Assignment 1 Feedback and Re-work

The biggest problem with Assignment 1 is that I just didn’t do enough groundwork.  I was so excited at the prospect of taking the actual images that I almost entirely bypassed the incredibly important business of research. I had briefly looked at a couple of the practitioners on the suggested list, but had in no way familiarised myself enough with contemporary photographers and their approaches.

I also did not experiment with my ideas prior to settling for my theme. Once I had decided what I wanted to do, I stuck rigidly with it and didn’t allow the project to emerge organically.

I agree with my tutor’s comments that many of my shots do indeed, look like stock pictures. Whilst they are acceptable enough images in their own right, there is nothing in most of them to hold the viewer’s eye for more than a couple of seconds. The first glimpse tells the whole story and then there is nothing more to be taken from them.

I am trying not to be too hard on myself though.  I am, after all, a complete beginner at the start of a long journey. And having submitted my first piece of work and received feedback, I actually feel so much more confident now. I know what is required of me, and I am excited, inspired and keen to get on.

Research

I still find the work of Venetia Dearden incredibly compelling. Her images in ‘SomersetStories, Fivepenny Dreams’ remind me so much of the landscape around me and I love the quietness and muted colours in her work.

I also found myself drawn to the work of Keith Arnatt. In his AONB series he photographs beautiful landscapes but includes in them the ugliness of items left behind by man. I like the honesty of this approach and it makes for a far more interesting and thought provoking experience than just looking at a beautiful scene.

I like the humour with which Richard Wentworth in his ‘Making Do and Getting By’ series, captures images of mundane items in unexpected  places.

Also on the suggested list of practitioners, I found Tina Barney’s work very engaging,  particularly the slight chaos and disorganisation depicted in of her Theater of Manners. Although there were only a couple of images in her Small Town series that I felt were particularly relevant to this assignment, I will definitely be revisiting her for inspiration on future projects.

I think Jodi Taylor is incredibly successful in encapsulating the feeling of childhood nostalgia in her images. And reading about her led me on to Martin Parr’s work which combines reality and humour so successfully.

So, finally, to the reworking of this assignment.  Only two of the original images remain. A couple are now included that previously I felt were ‘too messy’ but now I see are way more interesting than the images they replace.  For the remaining pictures I have revisited the places I went to the first time round and photographed them in their dormant, winter state. And so the project has moved on to a different, less obvious, but hopefully more interesting phase and also encompasses more than just one season.

 

Thomas Ruff’s JPEG Series

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In his JPEG series, Thomas Ruff uses low resolution pictures, taken mainly from the Web, which he enlarges, then compresses to the lowest quality JPEG format.  The images fracture and pixelate, leaving not just the image, but also its underlying digital structure.

http://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel/

http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/04/review_jpegs_by_thomas_ruff/

 

Campany starts by explaining the way in which artists use images to try and make sense of the culture they inhabit. All photographic images come from Archives, arranged by us according to certain rules. In a changing world, these Archives are constantly re-archived and redistributed across the Internet. Ruff reflects this need for order by working in series.

Digital images are made up of pixels. All images created as analogue that now appear in a digital form have been converted to this state. Campany argues that the “grid-like, mechanic and repetitive” pixel does not suggest to us today the authenticity that the grain of analogue images did in the past. Instead, the pixel has represented a “cold technological limit”.

He believes our response to the pixel is changing though. In Ruff’s JPEG series, many of the images are of disaster, events and situations that cannot be controlled. But behind these images we see the comforting, ordered grids of pixels. According to Campany, Ruff is allowing us to contemplate at an “aesthetic and philosophical level the basic condition of the electronic image”.

Colberg does not deny the beauty of Ruff’s images, but questions whether his work is actually photography. He states that there is nothing wrong in producing beautiful images just for the sake them being beautiful images. He is unconvinced by the philosophical explanations behind Ruff’s works. However, he does admire the way in which he is willing to “push the boundaries of photography”.

When I first read the articles, I fell very much on the side of Colberg. Ruff’s images are arresting and often bleakly beautiful, however, in many cases, they aren’t even his own pictures, just ones he has culled from the internet and altered.  However, whilst I think Campany may be reading a bit too much into the importance of the JPEG series, he does make some important points. The way we view images is constantly changing and this is something that needs to be acknowledged.

 

Exercise 1.4 Frame

Take a good number of shots, composing each within a single section of the viewfinder grid.  Don’t bother about the rest of the frame.

When you review the shots, evaluate the whole frame, not just the part you’ve composed.  Select some of the images you feel work individually as compositions and also as a set.  Add them to your learning log together with technical information such as camera settings, and one or two lines containing your thoughts and observations.

I shot these images around the grounds of my home in France, with the key subject of the photo placed in a different part of the viewfinder grid each time. I quite like the way they work individually, and as a group, although I find the images of windows work least well.

This exercise has made me more aware of how important the position of the subject in relation to the frame is. I will certainly be bearing this in mind in future, taking time to plan and frame the image correctly rather than shooting willy nilly, something of which I am often guilty.

 

Exercise 1.3

Line

Part 1

Take a number of shots using lines to create a sense of depth.

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The images above demonstrate how lines can be used to give a sense of depth. Lines that are parallel give us the impression that they are meeting in the distance and our eye is naturally drawn to this point.

Part 2

Take a number of shots using lines to flatten the pictorial space.  To avoid the effects of perspective, the sensor/film plane should be parallel to the subject and you may like to try a high viewpoint (i.e. looking down).

These images using lines to completely different effect. The lines do not draw the eye into the picture but rather, one is left scanning the surface for a focal point. The feel is much more abstract.

This exercise demonstrates how understanding lines and the illusions they create is a very important skill for the photographer, to add a sense of depth or flatness to their images.

Cropping and Framing

I understand framing to be how the elements of a picture are positioned within the frame as the photograph is being taken, whereas cropping is something that would be done after the picture is taken, to remove any unwanted elements from around the edges of the frame.

Exercise 1.2

Point

Take two or three photographs in which a single point is placed in different parts of the frame.

How can you evaluate the pictures? How do you know whether you have got it right or not? Is there a right place and a wrong place for a point?

In these images where there is only a single point,  I don’t feel there is an absolute right or wrong position for it, as the eye is drawn to it wherever it is in the frame.

Print out two or three of your point photographs and trace the route your eye takes over the surface with a pencil.  Then try the same with a selection of photographs from newspapers or magazines.  You should notice that each photograph has its own tempo.  Add the traced photographs to your learning log together with brief observation.

This is an interesting exercise. I have never before actually stopped to consider the route the eye takes when looking at an image. It is definitely true that objects attract attention out of proportion to their size.

In the image above, the eye is drawn first to the brick in the foreground, even though it is not the largest item in the frame. It’s position is important. Had it been placed closer to the centre of the frame, I don’t believe it would have been so effective at drawing the eye.

In this image, the handprints positioned on the far left of the frame do a great job in leading the eye to the figure of the child who is the subject of the picture.

When it comes to portraits of people, I believe that it is human instinct to automatically look at the eyes and mouth first, no matter where they are positioned in the frame.

SPi Workshop

On Saturday I attended a workshop in London organised by Street Photography International. It was run by Walter Rothwell, Craig Reilly and Emily Garthwaite.

The day was split into three so that each group (maximum four people) spent time with each of the three tutors, who individually have very different styles and approaches. My group started with Walter at the British Museum where we looked into some of the techniques for discreet image capture, such as ‘shooting from the hip.’ We also discussed the moral issues and etiquette of street photography. We made our way down Oxford Street and Piccadilly, looking at the potential of shop windows, advertising billboards etc.

After lunch we changed over to Emily. Her technique is very much more to do with approaching your subject and engaging with them before photographing them. It was really interesting to see how people were generally flattered to be approached for their photo and how interacting with them made for a much more fulfilling experience. She demonstrated that the clever photographer can still capture unguarded images of their subject in the moments after their subject has finished posing for them. We were then encouraged to practice these techniques at Leicester Square, then on to Westminster Bridge and around the London Eye, all vibrant and exciting locations for the street photographer.

For the final part of the day we went with Craig to Tate Modern. He taught us about composition and setting up the perfect shot. He set us off to do an exercise involving photographing a stairway and then spent time with each of us individually showing us how to improve our technique. He also offered me some incredibly helpful advice regarding exposure and metering, neither of which are my forte.

All in all it was a completely excellent day and I have to say, brilliant value for money. I went home exhausted but so excited and inspired! I am very much looking forward to putting all my new found knowledge to practice.