Category Archives: Notes

General rough notes.

Coal Coast – Fife Version

06/11/17

While thinking about an image to use for Exercise 5.2 (homage) I went back over several of the exhibitions I had visited recently. When looking at the images, one by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen from the Coal Coast series struck me and I remembered that there is some unusual debris on part of the coast in Fife near Torryburn. Oddly enough, there is the usual beach flotsam and jetsam but there is also a stretch of about 200 metres of coast that is strewn with old bricks and sanitary-ware (broken up large pieces of ceramic sinks).  The local mythology – which I haven’t been able to confirm – is that it comes from the destroyed wash-houses of one of the local pits, and was put on the beach at that point to stop erosion. There is no logic to why the erosion should be particularly bad just there, and I suspect the truth is that it was just dumped, although that is odd in itself, as there is no road nearby and the shore is very gradually shelving for at least a hundred metres, so you couldn’t get a boat large enough to bring the rubble in close enough.

I felt that there was a possibility of doing my homage shot on the beach as there are several possible links with the image I was thinking of, so I went back over both the exhibition images as a whole and re-thought about it and the accompanying film which I have discussed in more detail in the blog post below.

https://wordpress.com/post/scottishzoe.blog/2478

Coal mining in Fife has a long tradition, with coal having been dug since the thirteenth century and the Fife coalfields were the largest in Scotland. Many ran under the Forth and were very deep. The nearest pit to this stretch of coast would have been the Valleyfield pit which closed in 1978. There is little surface evidence left of this extensive underground industry except the occasional pit-head and the endless bings (spoil heaps). The last deep coal mine at Longannet, which stretched well under the Firth of Forth was closed in 2002 after flooding. There continue to be ongoing attempts at open-cast mining, which scar the countryside and cause aggressive debate.

I have been to this beach on many occasions, and also to the pit-head further along the coast at the Seafield Colliery however have never taken any images of the debris, so I went back this weekend at high tide, and again at low tide to look at the area and the surrounding coast.

Setting the scene:

The chimney in the distance is part of Longannet power station, which is now disused. At low tide the mud flats stretch out for about a hundred metres, although I would not advise walking on them, as the tide can come in extremely fast, and much of it forms quicksand.

The surrounding flora (winter variants):

There is a wide variety of wildflowers and bushes along the edge of the coast here and they attract thousands of birds, many of which are protected species.

The bricks:

Part of the rubble is made up of bricks that come from the local brickworks and are stamped with the source name: Lochgelly, Bowhill, Hill of Beath, Lochside. More evidence of an industrial past now gone.

The evidence:

It remains a mystery as to how the sanitary-ware reached this spot – and why in such a localised and inaccessible (except by foot) point.

 

 

 

Context and Understanding

03/11/17

The essay by Terry Barrett discusses the context within which we view images and how this is important to understanding them. He posits three types of context.

  1. The Internal Context: where you look at the actual image and the information given there. This can be considered by the denotations – what is actually there, for example, a car or a bicycle, and the connotations – what is implied – in this case travel or movement. When looking at the internal context you also need to be mindful of the fact that the photographer has chosen that exact framing, and taken the image at that exact time.
  2. The Original Context: where you need to know the history of the image, what has happened before, is the image a copy, has it been taken in homage, what was happening in the world at the time. Barrett talks about the Nick Ut press photo of Vietnamese girl and another example would be the Capa photo of soldiers landing in Normandy. The more that is known or researched about the time, place, historical context and theories of art about that particular period the more that can be understood from any image. It is also helpful to know what was in the photographer’s mind when the image was taken (diary notes, interviews) although memory and distance in time will affect the accuracy of this data.
  3. The External Context: This is where and how the image is shown, together with what information is given alongside it. Barrett describes the fascinating story of the use of the image of people in a café by The same image can illustrate very different stories depending on the attached words or where it is shown, magazine, press article, book, gallery wall. Any accompanying text can give a series of very different meaning to it, so it it imperative to know the text source, the photographer themselves, a curator who is interpreting the image, possibly in a historical context or someone who is using the image in a different context to make a point – possibly political.

When all the contexts are considered it may well change ones understanding of the image itself.

References:

Barrett, T. (1986). Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts.  Available at: http://terrybarrettosu.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf

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

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].

 

Summary week ending 15/09/17

Photos:

  • Went to Glasgow and took a series of photos while walking along the Clyde
  • Experimented more with taking selfies
  • Amusing pics of dog in motorbike sidecar.

I have continued to think about:

  • concept of selfies and how they are used. My son is very strongly of the idea that they must have context to mean anything. Overall I agree, but in practice difficult to do.
  • difficulty in managing areas of extreme differences between light and dark in one image
  • Kate Davis and feminism in photos. Feminism and the female gaze seems to be a common thread in my reading at present. Is it possible/probable that we have gone too far? I think that there may be less of an issue now than when i was young – however it is probably just more subtle and hidden.

Blog:

  • working on Part 4
  • wrote up about Kate Davis

Reading:

  • Graham Clarke – The Photograph. I am having great difficulty with the concepts here, (even on the 2nd time through) partly in understanding the whole issue about critical thinking and its importance, partly because of the language used – coming from a science rather than an arts background. Need to find a primer!
  • Stereoscope – the yearly magazine from the Arts and Photography students at St.Andrews University. Images, writings intercut with images from the universities Special Collection photographic Archives. It is interesting to see the sort of images that are taken by students – not just those that are picked as major upcomingt alents by BJP, Foam or Lenswork. Work often muted – very much about people rather than places. The one that stood out for me was Tom Oldridge. keep an eye out for his name
  • Lensculture – several interesting articles this week

Summary – week ending 08/09/17

Visited Cultybraggan Prisoner of War Camp near Crieff:
           Opportunities for monochrome/vintage conversions with graphic images
            Problems with very light sky versus dark buildings
Started thinking about selfies and how to explore them:
            Research into academic work
            Practical trials
            ?use of selfie stick
Exhibitions visited:
            Kate Davis at Stills – subversive work on female roles 
            Roger Felton images of Crimea war – compare with Perfect Chemistry exhibition 
Blog:
            Finished response to tutor report on assignment 3
            Looked at work of Parr and Reas
Reading:
            BJP October issue:
Trevor Appleton’s work on people using the portrait combined with images of what is important to them. This is the same idea I want to work on around the response of parents to being given the information that their child is autistic. Watch out for the book.

Self Critique on Assignment 3

Self assessment and criticism is an area I find particularly difficult. This is probably not because I am over confident, but because I tend to be very negative about my own work. This makes it difficult to write down the thoughts and also difficult to be objective.

Assessment criteria points

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational
skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. (40%)
I think I produced reasonable images for this assignment. I found it hard to keep to the topic, and, because it was a specific idea, some of the images , especially those that didn’t make the final cut, had major flaws, such as depth of field or focus. I was concentrating on what was happening and didn’t always remember to think about the practical issues such as the best camera settings. It would have been helpful to think in advance about the best way to show them, for example, would it be best to have the whole image in focus, or better to just focus on the person taking the image and have the background (their subject) out of focus. I made a considered decision to only have the person on the side of the image and to show the background as a large part as I felt it made the concept more ‘real’.

Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge , presentation of work in a
coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of
ideas. (20%)
Having got the spark of an idea for this I feel I thought it through, weighing up the possibilities, and logically explaining my thought processes. This was easier to present on-line with the additional images that showed the progression of thoughts. Next time it might be better to add these images into the printed explanatory essay as will as the final chosen images. I feel that I communicated my concept in both the descriptive essay and the images.

Creativity — Imagination, experimentation, invention. (20%)
I experimented with several possibilities for this assignment before settling in the final one. I also experimented with colour versus monochrome. It’s is difficult to see how imagination comes into this – unless it is about imagining the concept in the first place. This was a ‘sideways’ take on the concept of the decisive moment – thinking about other peoples moment and trying to put myself into their place. It has made me think of several other pieces of work that would be interesting to do as a follow up including the work on selfies and possibly asking other people why they were interested in that place/photography at that time (also – what they did with their images ?post them on line,?print them or what. This would open up the possibility of contrasting their thoughts with mine.

Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking. (20%)
My research on this assignment was too limited. It was about the concept of selfies and how they were used – but then I moved away from this as an idea. I am sure there have been other studies on my eventual idea but I am not aware of them, and not sure how/where to access them.