Category Archives: Research & Reflection

Weeks (3) ending 20/10/17

20/10/17

Not a very productive 3 weeks!

Photography;

  • more images of the cottage by artificial light
  • lots of attempts at studio work for exercise 4.4 – with variable success

Reading:

  • Stephen Shore – The Nature of Photographs, interesting and easy to follow
  • Leibesleid – Rut Blees Luxemberg – fascinating images especially when read alongside the prose poem accompaniment.
  • The photographic Image in Digital Culture – Martin Lister – complex arguments about what is an image when it is made up of pixels and electrons in the ether.  Does how the image is made matter? Is it the vision or the actual print that is important – how does it effect indexicality.

Thinking:

  • How do I portray autism in images –
    • can I use items from the ADOS (diagnostic) kit – looking at imaginative versus concrete thinking
    • how do you show  altered sensation?- overlay sensory organ with something else – or is that too obvious
  • About light and its role in photography – Todd v Luxemberg v Shintaro
  • From Notes – quote by Robert Frank ‘Tell them to make work that is close to their heart. It seems to me that no-one can expect more than this’ (Notes, Autumn-Winter 2016, p 18).

Attended the Study Day in Glasgow – needs a write up.

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].

Summary week ending 29/09/17

Photography

  • sheep being loaded into a truck
  • indoor and outside images, night and day of cottage – thinking about light
  • boys and their toys ( guns and tanks)

Thinking

  • mainly about effects of light and night versus day. 
  • planning for assignment 4 – inside/outside views of cottage though the windows
  • ways of looking – someone commented on OCA website that it was just as much plagiarism o copy other peoples views as to use their words without proper citations 

Reading

  • SSHoP – interesting article about self portraiture, also about Carla van de Putelaar
  • Roger Fenton -related to Crimea war images
  • Hill and Adamson  – Edinburgh exhibition 

Visited the St Andrews Photography Festival – several interesting things there, especially the external images – most people completely ignoring them, leaning on them  – needs a detailed write up.

 

A Way of Looking

30/0 9/17

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about the art of looking, and it is indeed an art. It is far to easy to glance at an image, whether it is a photograph, a painting or even a sculpture and think ‘oh, I get it, that’s a man, house, apple or a dog.’ What is not easy is to understand what went into the making of the image and even less easy to consider what it means to the artist or what it might mean to another person.
I have also been thinking about the need (or not) of understanding the ‘theory’ of art and its place in the world we inhabit in the 21st century, which is certainly very different from its place in earlier centuries when it was often mainly the purview of the rich or the important, or part of the religious/spiritual world.
Last week I had a ‘lightbulb moment’, call it an epiphany if you will. I would not treat someone for a disorder without carefully examining them, listening to their past and present symptoms, researching the possible range of treatments and thinking carefully about all the options. Why should I not treat art with the same care and consideration?

There are two parallel strands to this. One is about learning how to take the best images I can, which talk, at least to myself, but hopefully also to others, about what is important to me and my view of the world. This does mean being open and allowing others the opportunity of seeing myself, my thoughts. The other strand is doing other artists (I am considering photographers in the main) the courtesy of thinking carefully about their worlds. This means learning about the present themes in all art, being open to areas that I find difficult but also learning how to speak about art in a way that others can understand.

In a recent article about her work, Carla van de Puttelaar talks about the need to study the entire oeuvre of an artist you wish to emulate. Her images resonate with the velvety smoothness of the Dutch Old Masters, translated for modern eyes. In the same journal (SSHOP 30th Anniversary Edition II), images by Romina Ressia also echo that era, with present day emblems such as popcorn substituted for the objects that would have had meaning in an earlier century. It is clear that both photographers have studied the earlier artists intensively, the images immediately brought Rembrandt and the other Flemish artists to my mind, while the modern twists gave them an edge. They are not copies but re-interpretations. The types are as relevant now as they were in the 17th  century, only the look on the faces of the women has changed, less submissive, more in control of their lives and their choices.

To write a meaningful critique of an artist you need to understand them, their history and their influences together with knowing how the type of work they are making fits within the time / era of their work. Is it art, documentary, protest, or portrait? Who was it made for? Is it straight or subversive (and if so why)? Over and above that you need to look, and allow time for your own interpretations to become clear. It is too simple (and something I am aware I am guilty of) to just reflect on what the guru’s say. That may give you a lead in and inform your thinking, but will not substitute for personal opinions together with imaginative thought.

Summary:
Look – with your mind
Think – with your brain
Write – with your personal voice

Summary week ending 22/09/17

Not a very productive week.

Photos:

Very  limited outside of EYV

  • did take some occasional selfies – but not impressed with them
  • didn’t have my camera with me when I went out today – so experimented with some indoor lighting on my phone

Blog:

  • Managed to both do the images and the write up for exercise 4.2. Found this interesting as even though the day was cloudy got some interesting shots using diffused light.

Reading:

  • Finished BJP September copy – interesting piece of work by Sanne de Wilde on ‘The Island of the Colour Blind’ which fits into my thoughts on photos of people / parents of people with autism.
  • still reading Clarke the photograph however had a lightbulb moment about the need for understanding the theory behind the work – I would not treat anyone without understanding the disorder and how the medicine or therapy was likely to work – so a similar thought process is required here. Having come to that mental agreement I am actually finding the theory easier!

 

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].