Category Archives: 2: Lens work

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.

 

 

Fay Godwin and Catherine Hyland

Deep Depth of Field.

Project 2 : Lenswork

Fay Godwin (1931-2005) is famously known for her landscape images, but she started out as a portrait photographer. It was only when she separated from her husband that she chose a change of direction. She developed a formidable body of landscape work and published several books which contain both images and words, some written by her and some done in collaboration with other writers, such as her book Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, where the images go alongside poems by Ted Hughes. Her book ‘The Edge of the Land’ contains a series of stunning images of Britain’s coast together with essays talking about the vast range of people she met while taking these images and giving their personal stories. (Godwin, 1995).

Godwin said (quoted in an article in Amateur Photographer), “I’ve been called a Romantic photographer and I hate it, it sounds slushy and my work is not slushy. I’m a documentary photographer, my work is about reality, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t be creative.” (Clark, 2010). In her final interview with David Corfield she said “I don’t get wrapped up in technique and the like. I have a simple rule and that is to spend as much time in the location as possible. You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years. And in fact, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a definitive picture of something. The land is a living, breathing thing and light changes its character every second of every day. That’s why I love it so much.” (Corfield, 2004)

One of her books ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) is credited with helping change the English Law on public access. She was outspoken and had a deep love and care for the environment together with an abiding interest in the people she met while researching the areas she would photograph.

Margaret Drabble talks about Godwin in the Guardian and says ‘Her photographs of lochs and glens and standing stones with solitary sheep are hauntingly memorable. They have a Wordsworthian timelessness, a sense of the Wordsworthian sublime. Her imagination, like his, was attracted by the barren, the grand and the bleak. These archetypal landscapes are probably the most enduring tributes to her great talent, and they are enduring in every sense – she catches the spirits of places that have been worn and weathered, deserted and abandoned, and yet still speak to us.  (Drabble 2011)

Her photography is monochrome, with a deep depth of field and are very crisp. You are in the landscape she photographs and it surrounds you. The images imply scents and sounds. Her photographs of the groynes at Pett Level in East Sussex instantly reminded me of the similar ones on the beach of my childhood in West Sussex.

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Groynes, Pagham Beach, West Sussex – In homage to Fay Godwin

Catherine Hyland also uses deep depth of field in her recent series of images taken in China and Mongolia, Universal Experience, where she pictures the effects people have had on a vast and barren environment. In an interview, she says “The aim is to shine a light on both the strange and sublime nature of these spaces, Giant Buddhas that exist in small desolate villages in rural China, and expansive mountainscapes with barely any visitors. Whether it’s sites of historical importance or natural splendour each is approached with a heightened awareness of its significance as a place of beauty and grandeur. Landscape is seen primarily as a cultural construct and only secondarily as a natural phenomenon.”. (Brewer,2017).

On her website (Catherinehyland.co.uk) you can see her images depicting ‘The attempts to control and manage the landscape are both a part of this overcoming of the past, and also an attempt to transform nature into a theme park for contemporary consumption. Implicit in this attempt is the idea that the earthquakes, the landslides, the famines, invasions and the floods are a thing of a great and colourful past. They are part of a history that has been transformed into nostalgia. But…… there might be an underlying anxiety to this enclosed world…. a reminder that the land does not pay heed to humanity’s wishes. It can and it will bite back no matter how much we try to tame it. The only question is when’.

Her images are colourful, clear and massive. You overlook the area and I find them overwhelming, even though many show people, themselves enjoying the view. Here the depth of field leads your eye outward, to the infinite distance and beyond.

References:

Brewer, J. (2017). Catherine Hyland explores the vast, yet eerily barren tourist destinations of China and Mongolia. [online] It’s Nice That. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/catherine-hyland-universal-experience-photographs-160217 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Catherinehyland.co.uk. (2017). Catherine Hyland. [online] Available at: http://catherinehyland.co.uk/universal.html [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Clark, D. (2010). Fay Godwin 1931-2005 – Iconic Photographer – Amateur Photographer. [online] Amateur Photographer. Available at: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/fay-godwin-1931-2005-iconic-photographer-18907 [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Corfield, D. (2004). No Man’s Land – Fay Godwin’s last interview. [online] ePHOTOzine. Available at: https://www.ephotozine.com/article/no-man-s-land—fay-godwin-s-last-interview-67 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Drabble, M. (2011). Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Godwin, F. (1990). Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Godwin, F. (1995). The edge of the land. London: Cape.

Press, S. (2017). Catherine Hyland’s Universal Experience. [online] Ignant.com. Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2017/03/03/catherine-hylands-universal-experience/ [Accessed 16 May 2017].

 

 

Mona Kuhn and Saul Leiter

Shallow Depth of Field in Photography.

Project 2: Lenswork

Mona Kuhn was born in 1969 in Brazil of German parents. She was given her first camera age 12 and has been taking photographs ever since.  She is a well-known photographer whose main interest lies in images of people, often nude. In an interview related to her exhibition Acido Dorado, Kuhn says ‘I see the body as a residence to our emotions, our soul, our inner selves. Gauguin has a wonderful painting titled “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” from 1897. I think it summarises a question we all have, but one that I decided to use as basis to my source of inspiration. I photograph the human in us, without shame, without regret, free and timeless………I start my creative process by imagining colors. I don’t know why, but coloration comes to me first. From there I tie in emotion, then location and last the people’ (Arciniegas, 2014).

David Campany (Campany, 2014) says, when talking about a later body of work – Private ‘At times Mona Kuhn takes the challenge head on, making views of crystal clarity in which light and land are one.  At other times she prefers a wide aperture and a shallow depth of field for her photographs…… Early mornings, early evenings and the moments of respite offered by shadows and sequestered interiors.’

Balthazar

Balthazar © Mona Kuhn

Evidence is a series that portrays nudes taken in a naturist camp in France. There are 55 images, mainly of young, beautiful people (Balthazar) where much, or sometimes all of the image is taken at a shallow depth of field, forcing the eye to initially concentrate on a single person or a small detail. The people are often glancing sideways, looking out of the page or across it. Few seem to be engaged directly with the photographer, but equally they are aware of her, maybe she is not important to them, or, they are so comfortable with her presence they are ignoring her. In describing the images Baldwin says, ‘the overarching accomplishment here is that the photographer has managed to balance complicated layers of relationships, of sitter to sitter, of sitter to self, of model to photographer; ……to establish a complex set of ambiguities played out in an apparently egalitarian, if not an outrightly utopian society.’ (Kuhn and Baldwin, 2007) The images appear to follow the story of a day, from a brilliant, and soft-focus, sunrise though daytime activities to night-time quietude and languor. There is the occasional relief from all the youth and beauty, an old man staring into space (Mon Frere), a room with only a chair in partial focus (An Absence) and these are the images I am drawn to. The images that are completely out of focus (Reflecting) are edgy and uncomfortable, leaving you wondering what is happening, what has happened and what might come next. The story is only partly told. Imagination is free.

Reflecting

Reflecting © Mona Kuhn

 

Saul Leiter is another photographer who often uses a shallow depth of field.to draw attention to a specific point such as in Carol Brown (1958 for Harper’s Bazaar) or Walking (c. 1948) and to ‘create great swathes of colour’ (Pill, 2017) for example, Taxi (1957) or Through Boards (1957).

Taxi_Leiter

Taxi © Saul Leiter Estate

In the introduction to Saul Leiter (Leiter and Kozloff, 2008) Kozloff says ‘far from being a traditionalist, he is in the forefront of photographic innovators, daring for his time……..he considers what lies underneath, is off to the side, or gets in the way of his nominal subject………One notices his enjoyment of the downy texture or foamy substance when selected passages are out of focus.’

Andrew Dickson, in a review for the Guardian, said ‘Many photographs hover on the boundaries of abstraction, planes canting towards each other than cavorting away again; often they are riddles that never quite resolve…….Leiter uses mirrors and windows to tease the eye, piling half-glimpsed images on top of each other – the sharp white of a woman’s shawl imprinting itself on to the palm-leaf design of a shop dummy’s dress, or, as in Reflection (1958), a chiming collision of reflected faces caught in glazing. Just as frequently, condensation, rain or snow films and fogs the frame. Often what we most want to see is held tantalisingly out of reach (Dickson, 2016).

Carol Brown_Leiter

Carol Brown © Saul Leiter Estate

Roberta Smith wrote ‘Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.’ (Smith, 2005).

Leiter himself said ‘But I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty – a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologise for it.” (In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter, 2012).

Leiter’s images are sometimes soft, sometimes acidly clear and always alluring. His early images were black and white but he embraced the use of colour very early on. He was not well-known in his early life and is only recently being lauded. His images draw you in, there is mystery but you are part of it rather than standing outside looking in. These are images that I would hang on my wall and dream over.

Images posted with permission of and thanks to Mona Kuhn and the Saul Leiter Foundation

References:

Arciniegas, T. (2014). An Interview with Mona Kuhn ahead of her London Show at Flowers Gallery. [online] Losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/an-interview-with-mona-kuhn-ahead-of.html [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Campany, D. (2014). MONA KUHN. [online] Monakuhn.com. Available at: http://www.monakuhn.com/pages/view/campany/ [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Dickson, A. (2016). Made in Manhattan: how Saul Leiter found beauty in Gotham’s glass and grime. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/15/made-in-manhattan-how-saul-leiter-found-beauty-in-gothams-glass-and-grime [Accessed 13 May 2017].

In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter. (2012). [DVD] Tomas Leach

Kuhn, M. and Baldwin, G. (2007). Evidence. Gottingen: Steidl, p.9.

Leiter, S. and Kozloff, M. (2008). Saul Leiter. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Pill, S. (2017). Light, Form and Soul. Black and White, February, pp.38-45.

Smith, R. (2005). Art in Review; Saul Leiter. [online] Query.nytimes.com. Available at: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9901E3D81330F933A05751C1A9639C8B63 [Accessed 13 May 2017].