Exercise 2.1

Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint.

Use the sequence to get a feeling for how the angle of view corresponds to the different focal lengths for your particular camera and lens combination. Which shot in the sequence feels closest to the angle of view of your normal vision?

Does zooming in from a fixed viewpoint change the appearance of things?

With each increase in focal length you become closer to the subject without actually physically moving towards it. You are unable to fit as much of the scene into the frame.

 

 

Andreas Gursky Exhibition and Talks

The Hayward Gallery in London recently reopened, after extensive renovations, with a retrospective of the work of Andreas Gursky. Running alongside this exhibition was a series of lectures, entitled Gursky In Depth, which I was fortunate enough to attend yesterday.

The day started with a talk by Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery and Curator of the exhibition.  He gave fascinating insights into the great consideration that goes into selecting and arranging a body of work for a show. In addition we learnt of the physical challenges in bringing together such a collection, where many of the works are immense in size and extremely awkward to move around.

We were led through the evolution of Gursky’s photography, starting with his 1984 work, Klausenpass. At this time, still a student at the Dusseldorf School of Bernd and Hilla BecherGursky finds that what interests him is not the mountain itself, but the people climbing it. They seem to him to be awkward and out of place in the environment in which they find themselves.

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Thus begins a series of works exploring man’s relationship to nature. Usually shot from a distant perspective, they show the grandeur of the natural environment with its tiny inhabitants looking, more often than not, at odds with their surroundings.

By the 1990’s Gursky has developed an interest in the urban environment, depicting more man-made structures and interior spaces in his work. He often looks at how industrial features frame a landscape, for example in Schiphol (1994).

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He also begins addressing the issue of the global economy in his works, for example in Tokyo, Stock Exchange (1990).  There is no centre to this image (it rather puts one in mind of a Jackson Pollock painting) which perhaps suggests that there is no longer a centre to the world’s economy. It represents chaotic, unregulated activity.

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At this time Gursky also branches out from film to digital and experiments with computer manipulation. He begins to build scenes, rather than just shooting what is in front of him. “Reality can only be shown by constructing it” says the artist. His images become larger and take on an almost super-human clarity, with more crisp, clear detail than the eye could, in reality, possibly take in.  He starts to shoot scenes from several perspectives and puts them together, removing things, embellishing, intensifying the colour. He is not documenting what he sees, rather representing it, but at the same time trying not to make it look too artificial. Gursky likes to present what he calls a “democratic view” whereby all of the “elements in the picture are as important or unimportant as one another and which completely dispenses with hierarchy”. A good example of this technique is Paris, Montparnasse (1993) which shows a perspective on a block of flats that is, in reality, impossible. This is because it is built up from many separate shots that Gursky took from two viewpoints, so that all the dwellings are presented exactly front on, with no distortion (which would have occurred had the image been contained within one single shot.)

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By the 2000’s Gursky is moving further and further from straight photography and his images are taking on a more fictional quality. “These days, I no longer go places without a plan, hoping to simply discover things. My process is much more conceptual and research-based”. An example of this is his work Review (2015) which depicts the back of four German chancellors’ heads as they sit and look at a work by Bruce Neumann. These heads were, in fact, all photographed on separate occasions, as was the artwork they regard.

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We reach 2017, and Gursky’s latest work gives the impression of a snap taken from a moving car on a smartphone. The image seems spontaneous and is mainly out of focus, an informal composition of pre-fab homes along a highway, “a monumental homage to the mobile phone and the outsize role it plays in depicting our times” (Laura Cumming, The Observer).

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In 2011, with a price-tag of £2.7 million, Rhine II by Andreas Gursky is the most expensive photograph ever sold.  Lucy Soutter, critic and art historian guided us through the factors that feed into the value of such a work and also gave an analysis on the rise of the photograph as an art form to now be on a par with traditional disciplines such as painting and sculpture.

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The talks ended with a tour of the exhibition. Nothing had prepared me for the mind-blowing scale and clarity of these images. They were, without exception, absolutely incredible. All in all this was a most interesting and valuable day.

 

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.