Category Archives: Photographers

The Beauty of Artificial Light

13/10/17

Images taken by artificial light have a different quality from those taken by natural light, however, that does not mean that they are all similar or that the colour palates or feelings invoked by those images are limited. The four photographers discussed below show a range of images taken at night or in the evening without the use of flash. Google searches of the images give an overview of the colours and contrasts between them.

Rut Blees Luxemburg (born 1967) has taken images at night with a medium format camera. These are very considered images. She says she will wander the streets and only take a few images a month. In the series ‘Leibesleid’ the images are intimate, of small, rarely considered areas, the edge of a street, a corner with writing on a wall, steps going down into water. She says, in an interview with Campany ‘space that allows for a moment of repose…… the quieter things are the more significant the sound’ (Campany, 2006).  The images are presented in a book along with writings by Alexander Garcia Düittmann which while not describing the them, rather talk to them as in a conversation with a lover. Luxemburg has also done a further series of images on a much grander scale, also at night, of the city and the tower blocks. An example is the image ‘Towering Inferno’ – a tower block at night looking straight into the windows from another tower. The colour palate of both series is very limited, golden yellows with browns, never quite absolute blacks. They are full of life, even though the people are not present, they have just stepped out of sight. A recent interview for Photoworks says ‘One can also think about the city as a ‘character’ in these photograph, one that’s alluring, open, glowing even… yet also ambiguously wet, slippery and dark.’ (Photoworks, 2017).

A simple google search for her images produced this, showing the limited colour palate and the coherence of her images:

untitled-98

There is a shocking contrast here between the alluring golds and the harsh red and black that was seen in the recent images of the Grenfell Tower fire. Life versus death pointed up by the colours without even the need for the stories.

Brassaï (1899 – 1984) was fascinated by night scenes and some of his most famous work is shown in ‘Paris de Nuit’. These are very different, often spacious scenes, not intimate even though they often show people as well as the places. The light is harsh and clean.

untitled-99

He is quoted as being influenced by the painter Georges de la Tour (1593 – 1652), who painted many pictures of people by candlelight. Interestingly de la Tour also mainly used a golden/brown warm colour palate. It would be interesting to know what colours the Brassaï images would have been if he had had the opportunity of using colour rather than black and white.

Georges_de_La_Tour_(atelier)_Saint_Jerome_lisant_Musee_Lorrain

Georges de la Tour (public domain)

Sato Shintaro’s (born 1980) images of Tokyo ‘Night Life’ are startling in their intensity, using highly saturated colour to show the neon signs and the vibrancy possible in artificial light. All colours are present. The images are fascinating, the city is shown as a place that is busy, alive and challenging but confusing. However, he has also taken a series of images ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ with more limited colour palates, red/green, blue/white. These are much softer, calmer, less confusing. It is hard to visualise that they are the same place as the other images.

Todd Hido (born 1968) is another photographer who has utilised artificial light in his night images of houses, shown in his book ‘House Hunting’. He describes finding one of the houses ‘I couldn’t even see across the street. I remember coming out of the flatlands and hitting this fog and it was just the most surreal and creepy neighborhood I’d ever seen. It had all the right combinations. I remember seeing that for the first time and just being blown away by it all … that sort of changed everything’ (Berton, 2006). The images of these houses at night have muted colours, greys and browns, mysterious, lacking in detail. They could be anyone’s house and are only identified by numbers not place names, often in a single colour palate. They are not dissimilar to his daytime images shown in ‘A Road Divided’, which are misty, often partially defocused evocative images. His style remains recognisable at all times of day.

References

Berton, J. (2006). Todd Hido and the ‘Art of Darkness’ (2006) | #ASX. [online] AMERICAN SUBURB X. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/09/theory-todd-hido-art-of-darkness.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Blees Luxemburg, R. and Garcia Düttmann, A. (2000). Liebeslied. UK: Black Dog Pub.

Campany, D. (2006). UNION. [online] Union-gallery.com. Available at: http://www.union-gallery.com/content.php?page_id=653 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Google.co.uk. (2017). brassai paris de nuit – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=brassai paris de nuit [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Google.co.uk. (2017). rut blees luxemburg liebeslied – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=rut blees luxemburg liebeslied [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Google.co.uk. (2017). sato shintaro – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=sato shintaro [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Hido, T. (2002). House hunting. Tucson, Ariz: Nazareli.

Hido, T. (2010). A Road Divided. Nazareli.

Photoworks. (2017). Jerwood/Photoworks Awards Mentor: Rut Blees Luxemburg | Photoworks. [online] Available at: https://photoworks.org.uk/interview-rut/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Sato-shintaro.com. (2017). Sato Shintaro Photo Gallery. [online] Available at: http://sato-shintaro.com/m/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Toddhido.com. (2017). Todd Hido. [online] Available at: http://www.toddhido.com/homes.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Edinburgh Exhibitions

09/10/17

Edinburgh Galleries have just had two exhibitions of old photographs.

The National Portrait Gallery is showing ‘A Perfect Chemistry’, the works of Hill and Adamson

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/perfect-chemistry-photographs-hill-and-adamson

while the Queens Gallery has ‘Shadows of War’ on Roger Fenton and his Crimea images.

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/shadows-of-war/the-queens-gallery-palace-of-holyroodhouse

A Perfect Chemistry.

David Octavius Hill (1802 – 1870) and Robert Adamson (1821 – 1848) are one of the most famous couples in photographic history. It all started, as it often does in Scotland, with an argument. In this case an argument within the church. In May 1843 there was a massive schism in the Church of Scotland where 400 ministers broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland, where they could choose their own path and the people had more say. There was a dramatic walk out from the General Assembly and a march though the New Town of Edinburgh which ended with the signing of the Deed of Demission several days later. Hill, who was at that point primarily a landscape painter, watched the march and decided to mark the gravity of the occasion with a painting of all the ministers involved. He started by making oil sketches but rapidly realised that this was an impossible task so looked for an alternative way. At this point he was introduced to Adamson, who was already an expert in the use of the new photographic method – the calotype. And so, it began.

Talbot’s image process, the calotype, was patented in England, but those patent rights did not extend to Scotland, so the Scottish images makers were free to experiment with it, and take large numbers of images. John Adamson, Robert Adamson’s older brother, altered the process to use potassium bromide rather than iodide as a fixative, but also introduced a lengthy washing to the prints. Both Adamsons became highly proficient in the making of calotypes which was shown by the vast number of images eventually produced.

Hill and Adamson did go on to make images of all the ministers which Hill eventually combined into a massive painting. The photographic images are redolent of the times, serious faced men, often leaning on books, looking sombrely out at the world. There are no women in this series as, of course, women could not be ministers in that era. The positioning of the men is at least partly to do with the demands of the calotype process, where, even when the sun was shining, the exposure could take up to several minutes, smiling would have been impossible, but would also have been thought inappropriate for an image of a man of the church.

After taking the images of the ministers, the partnership continued, photographing the great and good of Edinburgh society, by now including women, landscapes, building projects showing Edinburgh old and new and even at least one nude portrait. Many of the images were taken in Greyfriars Cemetery, cemeteries were a popular and romantic destination even then, and many were certainly influenced by the Romantic works of Sir Walter Scott, with people dressing to portray characters from his books. They also took images of military characters, such as drummers and soldiers from the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, which again Hill combined into a massive painting of people under Edinburgh Castle. One of the ventures of the duo was to capture images of the Newhaven fisherfolk, men, women and children. This is probably one of the first examples of photographic typology extant. The images are not snapshots, but carefully composed, often using the tools of the trade as props to allow for the extended time of image taking, but also using stands and clamps to hold people still. These were often taken out of the final image or ‘painted’ over. They had planned to produce a book of these images but this never materialised.

                Images by Hill and Adamson, courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland.

Their partnership was short, only four years, as Adamson died at 26 and Hill did not continue with the photographic work after his death, returning instead to painting and producing lithographs. However their work had a profound effect on the popularity and use of photography in Scotland, and still remains a massive achievement.

The exhibition was fascinating, accompanied by an audio recording explaining the history of the images and an extensive catalogue (Lyden, 2017). I found the images of the people surprisingly moving given that they had to sit for such a long period and they were clearly staged. They give a real sense of the people and places. The faces are the same as those you see in Edinburgh today, only the dress has changed.

Shadows of War

Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869) was a London based photographer who was commissioned to travel to the Crimea to take a series of images of the generals and other important figures there and to bring them back for the artist Thomas Barker to form a large oil painting depicting them all meeting. A meeting that could never have happened in reality. The war in Crimea, known then as the Russian War ran from 1853-55. Fenton travelled there in March 1855, leaving in June 1855 and was neither the first or the last photographer there, however his pictures were well advertised and shown around the country on his return to England and he is considered to be one of the first war photographers. He travelled to the Crimea with two assistants, his portable darkroom (a shed on wheels) and 700 plates which he prepared as needed, and brought back about 360 images.

                                               Images by Roger Fenton (public domain)

The exhibition shows many of his images together with others of the Crimean War, including its aftermath and the fall of Sevastopol, by which time Fenton had left the area. As with all photographers of that time many of the issues were staged, and some were ‘touched up’ with details before the final prints were made. He has been criticised as only showing the images that the authorities wanted the public to see, but in reality, many of his images are bleak in the extreme. He shows the chaos of the railways, the squalor of the camps as well as the set piece portraits of the generals that he was commissioned to take. Several are instantly recognisable – ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ with its cannonballs (even if they were placed there) is an iconic picture of a war-torn environment, while his haunting picture ‘Lord Balgonie’ has been suggested to be the first image of a soldier suffering from shell-shock.

                                    Images by Roger Fenton (public domain)

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive book (Fenton, Gordon and Pearson, 2017) with large plates and an historical overview together with an audio soundtrack about the images, this soundtrack is enhanced by Prince Harry talking about his own experiences of war and also by Don McCullin speaking about the difficulties of shooting pictures in those situations and the ethics of what can and what cannot be taken, how sometimes all you can do is bear witness.

At this stage one cannot know how many of his images were truly real, certainly at that time photographs were thought to show the absolute truth, although they could be altered and staged then as much as they can be now. They are possibly less overtly full of death than more recent war images, however they do show the aftermath of battle. It would have been nigh on impossible to take images in the middle of a firefight using collodion plates and long exposures. They are not ‘pretty’ or ‘romantic’ images – a world away from those of Hill and Adamson.

References

Fenton, R., Gordon, S. and Pearson, L. (2017). Shadows of war.

Lyden, A. (2017). A Perfect Chemistry.

Nationalgalleries.org. (2017). A Perfect Chemistry | Photographs by Hill and Adamson. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/perfect-chemistry-photographs-hill-and-adamson [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017].

Shadows of War (2017). Shadows of War: Roger Fentons Photographs of the Crimea, 1855. [online] Royalcollection.org.uk. Available at: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/shadows-of-war/the-queens-gallery-palace-of-holyroodhouse [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].

Light in All its Glory

18/09/17

Light is probably the most important thing when taking an image. You obviously need an image taking device of some sort, but this can be as simple as a piece of photosensitive paper or a pinhole camera, but light is essential. Complete darkness, although almost never present, makes it impossible to see or obtain an image. My father was a professional photographer, taking colour film images for sale for books and magazines long before the days of stock photography. He always used to say that the light you needed depended on what the photo was for. He would often avoid midday sun – too harsh, but might also avoid the evening light as the golden colour cast, while very attractive, was not what he was looking for. This was well before the days of being able to remove a colour cast by digital manipulation.

Sally Mann in an interview with Chinese Photography Magazine said ‘the light in the South is so different from the North, where you have this crisp and clear light. There is no mystery in that light. Everything is revealed in the Northern light. You have to live in the South to understand the difference. In summer, the quality of the air and light are so layered, complex, and mysterious, especially in the late afternoon. I was able to catch the quality of that light in a lot of the photos…….and also the refulgence or the reflection when light and water interact. There is no coating on the lens of my old camera, which permits a much softer and more luminous light. I am less interested in the facts of a picture than in the feelings. The facts don’t have to be absolutely sharp. I can get information across by appealing to viewer’s emotions’ (American Suburb X, 2013). Her images in the Southern Landscape series reflect this philosophy. They are not clear, sharp and flat but you feel you are looking into the images rather than at them. Sometimes only part of the image is visible, the remainder clouded in mist. The focus is variable – leaving you peering though the murk, wondering and imagining what might be there. I find myself blinking in a hope to see more clearly, to try and see what Mann saw on that day, at that particular time, at that moment. My favourite, much desired image, (simply identified by the year 1998) is very simple. A patch of light, surrounded by trees over grass, or possibly water. I keep changing my mind.

A completely different use of light is shown in the images of Schmidt. He said ‘I prefer black and white photography because it guarantees the viewer a maximum amount of neutrality within the limits of the medium. It reduces and neutralizes the coloured world to a finely nuanced range of greys, thus precluding an individual way of seeing (personal colour tastes) by the viewer. This means that the viewer is able to form an objective opinion about the image from a neutral standpoint independent of his subjective colour perception. He is thus not emotionally distracted. In order to achieve a maximum of objectivity and thus create a photograph which possesses credibility and authenticity as a document (factual information), I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows. The viewer must allow the objects portrayed in the photograph to take their effect upon him without being distracted by shadows or other mood effects. In this context, it is essential that the viewer should be able to recognize the depicted objects clearly and in relation to each other.’ (American Suburb X, 2010). Schmidt’s images are very different from those of Mann. They are clear, without obvious emotional content, explicitly showing the subject. As he said – you can recognise the subject easily and therefore make your own judgements on the content, rather than trying to interpret Schmidt’s thoughts and feelings. The images are relatively emotion free, (I do not think that any image can ever be completely devoid of emotional reading) and therefore what you see can become very personal. In his obituary for the Guardian, Delahaye said’ His language is a language of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small, 35mm camera, and a few rolls of films. His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity, give them great efficiency. They show what they show but they manage to retain an opacity, a mystery, and they become a support for our imagination’ (O’Hagan, 2014).

Atget, much earlier on in the development of photography, was very aware of the effects of light and varied his technique over time, initially using the relatively neutral light at midday to produce images that give information about the ‘facts’ while images from later in his career are very different ‘Atget’s late photographs, however, are frequently marked by subjective light and deep shadows. Often made early in the morning, these pictures—such as Parc de Sceaux—use light and shadow to create a mood rather than to describe a place; they mark the apex of Atget’s formal and expressive investigations of the medium.’ (Nga.gov,2017).

All these examples are of photographers who usually took monochrome images where it is often easier to see changes in light intensity, together with the effect of the direction of the light. A further layer of complexity is added in when using colour as the temperature of the light varies as well as it’s apparent quality. Light in the morning and evening is warmer, and may be very red at sunrise and sunset, while it is a more neutral colour at midday. The following table from Cambridge in Colour (Cambridgeincolour.com,2017) helpfully summarises the effects of light throughout the day.

Time of Day   Contrast Colors Direction of Sun
1. Midday Highest Neutral White Near Vertical
2. Evening & Morning High Slightly Warm Mid to Low
3. Golden Hour & Sunrise/Sunset Medium Warm to Fiery Near Horizontal
4. Twilight, Dawn & Dusk Low Cool Pastel Below Horizon

References

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2010). MICHAEL SCHMIDT: “Thoughts About My Way of Working” (1979) | #ASX. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/10/michael-schmidt-thoughts-about-my-way-of-working-1979.html [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2013). INTERVIEW: Sally Mann – “The Touch of an Angel” (2010) – ASX | Photography & Culture. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/01/interview-sally-mann-the-touch-of-an-angel-2010.html [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

Cambridgeincolour.com. (2017). Making the Most of Natural Light in Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/natural-light-photography.htm [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].

Nga.gov. (2017). Atget: The Art of Documentary Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.nga.gov/feature/atget/work.shtm [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

O’Hagan, S. (2014). Michael Schmidt obituary. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/28/michael-schmidt [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].

 

Nudes Never Wear Glasses

An Exhibition at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh by Kate Davis

12/09/17

Kate Davis is an artist with a wide range of skills including drawing, photography and film making, all of which are used in her solo exhibition at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. She is a feminist and uses many archival images to engage her audience with her ideas. Her website says ‘Davis’ artwork is an attempt to reconsider what certain histories could look, sound and feel like. This has often involved responding to the aesthetic and political ambiguities of historical art works and their reception.’ (Katedavisartist.co.uk, 2017).

The exhibition consists of a space that is divided up by brick walls, which themselves are part of the experience. These are hung with images developed from found photographs that are subversive and also amusing. The first is a nude statue with added glasses.  You then enter a space which shows two alternating films, ‘Charity’ and ‘Weight’, and on searching further past another wall more images. The exhibition is accompanied by an essay by Laureen Dyer Amazeen who says ‘As I reflect back on her use of bricks throughout the installation, the brick can be seen of fundamental value. Foundations are built, brick by brick. Metaphorically, the excerpts, references, extracts, snippets of recorded everyday experiences are the bricks though (from) which she builds a premise, a dwelling – a place in the world.’ (Dyer Amazeen, 2017).

untitled

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

Writing for MAP magazine Victoria Horne comments Visitors to Nudes Never Wear Glasses are welcomed by a found photograph of a classical nude statue, to which Davis has added the eponymous glasses, crudely scratched onto the surface. This act of détournement re-presents Spence’s words as visual prank: playfully exposing the contradictions between body and intellect, femininity and rationality, that have underpinned modern art and its institutions. That the statue is clearly located in a pedagogical studio environment adds weight to this critique, intimating by association the educational logic that prohibited women artists from entering the classroom, while glorifying abstract femininity within. The photograph thus establishes key feminist themes that characterise much of Davis’ output, preparing visitors for the witty archival retrievals to follow.’ (Horne, 2017).

‘Weight’ uses a BBC documentary on Barbara Hepworth as a starting point and looks at the perceived roles of woman and how they can be balanced against the intense life of being an artist – or can they? Which is more valuable? Again, in MAP, Horne describes it as ‘Adhering to the leisurely pace and formal conventions of the BBC documentary format, Davis comically undermines this familiar style from the outset. Against the dated sounds of folksy guitar music, Weight’s opening title sequence ambiguously locates the study in ‘1961 or thereabouts’. At the same time a platter of dramatically staged potato peelings revolves on a turnstile, further alerting the audience to the strange reversals to come……One of Weight’s key contributions is to highlight the uneven appreciation of domestic care work in comparison with the solitary, creative pursuits of the artist.’ (Horne, 2016).

untitled-3

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

‘Weight’ is available to see on BBC iPlayer at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wkNLQBpFhTC8yXyxlZYqJD/weight-by-kate-davis

‘Charity’ is a newly produced film that talks about the work of women in bringing up children, specifically in breastfeeding. It recently won the Margaret Tait award. On receipt of the award Davis said ‘Working with the moving image has become an increasingly important part of my practice in recent years and the Margaret Tait Award will be invaluable in enabling me to realise my most ambitious and experimental moving image work to date. Inspired by the ways in which Margaret Tait’s films invite us to contemplate fundamental emotions and everyday activities that are often overlooked, I propose to investigate how the essential, but largely invisible and unpaid, processes we employ to care for others and ourselves can inform both the subject of my film and the way it is made’ (Glasgow Film Festival, 2016). The film intersperses archival images of painting and statues of breastfeeding women throughout the ages with pictures of ordinary household practices such as washing up. I found it fascinating but difficult to decipher whether it was talking about mothers breastfeeding their own children or wet nurses doing a job. Clearly that was at least part of the point – is looking after your own child a job, should you have a contract and join a union – or is it an expected part of being a woman?

untitled-4

©Kate Davis Image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

When you turn and leave the exhibition the last image you are confronted with is another altered image. This time of a man, a Minuteman, which has been altered to look as though he is breastfeeding. A final comment on roles – and possible role reversal in the present age.

untitled-2

©Kate Davis image taken and posted with permission of Stills Gallery

This is a powerful exhibition, although it does warrant close study. I initially went with my daughter who was too impatient to sit though the films and left wondering what it was about. I then returned with more time to sit and think.  This made me realise that so often I just rush though an exhibition – taking in the highlights, missing the subtleties. The use of found and then altered images pointed up how we should/can/might change our viewpoint in life, thinking about gender stereotypes, women as housewives not intellectuals or artists, men as soldiers not carers. It also reminded me of the use of walls, to divide things, to hide things, to separate people. I was recently at Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to separate civilised land from the wild North. One of the exhibitions in Tullie House Museum, Carlisle looked at the theme of walls in present day society (Tullie House, 2017). This exhibition is about walls between men and women, between traditional roles and expanded or reversed roles but a wall remains a wall until it is totally removed.

References

BBC. (2014). BBC Arts – Weight by Kate Davis – BBC Arts. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wkNLQBpFhTC8yXyxlZYqJD/weight-by-kate-davis [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Dyer Amazeen, L. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses.

Glasgow Film Festival (2016). Artist Kate Davis Announced as Winner of 2061/17 Margaret Tait Award.

Horne, V. (2016). The Weight of History | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9935/weight-history/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Horne, V. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9991/nudes-never-wear-glasses/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Katedavisartist.co.uk. (2017). About: Kate Davis. [online] Available at: http://katedavisartist.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].

Stills.org. (2017). Kate Davis: ‘Nudes Never Wear Glasses’ | Stills Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.stills.org/exhibition/current-exhibition/kate-davis-nudes-never-wear-glasses [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017]

Tullie House (2017). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery | Art – History – Nature of Carlisle, Cumbria. [online] Tulliehouse.co.uk. Available at: http://www.tulliehouse.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Response to Tutor Comments for Assignment 3

08/09/17

Assignment Comments:

Tutor comments are  in blue (main points only copied here), my responses in black

Looking at your final series, I felt they all worked well together except for the final picture. I understand why you included it but the scale is quite different from the other pictures. The other pictures are about the photographer as subject, whereas this final picture is about how the camera frames the view, producing a rectilinear ‘slice’ of a ‘scene’ from the vantage point of the photographer.

On thinking about this further I agree that the final image is ‘out of kilter’ with the other images. I originally put it in because I liked it and I was pleased with the effect – but it is more about the camera than the people – while the rest of the images are definitely about the people. It needs to come out of the series for final presentation.

The prints were of sufficient quality for assessment. They appear a touch lighter than your screen images but this is probably due to the difference in viewing conditions. Backlit always looks a little different than paper. If you wanted to adjust this, I would start by looking at the brightness to which you calibrate your monitor.

I was aware they were a little lighter than the screen, but was not sure which was better, my screen brightness is difficult to adjust, and the room it is in gets a lot of light falling on the screen, so that maybe part of the issue. I do calibrate the screen vis a Spyder 3 – but possibly not often enough, so this is something to watch out for.

Despite your card backed and padded envelopes, the prints still arrived with a bent corner.

Something to watch out for – I previously used a clam shell box for final prints – so need to consider this again.

The research section appears to be going well on your blog. One thing I would suggest is to add dates to the posts as this makes it much easier for me to work out what is new and what isn’t.

Taken on board from now. This makes sense as easier to follow, and updates to a post can be separately dated.

It’s not completely clear from your exhibition write ups if you are attending these independently or as part of group study visits.

All my exhibition visits have been solo (or with family).  Need to look for more opportunities for group study visits, so far, by sheer bad luck, all the ones up North have been while I was either away, or at work. However, there is a study group that meets in Glasgow – so that may be a possibility.

A good next step might be to start writing a diary every time you go out and shoot, or whenever you think about photographs. Try to pick out from that what you find interesting and stick with it

Interestingly, I had already started doing this, as I was finding that I was not keeping track of what I was doing, thinking or reading. An extension of this would to add a brief weekly summary to my blog, with key points.

Suggested Reading/Viewing – Parr and Reas

 Martin Parr.

I was already aware of the work of Martin Parr and his exploration of Britain in images as well as other areas. I took this opportunity to have a further look at his extensive oeuvre via his website and came across three pieces of work that are particularly relevant to my assignment on the decisive moment.

  1. Milan Fashion Week; here Parr takes images of the crowd’s extensive use of devices, mainly mobile phones, while at the event. Sometimes it is clear that they are photographing the scene, other times taking selfies, other times they are just looking at their phone, maybe texting or using social media. In this group of images, few of the protagonists appear to be engaged with the event, which either says something about the event, or, more likely, about the perceived importance of social media and your engagement with it, and therefore how it often ‘takes over’ peoples time and thought processes.
  2. Too Much Photography: this article from Parr’s blog talks about the present use of photography by just about everyone, everywhere they go. He says, ‘Now mobile phone cameras and digital photography mean that the entire visit is documented. From the moment the tourist enters the site, everyone has to be photographed in front of every feature of note. Now it is almost impossible for me to shoot a photo where someone is NOT taking a picture or posing for one. ……. My theory is that the act of photographing ourselves at tourist sites becomes so important because it makes us feel reassured that we are a part of the recognisable world’ (Martinparr.com, 2012). I tend to agree with his thoughts here, but would extend it to saying that we feel that we are part of the world and that this fact must be recorded, but, as Parr asks – what happens to the images, and who looks at them. I am aware that personally I shoot thousands of ‘useless’ images that don’t contribute in any valued way to the world, or even to my remembrance of it. Less would definitely be more.
  3. The Selfie Stick: again from Parr’s blog, he talks about the ubiquity of the use and availability of selfie sticks to take images of yourself, or the family, in front of tourist attractions. This doesn’t seem to have taken off to the same degree in Scotland (possibly because we are more often holding umbrellas). I think I prefer this trend to the trend of just taking a selfie at arm’s length, which could be anywhere and talks only about ones own self.

Many of the images he shows are quirky, full of humour and with a somewhat sideways take on modern society. The point he makes is enhanced by the use of series of images which clarify visually the trends shown.

Paul Reas.          

Paul Reas is a new name to me.  He is a social documentary photographer who uses colour images to show British culture and is considered to be in the same genre of British photographers as Martin Parr.  His book ‘I can Help’ documents the consumer culture, while ‘Flogging a Dead Horse’ (1993)’ presents a nationwide survey of the emergence of the ‘heritage industry’: museums and theme parks such as Beamish Open  Air Museum that offered a nostalgic and often commercialised version of the past in the wake of the collapse of heavy manufacturing and industry’ (Shutter Hub, 2013). The image ‘Flogging a Dead Horse, Man with a Movie Camera’ shows a man in a smart outfit looking intently though his camera. It would be interesting to know his thoughts, and whether he had ever worked in the type of industry he was photographing.  In an article about the series by The British Council – Visual Arts it is described as ‘The tourist of the nineties, with camcorder and auto-focus camera, expects a ‘hands-on’ experience. But the trouble with Heritage Culture is that the safe inconsequential history it markets doesn’t educate, it only sedates its audience. Heritage is meretricious history that never challenges the present. Consumerist history: history for a disposable income. Like a steam train, it takes you on a pleasant ride to nowhere, and then back to where you started.‘ (Visualarts.britshcouncil.org, 1994).

Man With Movie Camera  © Paul Reas

Man With Movie Camera © Paul Reas

Image posted with kind permission of Paul Reas

Reas’s images are gritty and do not feel as slick as those of Parr, they are not as ‘amusing’ but they do get under your skin in the same way, giving an ironic take on the culture we live in and how it is influenced by the need to seek out pleasures and record them, even if those recordings never reach the light of a photograph album.

References:

Martinparr.com. (2012). Too Much Photography | Martin Parr. [online] Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/2012/too-much-photography/ [Accessed 5 Sep. 2017].

Shutter Hub. (2013). Paul Reas – Day Dreaming About The Good Times? on the Shutter Hub Blog. [online] Available at: https://shutterhub.org.uk/blog/paul-reas-day-dreaming-about-the-good-times [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Visualarts.britishcouncil.org. (1994). BEAMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM ‘THE NORTHERN EXPERIENCE’, Paul Reas | Portfolios | Collection | British Council – Visual Arts. [online] Available at: http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/portfolios/flogging-a-dead-horse/object/beamish-open-air-museum-the-northern-experience-reas-1992-flogging-a-dead-horse-p6174/view/portfolio/initial/a/page/1 [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

How to Read a Photograph

Some thoughts jotted down while reading the book

Focus in book is on the historical greats. Most now deceased although some not

  • Need to know the background of the photographer to understand the image
    • Where from
    • Interests
    • What else they have done in the past (or are doing now)
      • Andre Kertesz, moved to Paris after a stint ion the Great War. Apolitical and interested in people. Lived where popular culture was important for photography and of great interest, therefore published.
  • What is photographed changes over time, but also will often reappear
    • But – this may not be for the same reasons
      • Atget – rag pickers and rubbish, street scenes with the emphasis on people as opposed to Krull where the emphasis is on the equipment
      • Cartier-Bresson – transit camps pre-echoes the pictures of refugee camps at Calais. Photographer as a witness
    • Photographers and writers often work together to produce a book.
      • Sometimes one is the driving force e.g. An illustrated story versus a photobook with additional words
        • Brassai and Morand – Paris de Nuit
        • Godwin and Hughes – Remains of Elmet
  • Need to understand the wider art context of the era images were made.
    • An idea, thought or feeling versus straightforward documentation of an event
    • May be staged
    • Or only minimal parts shown enough to tell the story
      • Bravo and his idea of the invisible and showing states of mind
      • Moriyamo street scenes similar intent now
        • Understanding and meaning of image does not remain static, will change with the viewer and over time
  • War photography may tell stories about people that are not always the soldiers
    • Reportage with stories
    • Immediacy
    • Story may be more important than the technique
      • Capa – feeling not focus
  • What is the person in the photo saying?
    • Do we have their words recorded?
    • Do we imagine it?
    • Do you need the words or do the objects tell the story?
      • Lange versus Rothstein
  • Photographs as montages
    • People placed against a background – constructed images
    • Pictures placed side by side
  • Information by inference
    • Shahn
    • Farm security administration
  • Relationship between the photographer’s art and their take on religion
    • Minor White and Zen – the indifference of the camera
  • Interesting note that lots of photographers initially trained as something else
    • Why? Why not start out as photographers
      • Seymour (Chim) a pianist
      • Ansel Adams also a pianist
      • Winograd a weather forecaster
  • Use of night photos
    • High contrast, graphic detail
    • Use areas of excitement e.g. Movies, fairgrounds
    • Allows focus on the idea of a place rather than the detail
      • Faurer
      • Bovis
  • Put personal anxieties into pictures
    • Think about communities and how do they affect you
    • Community versus exclusion
    • Are you an insider or outside them?
      • Winograd
      • Arbus and the strange people
  • Use of words in images
    • May be factual but also ironic
    • Give meaning/ explanation of time or place
    • Often tiny but critical
    • Over time became more deliberate as photographers aware of importance of sign and symbolism
      • Eggleston
      • Adams
      • Friedlander
  •  Japanese photographers – images without text
    • The pictures alone are enough
    • Witnesses to history, recording but possibly / probably not making a difference
    • Atmosphere rather than detail
    • But maybe need explanation of thought processes
  • Topography
    • Use of transit landscapes
    • How important is where an image is taken rather than what it is?
    • Use of colour
      • Meyerowitz
      • Shore

Overall impression:

Knowing the history and background of the photographer may change your understanding of the image

Things go in circles over time, however, while the types of images may be similar, the reasoning behind them may be very different

Look carefully as a tiny detail may change the entire meaning

Each generation builds on the previous therefore the more you look and study images from different eras the more you can understand the present thoughts.

Compare with Photography as a Contemporary Art by Cotton (Cotton, 2015) where the focus is on the style of photography rather than the individuals and their personalities. Both approaches are useful.

Think about the purpose of the image: as art, to instruct, to give information, advertisement, propaganda

Would have been interesting if went on to cover more of the recent photographers in a similar style.

References

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Jeffrey, I. (2008). How to read a photograph. London: Thames & Hudson.

 

Further Thoughts on Assignment 2

Gill, Dijkstra and Gotts.

As part of his feedback for assignment 2 my tutor suggested I should look at some portrait photographers who work in different ways. Each produces a typology of ‘heads’ (and shoulders!) that you may find interesting. What links these photographers and yourself is the idea of linking the portraits through a common theme.’

I found this very interesting, and could have ended up spending the next several weeks just on this part of an assignment review.

Stephen Gill (born 1971) is widely exhibited, but also produces a series of handmade photobooks on his latest series of images. Field Studies is one of these and is described on the publishing website as ‘serial studies of mundane British scenes and objects including cash points, lost people, the back of advertising billboards and people traveling on the London to Southend train. His visual approach is unique, combining conceptual rigour with enormous sympathy for his human subjects’ (Gill, 2004). This book includes his ‘Audio Portraits’ of people wearing headphones. In these images the people seem totally bound up in their music, looking far away at times, and not always aware of the photographer. The images show a range of ages and races, the only apparent link is the headphones, and the place – a city street. A further series focuses on the shopping trolleys people use, apparently secondary to his use of a trolley after an injury (Gentle Author, 2011). I found these portraits fascinating as they focused on the everyday lives of people you see in the street, not the famous, the great or the good, but the people you meet and probably normally just walk past. He clearly engaged with them and enabled them to relax, or even to ‘chill out’ while taking a portrait that is sympathetic but not full of pathos, and which includes the often drear surroundings.

Rineke Dijkstra (born1959) has just won the 2017 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. She concentrates on portraiture, often works with series, either of the same person over a prolonged time period or of a specific event in peoples lives. She has photographed bullfighters just out of the ring, adolescents on the cusp of adulthood and a series of images of women just after childbirth, which is one of the most vulnerable points in any woman’s life. Her work is described as deadpan by Cotton ‘The unsentimental approach that Dijkstra makes in her representation of maternity…… visualised the profound shift in the women’s changing relationships to their bodies…… something we might never have observed without such a systematic and detached photographic style’. (Cotton,2014).

Smyth says in the BJPRineke Dijkstra’s photographs and films speak brilliantly to the intricacy of the portrait image: its embodiment in time; its capacity to reveal history; the contingency of the act of exchange between sitter, photographer and spectator; and, ultimately, photography’s revelation of the self.’ (Smyth, 2017)

On describing her 2012 retrospective Time Magazine says ‘Hoping to catch people with their defences down, Dijkstra started to photograph them in the aftermath of some exhausting event. She got women to pose soon after giving birth, usually standing naked while they cradled their new-borns. By 1994 she was also making portraits of Portuguese forcados—amateur bullfighters who enter the ring in unarmed groups to subdue the bulls bare-handed. She photographed them right after they returned from the fight, bloody, scuffed and dented.’ (Lacayo, 2012).

I find her work poignant, it may well be systematic, but it is not detached. She shows life in all its variable glory, ups and downs as well as the spectacular moments.

I also found Andy Gotts who, amongst other images, has produced a series of portraits of BAFTA award winners that was exhibited under the title ‘Behind the Mask’ in 2014.  The images are show the great and good of the acting world who have either won or been nominated for a BAFTA. Gotts says, ‘I have always been a movie buff and getting the opportunity to meet my matinée idols is beyond a dream come true’ (Bafta.org,2013).  Janette Dalley, who worked with him on the exhibition describes ‘a masterclass in minimalist photography’ (Gotts, 2014) and Anna Allalouf, the curator, says ‘it feels profoundly vulnerable to go under the camera’s gaze when you don’t have a ‘role’ …. perhaps the camera has stolen (heaven forbid!) a little piece of one’s soul’ (Gotts, 2014) but goes on to describe how his simple and quiet process does not actually feel invasive.

The images are a mixture of colour and monochrome, chosen, I feel, to reflect the person. Some are contemplative, some brash and some, such as the portrait of Ralph Fiennes, made me initially smile, and then laugh out loud. The two that I found most entrancing were Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf, among other roles) and Christopher Walken – to me an unfamiliar face, but the portrait makes me feel I might know him. It is this quality of intimacy that drew me to his images. The people are famous and must have been photographed many, many times, but there is a feeling of Gotts reaching out to who, not just what, they are. This is a quality I would like to be able to emulate.

Learning points:

  • Observation not invasion
  • Both colour and monochrome are valuable – but give a different feeling
  • Know and understand your subjects
  • Be gentle (not quite the correct word – but neither is kind).

References

Bafta.org. (2013). BAFTA and Andy Gotts MBE to Exhibit ‘Behind The Mask’ Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.bafta.org/media-centre/press-releases/bafta-and-andy-gotts-mbe-to-exhibit-behind-the-mask-photography [Accessed 21 Jul. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Gentle Author (2011). Stephen Gill’s Trolley Portraits | Spitalfields Life. [online] Spitalfieldslife.com. Available at: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/10/03/stephen-gills-trolley-portraits/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gill, S. (2004). Hackney Kisses. [online] Stephen Gill. Available at: https://www.nobodybooks.com/product/hackney-kisses-print-edition [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gotts, A. (2014). Behind the mask. London: British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Lacayo, R. (2012). Rineke Dijkstra Makes the Awkward Sublime. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/16182/rineke-dijkstra/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Smyth, D. (2017). Rineke Dijkstra wins the 2017 Hasselblad Award. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/03/rineke-dijkstra-wins-the-2017-hasselblad-award/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].