Monthly Archives: May 2017

Assignment 2

Final Selection:

Contact Sheets of Pre-selection Images:

Think I have picked the images that form into the best set.

Reflection

Where I am now.

Self-Check Against Assignment Criteria:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

  • These seem to be improving
  • Need to think more before I press the shutter
  • Check for background as well as foreground

Quality of Outcome:

  • Needs more work
  • Think about what I am trying to show
  • Learning log needs to be detailed but also usable and concise
  • Structure of learning log is Ok I think

Demonstration of Creativity:

  • This is where I struggle
  • Tendency to shoot the same type of image all the time
  • Need to think about outcome more, and what I am trying to achieve (see post Future thought here)

Context:

  • This I am really enjoying
  • Tendency to get side-tracked onto other thought
  • Risk of spending whole time on this aspect of course!
  • Finding language of an arts subject difficult, mainly due to usually having to be very factual at work
  • Need to be prepared to put personal opinion down on paper and defend it

Thoughts for the Future

What is coming though clearly in the reading I am doing and the photographers I have looked at is that they have more than just an interest in their subject matter, they have a passion. I assume that for some of them their ‘work’, if they are acting as a commercial photographer may not always be in their passionate zone, but their private work, what they put their heart into is. It’s the passion that fuels the drive to go and take photographs, and then to find creative ways to explore it and show it to others.

Examples would be:

  • The environment – Burtynsky
  • War – McCallum
  • People – McCurry
  • Myth and magic – Aase Goldsmith

So – the over-riding question is – what am I passionate about?

It is people and their lives and motives, especially in the field of autism.

What do I almost never photograph – people, why?

I take endless images of plants (OK, I am interested in them, but not passionate), buildings and architecture, (again a somewhat bland interest – probably explaining the somewhat bland photos) and landscapes. The only people I photograph are family (when they let me) and musicians at concerts.

The overarching aim for this work needs to be how to get from where I am to where I want to be.

Things needed

  • Technical skills
  • Confidence to approach people
  • Access
  • Ideas about how to show the strain of living without pathos, doesn’t mean without despair, but in a way that means something.

Present problems

  • How to gain access – I have a problem in that my work with the health board could compromise access, I might have a major disciplinary action if I was seen to be using this for my own ends!

Plan 2 – May Update

  1. Work my way though course handbook, looking at each exercise and expanding as required. Importance high as I want to complete the course in a timely fashion. On time (just).
  2. Personal projects – present ideas
    1. People in the park: looking at people as they walk around, interacting with others, their dogs, phones etc.
      1. Initially looking at more distant shots, maybe using tele lens
      2. Close-ups! Started as in assignment 2
    2. Tree ‘Art’: following up on my interest in nature looking at and contrasting the natural bark /growth patterns of trees with the, often childish or rude, graffiti carved into them.
    3. Intimacy: close-up work
      1. Contrast people, or rather small images of them with detail of possibly buildings, or? plants
      2. People interacting with each other
    4. The logging industry in Scotland – thinking about this as a possible final piece for EYV.
  3. Looking at photographers work in detail – present possibilities but this list could go on forever.
    1. Dayanita Singh
    2. John MacLean
    3. Keith Arnatt
    4. Walker Evans Done –At least initially
    5. Burtynsky
    6. Graham MacIndoe – Investigated
    7. Diane Arbus
  4. Reading – again the list could go on forever
    1. Photography as contemporary art – Charlotte Cotton read
    2. The Genius of Photography – Gary Badger – started (and TV series found)
    3. Letting go of the Camera – Brooke Jensen – started
  5. Attend as many exhibitions, both of photography and general art as possible.

This list is much too ambitious, but it gives me a starting point.

To be reviewed monthly to keep a check on progress.

Assignment Two – Collecting

The Brief:

To create a series of between 6 and 10 photographs, using the exercises from Part Two to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint.

I would have automatically chosen to do a series of landscape or botanical images, well within my comfort zone, but was encouraged by my tutor to do a series on heads, well outside my usual area of photography.

Heads: Frame a headshot, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in backgrounds. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral.

Research:

I spent some time looking at portrait photographers. There are a large (and not always helpful) number of lists available of the 10 (or 50) ‘best’ portrait photographers. Most have a similar list of names, with Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, August Sander and Diane Arbus figuring prominently.  Many of the portraits are not a head shot, but are full length and show background to ‘set the scene’ and give wider information about the subject. Some that I found that met the above criteria and gave me ideas were (this list could have been much longer):

  • Diane Arbus – Blonde girl with shiny lipstick, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Diane Arbus – A woman with pearl necklace and earrings, N.Y.C., 1967
  • Steve McCurry – Haridwar, India,1998
  • Steve McCurry – Pul-i-Khumri, Afghanistan,2002
  • Annie Leibovitz – John Lennon, New York City, 1980
  • Annie Leibovitz – Merce Cunningham, 1994
  • Man Ray – Henri Matisse, 1925
  • Man Ray – Ernest Hemingway, 1923

 

How:

I started in our local park where I go on a daily walk with my dog. Most of the photographs are of total strangers, a few I know ‘in passing’ to say hello to and two are family members. Having the dog with me was a good ice breaker, as usually she would pick the subjects for me by going up to them and standing at their feet. I then explained what I was doing and asked to take a photograph. No-one refused! There are three images taken inside, two at a show and one in a house.

Technical information:

I use a Panasonic micro 4/3rds camera, and used a variable focal length lens (14 -140mm, equates to 28 – 280mm). The camera was set to aperture priority and I used the widest aperture possible with the focal length used. Most of the images were taken with a focal length between 40 and 60mm, although occasionally longer if the person seemed uncomfortable with me getting that close to them. These settings allowed the focus to be clearly on the face and threw the background out of focus. If the person was standing, I stood, and if sitting on one of the park benches, I crouched down next to them so that I was taking the photograph level with their faces and not looking up or down at them.

All images were taken with natural light. I did not have a reflector, although have now acquired one, but it is too large to carry easily in my pocket.

Post processing was done in Lightroom, mono conversion in Silver Efex Pro2.

Success of series:

This was a completely new venture for me so I was very nervous about approaching the people, however it was easier than I imagined it was going to be. However, nerves undoubtedly did play a part and I was not always careful enough about the background or the position of the lighting. A reflector would have been useful on several occasions to allow better lighting of the face.

Talking to people before taking the photographs and getting some, however small, connection was useful and I felt they were more at ease and relaxed, therefore their expressions were more natural. Several of the people were wearing sunglasses, although it wasn’t particularly sunny, and I did not ask them to remove them as I felt this would have been too invasive.

I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.

I did have difficulty choosing the final images so I decided to look for internal consistency. Several of the people were wearing headgear, varying from hats to glasses perched on their heads, so I used this as a focus for the series.

Summary:

  • Positive
    • Talking to the people in advance
    • Using a large aperture
    • Keeping on a level with the face
    • Monochrome conversion
  • Less positive
    • Not having a reflector or alternative light source
    • Lack of confidence, so not always approaching people

Thoughts for the future:

This was an interesting venture and definitely one I want to expand on. Rather than taking very close head shots I would be interested in taking images of people in the setting that they felt comfortable with. Many of the people were also dog owners, so It would be interesting to take ‘man (or woman) and dog’ pictures, a modern day take on Keith Arnatt’s series ‘Walking the Dog’. Two of the images taken in this series, although not chosen as final picks, did have the person holding their dog close to their face, and this would be a concept worth exploring further.

 

Photobooks explored while looking for ideas.

Arbus, D. (1990). Diane Arbus. London: Bloomsbury.

Arbus, D., Phillips, S. and Selkirk, N. (2003). Diane Arbus Revelations. New York, NY: Random House.

Hurn, D., Grafik, C. and Arnatt, K. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot.

Leibovitz, A. and DeLano, S. (2011). Annie Leibovitz at work. London: Jonathan Cape.

McCurry, S. (2015). Portraits. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Newton, J. (2009). Helmut Newton. Koln: Taschen.

Pepper, T. and Warner, M. (2013). Man Ray portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery.

Sander, A. and Conrath-Scholl, G. (2009). August Sander. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel.

 

 

Coming Clean

Graham MacIndoe

An Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Scotland

The exhibition ‘Coming Clean’ (Nationalgalleries.org,2017) by Graham MacIndoe is showing at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. It consists of 25 photographs taken by MacIndoe when he was suffering from drug addiction in the USA. MacIndoe was born in Scotland and moved to the USA and then became a much admired fashion and portrait photographer, however he developed a drug addiction, initially to crack cocaine and then to heroin. He said in an interview “I’ve gotta be honest and say I wasn’t concerned, because I was so far down that path with crack cocaine at that point that it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference to me. It was just throwing something else into the mix that I thought could enhance it and make the experience better — which is a crazy way of thinking about it. But I thought, I’m keeping myself level. It’s like people who drink and get all slurry and do a line of coke to straighten themselves up. It was a counter of that. I needed something to level me out, and alcohol is never going to do that because you’d have to drink too much. Heroin did that efficiently, but it leads to heroin addiction — or it leads to a duel addiction, crack and heroin.” (Stellin, 2014). While he was an addict and no longer able to work, he decided to take photographs of his daily routine of drug use age and it is some of these images that are on show together with a brief video describing his thought processes.

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From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

A more detailed story of his life while a drug addict and afterwards when he ended up in prison, is in a book by MacIndoe and his partner Susan Stellin, Chancers (Stellin and MacIndoe, 2016. In the book, Stellin describes how she discovered the MacIndoe was an addict and also how she found a collection of these images on-line ‘Every photo is tinged with despair. Hopelessness. Waste. Maybe the point is, “So you wanted to see? Here it all is.” And then we’re supposed to feel sick over our voyeurism, because maybe we didn’t need to see that after all’.

MacIndoe talks about his life in Riker’s Island prison and says ‘I’d love to be able to photograph what it’s like in here. Not just the shitty parts about being locked up, but there are times when you can still appreciate the way flashes of lightning illuminate the dorm or the sun comes through the slats of the windows. Like tonight—the sunset is casting these bands of orange and yellow light across the walls and the shadows of people passing by make it look almost like a painting.’ He also talks about being an addict ‘Coz to be honest, I’m tired of being an addict. It’s not something I ever thought I would be & it surprises, angers & saddens me to see how it got me and where it took me. I had no idea that it was so powerful.’

MacIndoe ‘describes the presence of an “innate, built-in thing that you have to record stuff and see stuff, I still saw and visualised like a photographer or artist. I saw light, environment, what I was going through in the abstract, sometimes in the third person. A lot of the pictures involve looking through mirrors or me in a non-direct manner. To me, it was totally instinctive. I was looking through things on computer screens, and really looking at myself. There’s a picture in the National Portrait Gallery, that’s actually a desk with an old, crummy laptop on it. So I’ve taken a picture of me on an old laptop in the apartment I was staying in.”’(Benmakhlouf, 2017) and in an interview in the Scotsman “I think it’s really important for me that it’s this body of work. The pictures always resonate with people, and people always come away changed in some way. I think that’s what art and image-making is really about. It’s been a long, long time in the making, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge.” (Mansfield, 2017).

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From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

This a stunning exhibition in many ways, the images are raw and shocking, surprisingly powerful. While I was there a group of teenagers were also there, clearly horrified and covering it up by giggling among themselves. It makes one think of the impact of drug addiction on the user, rather than the more usual response which is to think of the impact on society.

In the book, Chancers, MacIndoe carries on to tell how, on his ‘release’ from Riker’s Island he was immediately picked up by the American Immigration Authorities and re-imprisoned, while being threatened with deportation back to Britain as he was living in the USA on a green card, and had committed a crime. During that second prison stay he underwent an intensive programme of drug rehabilitation and ended up clean.

He has gone on to do a body of work related to this experience, ‘American Exile’ where he photographs and tells the stories of other families who are being deported, often for minimal reasons.

IMG_1576-2

American Exile © Graham MacIndoe

This interested me for personal reasons as, in a little-known piece of USA history, (Nolte, 1979), during the 2nd World War many Germans and Japanese were interned and then deported together with their whole families. My grandfather was one of these Germans.

History 1

Images posted with permission of, and thanks to Graham MacIndoe

References

Benmakhlouf, A. (2017). Graham MacIndoe on his new Edinburgh exhibition: The Skinny. [online] Theskinny.co.uk. Available at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/art/interviews/coming-clean-graham-macindoe [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Grahammacindoe.com. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.grahammacindoe.com/ [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Mansfield, S. (2017). Interview: Photographer Graham MacIndoe. [online] Scotsman.com. Available at: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/art/interview-photographer-graham-macindoe-1-4406856 [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nationalgalleries.org. (2017). Graham MacIndoe | Coming Clean. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/graham-macindoe-coming-clean?destination=exhibitions/current [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nolte, H. (1979). The Rejection of German Ethnocentrism in the United States. Thesis, Princeton University

Stellin, S. (2014). My Addiction, Through My Eyes. [online] NYMag.com. Available at: http://nymag.com/news/features/heroin-graham-macindoe-2014-2/index1.html [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Stellin, S. and MacIndoe, G. (2016). Chancers.