scale.

Whenever I think of Sunbury I first think of the man who used to regularly walk there from nearby Walton-on-Thames with a parrot on his shoulder. Secondly I think of a friend of my daughter who lived in a house that had a possible Bronze Age barrow in their back garden  – a small one but still….. The family moved some time ago and my daughter lost contact, otherwise I would have paid a visit. I don’t really have the courage yet to go and knock on strangers’ doors.

A walk around Sunbury-on-Thames

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Sunbury is an old village and Thames Street (once called Sunbury Street) is one of the oldest built-up areas with a mix of styles and sizes dating from the late C16th to today.  Once there I parked at the Walled Garden, had a walk around there and then walked along Thames Street. It was a cold, miserable day, with no flowers in the Walled Garden and hardly any people around except in the café there which was very welcoming, I bought a nice little booklet there, “The Sunbury Trail” that provides a walk around lower Sunbury, with hand-drawn illustrations and descriptions/history of some of the buildings and houses.  I didn’t really look at it at the time because I followed my nose.

I spent about three hours reconnecting with Thames Street by the river, walking along Old Rope Walk to the shops at the bottom of The Avenue (that runs down to meet Thames Street). I walked further along Thames Street before crossing over to the river side; saying hello to some ducks and swans and then walking back down by the side of the river.  It really was quiet, presumably a lot of adults would be at work, children at school , and other adults staying indoors to keep warm. There were no boats up and down the river either.

Making sense  of ‘Place’

I came back from Sunbury with quite a lot of photographs and what has struck me whilst I’ve been trying to work out how to organise the 46 jpegs I processed  from RAW is that I can’t really see a theme emerging. I started this write-up and realised that I was doing a kind of travelogue – “This is this street, here is that street”.   There were no people to talk to really to ask them what they think about Sunbury and no action to show. I can talk to myself of course – after all I lived there once. Thinking about it all now though, my life then was lived in lots of different boxes – a full-time demanding job, three children to deal with, and a husband who was often away – with a lot of ‘free’ time being spent ferrying children backwards and forwards between various activities. On that score, how much did I really know about where I lived apart from weekend walks down by the river and doing some local shopping? Casting my mind back now it all seems very far away.

The editing process

I wanted to complete this particular cycle for Sunbury, though,  to see what I could make from the images and also for more practice on editing. How to go about organizing a series of images? I printed some contact sheets of the initial selection

that I then cut up. Originally, I grouped them according to street or river location. It didn’t seem right somehow so I moved them around several times  and ended up with 16 that I hope give the flavour of the village., although I notice that I’ve missed out the Walled Garden completely.

16 selection of Sunbury

The assignment brief asked for 12 good images from which to choose a final 6.  I had another look today and have chosen a 12.  During the gap I’ve been thinking around presentation.  Quite a few of the images could certainly make postcards, even composite post-cards – a time honoured method of showing a place and good for tourists to post ‘back home’.  I actually think that the booklet I bought is an excellent way of introducing the Village as it takes people on a walk around and provides information about interesting buildings – fill it in with information on people as well. I already knew that The Grand Order of Water Rats was formed at a meeting at The Magpie Hotel in 1889 (it has a blue plaque to prove it). I didn’t know that that Charles Dickens referred to Sunbury church in “Oliver Twist’, or that Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd used to live in one of the large houses down by the River (high walls so I couldn’t really take a photograph).

Here are the 12. I decided that they would just give a flavour of the village and wouldn’t be themed in anyway so have gone for a collage. Here’s one created with CollageIt Pro. It’s not too bad although the choice of templates is limited.

Sunbury Collage

and here’s a WordPress version

Conclusions

I did come back feeling dissatisfied. The images are competent enough but there weren’t enough ‘people interacting with place’ to meet the terms of the assignment brief. Also I don’t think I’ve captured enough sense of ‘place’ in terms of a place that was actually settled by people way back in the C10th BC and still has people occupying buildings built in the late medieval period (even though they might have had several renovations since). People created Sunbury on Thames and I think that brighter weather would have brought out more of them around the place and given life to it. I would certainly have included a photograph from The Walled Garden in my final selection because I think that it must be quite an attraction when flowers are in bloom and people are out there enjoying them.  I seem to have created an image of a village that’s waiting for something to happen. Even the river was quiet. I don’t feel depressed though and certainly I can go back there now the weather has improved – weekend would probably be better.   I also had more practice around editing.

I keep thinking as well about my earlier statement as to how my life in Sunbury seems far away. I’d forgotten how long ago it was and how different the South of England seemed. I’m now so used to different colours – the lighter stone and brick, and brighter green of grass. I’ve remembered that when my father-in-law came down from Bolton to see us in Sunbury he used to say he felt as if he was at the seaside.

8th May 2013

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunbury-on-Thames

http://www.collageitfree.com

http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHHER_229

Spring is here at last

It’s such a beautiful day and I’m briefly at my computer before going out to enjoy the sun. John Martyn is singing in the background.

Listening to the song reminded me of a photograph I took a while ago when doing one of the exercises on focal length. Two adults, with children, asking what I was doing (photographing a tree). The children were trying to get into the frame so I checked it was okay (also saying I had a blog) and the adults agreed.  I think they match the song well.

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2nd May 2013

Part 4: People interacting with Place – Projects and Exercises

People & Place

Part 4 : People interacting with place

Projects and Exercises

I tackled these by keeping both mental and written notes of the exercises in mind as I visited various locations. My aim was to then analyse why I took a particular photograph at a particular time.  The exercises covered:-

A single figure small

Busy traffic, i.e. ebb and flow of people

Anonymous figures (2 to 4)

small/many

facing away

in silhouette

partly obscured

motion blur

Balancing figure and space – varying attention between them

Selecting processing and prominence – using digital processing methods

 My first thought was that I should be pretty good at making figures anonymous given my reluctance to get up there close!

Here are the locations

London September 2012

London Coliseum

I have a fascination with these doors (even though they don’t really make a good backdrop because of their beige/brown colour) and endeavour to take a photograph every time I’m in the area. The main problem is that I have to stand across the road to get a good view. Thinking about balancing figure and space; I think the last one works best. They are walking towards each other but both appear oblivious of place or people; one of them with his ear phones and the other on his mobile phone.

 

Leicester Square

IMG_0911

Mainly anonymous – facing away, almost in silhouette. I framed this shot so that I could include the two men back left.  I was interested how the sleeping man was guarding his  trolley bag, whilst being ignored by the two young men front right. They were standing so near to him. Would I stand so near whilst talking to someone? I think probably not as there would be my inner politeness regarding not wanting to disturb him plus not wanting him to overhear what I was talking about. Is this something again about anonymity in a City full of strangers? Would they stand so near if it happened in Woking rather than London?

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Figures fairly small and few rather than many. I was interested in how they were spectators ‘on show’.

Trafalgar Square

The interesting aspect for me about Trafalgar Square is, why do people want to climb on the lions and sit on steps?

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Small and many; facing away, party obscured.

The young men below were organising themselves for a group shot so  I took one as well ‘surreptitiously’ and was then rather taken aback when one of them gesticulated at me.  I thought he was telling me off but in fact he wanted me to take a photograph of them with his iPad. Of course, that then gave me carte blanche to ask if I could take one also. At this point they moved from ‘unaware’ and ‘anonymous’ to ‘aware’ and ‘slight acquaintance’.

Could have done better. There’s some distortion from my smaller camera, pointing upwards;  portrait format or TSE lense would have been preferable I think, but they did pose nicely for me. I think this is actually more of a snapshot than my first one though. Also ‘people unaware’ can show more animation and liveliness.

Anonymous figures and facing away again apart from the gentleman left front. I was intrigued – was this really a policeman or someone wearing a policeman’s hat? Was he helping her up or down or pulling her down off a rather precarious spot?

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Almost a single figure and showing his smallness in relation to the lion

More on balancing figure and space

 

the last one works better for me in terms of balance.

Brighton, November 2012

People interacting with place

That wonderful, long wavy hair drew me, another young woman’s pale blue eyes matched the stands and there was some motion blur as well.

and also performing.

He had a very appreciative audience and I also moved further around to take the second shot as I liked his posture.

What interested me here was his total absorption in what he was doing and also that he was doing this without an audience (except for me of course), although I don’t recall him being aware of me.

London 7th December 2012

 

Small, anonymous people, ebbing and flowing on their way from here to there.

Figures in a landscape 8th December 2012

 

Anonymous and mainly small figures and, as ever, they are there to enhance the landscape for me.

London January 2013

On the way to Somerset House

There can be a crowd of anonymous people but, then, someone stands out and the girl in the grey coat did that for me..

 From Somerset House along Waterloo Bridge

It was misty and late afternoon – people getting ready for the end of the day. As I followed them I was drawn by their silhouettes against the skyline and buildings.

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I waited until the sunset deepened against the mist so I could look at the view as well.

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Victoria & Albert Museum – February 2013

Anonymous people, indoors, coming; going and sketching

 

Thoughts

I felt self-conscious to begin with, as I usually do but once I started photographing people it became easier and I relaxed.  I began to realise that it isn’t usually the people in themselves that attract me but the patterns and shapes they make in the environment. I wondered about the life that people give to built environments as in what would an empty Trafalgar Square look like? I also thought again about the differences between  portrait, landscape and social documentary in terms of the balance between people and space and how much focus is given to activity.  For instance, I think most of the photographs I took in London/Trafalgar Square are mainly on the social documentary spectrum, apart from the posed young men which is a snapshot cum group portrait whereas the ones I took on the Common are still landscape (I think?) because the figures are small. What about the ones on Waterloo Bridge though?

30th April 2013

Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

 We had a slightly different format this time with Portfolio review in the morning and then the afternoon spent discussing Semiotics.

Portfolio Review

I didn’t have anything to show at the last meeting because I had been going through a stuck phase which seemed to have lasted for months. It wasn’t that I wasn’t taking photographs just that I couldn’t feel enthusiastic about photography.  This time was different and I took two sets of prints from ongoing work.

(a) Medium Format Camera (earlier post here )

I told the others that they were my witnesses that I’d carried out my promise to myself to do more work with the camera. I’d expected to be asked, “Why film; why medium format?” and I was. I’m still not sure I was sufficiently coherent to give a reasoned reply though and keep thinking about this. It’s the whole process and the slower pace.  Putting film in the camera (still with some trepidation and remembering to push in the locking buttons); the awareness that it’s more costly; I won’t know what I’ve got until I get it back from the lab.  All this makes me consider framing and composition more.  I can’t just walk around the subject as I try to do every time now and then have a quick look at the screen to check the focus and settings. It’s exciting to get the negatives back and CD with scans. I hardly need to do anything at all apart from minimal tweaking and slight cropping (why does that black line appear down the side sometimes?).  The aspect ratio appeals to me and, most importantly, prints from film are different. They have a special quality for me, that soft clarity.

I got very positive feedback and encouragement to continue working with the camera; including the sense I’d conveyed of me looking at people from afar, from behind the trees, and beginning to show groupings; the way in which people come together in the landscape.

(b) Work towards Assignment 4 of People & Place

I explained the process I’d worked through from three visits to Winchester; and my developing concept of how one aspect of the cathedral is a place where the living meet the dead; a timeline; how still the visitors are in their looking.  Sharon was very positive about the idea of statues and also suggested I look at Mark Power’s “Mass” .

(c ) Insights gained from looking at other members” work

One aspect I enjoy is to see how others are progressing their ideas; trying new approaches, and how they’re putting their interests into coursework. As before, I won’t go into any detail because I know they’ll be writing their own posts. Areas covered looking at manipulation and reality; re-doing assignments in a completely different way – just for fun!; using small images as details to take the viewer beyond the frame/fill out the picture; dealing with issues regarding confidentiality and strategies used; combining found images with current ones; how to combine images of nature into a personal theme; moving forward on photographing people.

Sharon excellently models the critical approach towards selection for a series and the importance of having physical prints there that can be shuffled around to make different stories. It isn’t a case of the rest of us just sitting back to observe a 1:1 discussion – we all get involved and absorbed.

Introduction to Semiotics

This will need a separate post so that I can summarise what I’ve learned so far;  thoughts on the further work set for us, and, more importantly, how I’m making use of this type of analysis.  The format was good.  There was reading to do beforehand and we then had a discussion around the topic and the meanings of signifier/signified/denotation/connotation. We also talked about studum and punctum. After this Sharon read to us an essay on “The Hippopotamus” a photograph by Count de Montizon taken in 1852 (from David Bate, 2009)  which lead into some pairs/trio work on analyzing an advertisement to draw out the underlying messages.

We’ve been left with some further work to do. More questions for me to ponder concerning the order of ‘signs’; text as a form of relay as opposed to anchor and what needs to be in an image to make the viewer stop and look. Another topic was to now deconstruct a photograph. So many to choose from!

What did I gain from the day

After the discussion on my prints I said, “I feel like a photographer now”. I think that was a real step forward for me in that I’m taking myself more seriously and I’m sure that a part of that is being taken seriously by my peers.

The importance of meeting face to face with a tutor who is a role model for constructive criticism and analysis and demonstrates editing a series visually.

I’m very pleased that our small group has melded so quickly. We all knew each other already so that is obviously a factor but that shared purpose and desire to encourage others constructively is very important.

Semiotics doesn’t seem as complicated (once I put aside my reaction to the stilted language of its academic proponents) to the extent that I’ve ordered a book Semiotics: The Basics by Daniel Chandler. I know I can read it online as well under a different title (Semiotics: The Basics) but I wanted to get the book this time.

27th April 2013

 

 

References

Bate, D (2009) Photography (Key Concepts),  Berg, Oxford

Chandler, (D) (2007)  Semiotics: The Basics, Routledge

http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html

http://www.markpower.co.uk/projects/MASS

Working with a Medium Format Camera

Working with a Medium Format Camera

This is a brief post as a follow-up to my promise to myself  at the end of my previous one responding to my tutor’s feedback on Assignment 3 of P&P

My road towards medium format has been a slow one.  It began back in 2011 when I began studying with OCA and first went on Study Visits. I noticed that most of the images were large format prints and so clear in the detail.  I acquired a 35mm film camera but still had that yearning to try medium format. Towards the end of last year I succumbed and bought a Fuji GA645Zi with a 55-90mm zoom lens (35mm-55mm) (there’s a review here)  This camera came out in 1998; so it’s relatively modern, with autofocus and automatic wind-on, which is good for me as a nervous newcomer and means I haven’t created double exposures or even, yet, taken a photograph with the lens cap still on.  I do tend to circle cautiously around anything new and so only used one roll of film in several months with the camera in program mode.

However, as I wrote previously the visit to the Landscape Exhibition at Somerset House gave me some new inspiration/enthusiasm after looking at some of Simon Roberts’s landscape work . I know that this is large format but at least medium format is along the way towards this, and so I went off to the Common to make some more photographs. The film is Fuji Superia 400 120 and,  this time I used the camera on aperture priority, which is more adventurous.  Here are some of the results:

I took some A4 prints along to the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting a couple of days ago and got some positive feedback and encouragement to do a longer term project along the lines of ‘figures in a landscape’. Of course, I was asked, “Why film; why medium format?” It’s because of the soft clarity that medium format film can give.  I know that there are filters I can use in Photoshop, e.g. in Nik software, to achieve similar effects but they’re not quite the same as actual film.

I have another location in mind to visit and gradually want to put together a series.  I can’t envisage this being for P&P because of the time element but this will be a personal project to undertake alongside my coursework.  I recently emailed my tutor to update him on progress on my next assignment and he has suggested that I also have a look at  Peter Bialobrzeski . who was also shown at the Landscape Exhibition and I’d made a note of his series Heimat   which had examples in the Pastoral Section. Bialobrzeski uses an analogue “Box” camera for his large scale landscapes and focuses upon the way in which cities and landscapes are changing.

22nd April 2013

References

http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0105/cameracorner.htm

http://we-english.co.uk

http://www.bialobrzeski.de/portal.html

http://www.bialobrzeski.de/work/heimat/Heimat-7.html

Assignment 3 : Response to Tutor feedback

 

People & Place

Response to tutor feedback on Assignment 3

My tutor responded very quickly to this assignment and I’ve taken quite a long time pondering over the feedback.

Overall comments were that this was another good assignment. There were a few, small technical issues largely stemming from the use of  a few different cameras (which I was aware of at the time when post-processing and noted in my write-up) so advice was to select just one for the next assignment – the 60D. No particular problem re print quality except for some small sensor/high ISO noise problems in a few images (again due to using smaller cameras sometimes).

 1. The images

The Glasshouse, RHS Wisley

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Although he thought that there are situations it might be appropriate (eg. if only indication of this being a managed habitat) My tutor found the metal barrier (bottom left) distracting and suggested I find a way of reframing this. He also referred to prominent noise and artefacts – probably from using the G12 and a high ISO

I particularly liked this viewpoint as it showed the lushness of the greenery; the sweep of the path, with people walking along, it plus the height of the glasshouse and the edge of the waterfall.  I was leaning over the rail already and it wouldn’t be possible to lean any further out.  I could actually see on my monitor that it looked over-sharp and yet the print itself seemed okay. There were some other images, taken on the second visit with the Canon 60D which had been possibles.

I was further along the balcony so the sweep of rail was avoided but there’s less greenery and no people.

That apart, my tutor commented, “I should also note quickly that I like how you have been thinking out of the box and photographed through the flowing water – this adds a good visual twist and variety to the overall selection from this space”

Lindley Library, RHS Wisley

Issues noted here included the small space where I had attempted to reveal more by including a detail shot of the toys. My tutor’s suggestion here was that I could have chosen one of the wider shots, “.. and then perhaps have made some more photos of details that seemed unique to this space”. He would have preferred me to wait for the people in the window to move in the second photo

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Interestingly, I’d actually waited until they moved in front of the window because I was thinking to link mothers and children with the children’s facilities in the library itself.

My tutor thought that the increase in saturation in the toys photos had left it not fitting in well in terms of colour with the other two, “the idea that the toys are present is enough to point towards this being a space for children without having to increase saturation to ram the point home”

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Point taken

7. desaturated

There was a helpful suggestion regarding white balance – to take one photograph with a colour neutral grey card in the frame, such as one by Michael Tapes http://michaeltapesdesign.com/whibal.html. This is where I feel doubly foolish because I actually do have one but I didn‘t have it with me at the time!.

One good point was that my tutor also wrote that he thought the compromise I made works.

The Churches

The ones from St. Nicholas were thought to be the more successful – “These little pieces of the puzzle allow the viewer to piece together the space and in some respects are reminiscent of the work of Peter Fraser”  http://www.peterfraser.net (see below). Reminder to be a little more careful with my technique on images like the roof image as it is not sharp.

He would have liked to see a slightly wider and clear shot of the drawings on the wall

18.

18. 

I had ummed and aahed about this one as, again,  I’d wanted to show it in context.  There were tighter shots

wall painting

Unfortunately the sconce does get in the way.  The other aspect is that, to me, the wall paintings look much more interesting   appearing in the context of the whole building as , somehow, because they are fairly crude,  they provide a contrast to the beauty of the wood in the building.

My tutor  didn’t like the different aspect ratio of the crop of the altar cloth detail (square) pointing out that  he felt I  should, “ either crop everything the same or have a very good reason for cropping one photo from a series to a different aspect ratio”

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19.

My reasoning had been that I wanted to show a top to bottom view of the altar cloth (which I think is a lovely piece of needlework). I had problems there because light was flooding through a window at the side onto the wooden rail so in order to cut out as much of that as possible and still show the altar cloth top to bottom, I had to crop as I did. I realise I should have explained that but, even if I had, I guess my tutor would still have made the same comment regarding one different crop in the series.

There is a tighter shot. I originally excluded this because it shows a much smaller part of the cloth but it is in the same aspect ratio.

altar cloth detail

On a more positive note, my tutor did think, “the detail in one of the wider shots showing the font serving double duty as a brochure stand is particularly insightful into the modern church as well” .  I was also pleased that, whilst he didn’t think the church images are a success yet he thought they were a very good first go at a longer project.

Golf Club

I think I was damned by faint praise here because, whilst he thought they were technically probably the most accomplished (although there were some slightly unpleasant shadows), fine in a catalogue for the club for instance but not as interesting as other buildings visited. I agree.

Additional comments

Excellent blog; acknowledgement that I’d avoided use of ultra-wide lens; and some recommended looking/reading. My tutor also remarked that most of the work I’d linked to on my blog was made on medium or large format cameras. I’ve increasingly come to realise that much of the photography I appreciate has been created on larger format cameras and I have also noted more use of these in Exhibitions. A recent visit to the Landscape Exhibition at Somerset House has inspired me to make more of an effort to practise with the medium format film camera I have acquired.

2. Some suggested photographers/reading 

John Gossage –Berlin in the time of the wall – http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/dynamic/exhibit_display.asp?ExhibitID=65

Marc Wilson- http://marcwilson.co.uk/the-last-stand/

Simon Standing- http://www.simonstanding.co.uk/Portfolio/Portfolio.html (PhD will be most relevant but everything should be of interest)

Peter Marlow- The English Cathedral http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K1HRGTOBSJ

Simon Norfolk- http://www.simonnorfolk.com/pop.html (Specifically look at For Most of it I have no words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory)

Joel Sternfeld- http://www.luhringaugustine.com/artists/joel-sternfeld/?tag=On%20this%20Site

John Kippin- http://johnkippin.com/archive/nostalagia-for-the-future.php

John Riddy – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/john-riddy-11957

Steffi Klenz – http://www.steffiklenz.co.uk/

Peter Fraser – http://www.peterfraser.net/

I looked at all of them but these are the ones that had particular impact for me:

John Gossage:  this b&w series began when Gossage, an American,  went on a trip  to Berlin  to exhibit photographs and run a workshop.  He ended up making further trips into the early 90s,  and created a survey of The Wall that was both historical and contemporary.  It struck me how images of small details and absence of people  can  still evoke such a sense of place and, as the description on the web site comments, tell a story, “in images that are as much metaphorical and emotive as they are politically accurate and historically mindful”.

Marc Wilson: Beautifully captured colour images of remains of military defence installations that, to me, have a dignified loneliness about them.

Simon Norfolk:  Places of genocides. The b&w images adding to that sense of gravity, damage and loss.

Simon Standing:  Here, as suggested, I looked at Dr Standing’s PhD project.  It concerned “The Architectural Expression of Anglican Rituals as Disseminated Through a Photographic Enquiry of Six Devon Churches” . I found this very interesting in terms of how he built his composite images and used polaroid and film tests. These were wider viewpoints but I also looked at some of his other work on churches where he used detail images to, again, evoke that historical sense of people and place.

Peter Marlow:  I looked at Peter Marlow earlier in the Module in terms of environmental portraiture but, this time, I was looking at his work on English cathedrals.  It certainly put my attempts at Wisley and St Nicholas into perspective (although I did note some near- clipped highlights)!  The photographs looked so imposing that I bought the book.  The book is beautifully large with superb colour prints and includes some of Marlow’s notes on how he went about the project.  It was easy to imagine him up a step-ladder with his large camera, just as the sun came up to cast the right light within the interior of each cathedral – not to mention the cleaners who were determined to start their work at the right time and so switched on the lights! There are also details in an appendix outlining the histories of all the cathedrals.  I just hadn’t realised that they weren’t all built from scratch, as I’d thought, but some of them developed into cathedrals from previous Parish Churches.

I found the book so inspiring, as did my husband,  that we both went off to Winchester to photograph the cathedral there and I’ll write more about that when I record work towards Assignment 4. Suffice it to say that, as a result of this first visit, my husband decided he must have a TSE lens and, following this and further discussions, he also obtained a Sinar camera.  I’m not going near the Sinar (apart from to admire it and pose for it) until I’ve practised with the TSE lens and that’s to come.

Peter Fraser:  He took up an artist’s residency at Oxford University in 2006 and, in reading about the lead up to this, I was interested in the way he wrote about a time when he was in hospital recovering from Hepatitis and Dysentery ,walked to a courtyard and was dazzled by the  Saharan sunshine falling upon some Bougainvillaea trees.,

“Standing in that doorway, each flower appeared as a crucible in which a perpetual struggle was taking place, between the impossible beauty of the world and its irrefutable fact…….Additionally over the passing years, it has become clear that by photographing a stationary subject in a particularly intense way ….. there is potential for the photograph to allude not only to time at the moment of exposure, but to time before and even time to come”

I wish I had known about Peter Fraser before I started Assignment 3 because he has so clearly detailed what I was aiming for.  I’ve only just started on that path and the struggle for me is not only to get to grips with technical aspects  but how to nurture that inner vision that can focus upon the mood and viewpoint I need to convey.

Areas for further work

I need to more scrupulous at checking noise on my images and to avoid high ISOs on smaller cameras. For the next assignment I intend to just use  my 60D. I also intend to show more commitment to practising using my medium format film camera – I must admit here that it’s the fact of not being able to see results quickly that’s held me back.

15th April 2013

References

Marlow, P (2012) The English Cathedral, Merrell, UK