Feedback on Assignment 2

Some thoughts and comments.

Blue text is my tutor’s comments, black my replies.

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

I like that you used your dog as a ‘hook’ to get the subjects to ‘sit’ for you. Everyone has their own method and this is obviously working for you.

The pictures themselves raised a couple of questions. Please remember there aren’t right or wrong answers to these, they are intended to prompt your thinking about your own work. They could form the basis of some useful learning log posts. o Why black and white? You state: “I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.” In what way does black and white bring coherence? What does black and white do that colour might struggle with? What does it not do?

When I looked at the series of images they were very variable in lighting condition as all shot outside. I felt the colour images gave more prominence to the surroundings rather than the face itself, while the monochrome allowed the focus to be on the details of the person. There were also some distracting pieces of colour that I had not managed to avoid in the background as the people were shot were they stood and I did not ask them to move to a potentially better location. However, colour might have emphasised the skin tones of the people or helped to identify their ages.

All of your subjects are smiling and the pictures have the feel of a relaxed but professional portrait shoot. What do the portraits say about these ‘heads’ when shown as a series? Do the smiles affect how the work is viewed as a typology?

The ‘heads’ show a generally happy and content group of people who were prepared to have a ‘bit of fun’ while being photographed by a stranger. They were all taken while out on a walk in a park, so presumably in a relaxed moment. This gives a positive image – but if taken on another day, or in another place, these same people might be more subdued. I did show the images to the people and they were all pleased with how they looked! The smiles portray Scots as a positive group of people – not how they are usually perceived.

How did your choice of focal length and distance to subject affect how your sitter is portrayed? Related to this, how does camera position affect how we as viewers regard the sitter? Traditionally men and women were photographed differently in head shots, women looking up for a more flattering pose and men looking down to reflect power. What do your pictures do to challenge or support these stereotypes.

The images were all taken with me fairly close to the person, and often while I continued to chat to them, this did mean that they were all aware of the photo, no unexpected moments or expressions, therefore no surprises or glimpses of deep contemplation. I tried to take the images at a level with the person to get a feeling of equality. I had not considered differentiating between the pose of men and women, possibly this is showing that the previous stereotypes are less prevalent than in the past. I was not attempting to show power or beauty, but just the person as a person, with no emphasis on gender.

One thing I should point out is your captions. To be blunt, no one cares what camera settings you used. What they will care about though is something about your subjects. Their name perhaps, and where/when the portrait was made. Imagine you walk into a museum in 50 years and you see your portraits hanging on display. Are you interested in what camera settings were used or do you want to engage with the work and find out more about the people photographed? I’ve found a good test for whether pictures are working or not is to ask this question. If technical information is your first stop then the pictures are probably boring. If you want to learn more about the subjects and don’t care about technical considerations then the photographer has succeeded.

This is a very fair point. I only captioned the photos with camera settings because when I was doing TAOP some years ago this is what my tutor at that time wanted me to do. I would never look at technical information unless I was curious about how an image was achieved, and the image would have had to catch my attention first.

Overall I was pleased with the feedback and found it helpful. It has made me think harder about the ‘why’s’ of the images rather than the ‘how’.

Tillmans and Moriyama

Two exhibitions at the Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans’s exhibition at the Tate Modern is vast, consisting of 14 rooms which have ‘been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment’ (booklet accompanying the exhibition). It shows a range of images from all his work since 2003.  The Tate says in describing it ‘This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style.’ (Tate, 2017) and “He’s not a prophet, but he sees where things might go because he has an eye for the world,” said Chris Dercon, director of the Volksbuhne Berlin and co-curator of Tate Modern’s Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 show (Smyth, 2017).

I found it overwhelming in the number of images shown and oddly underwhelming in my emotional response to them. My thoughts could be summed up as interesting but cold. Some of the individual images were compelling such as the image of his studio with a portrait of a man hung above all the chaos. An image made by ‘passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper though a dirty photo-developing machine’ (Tate Modern, 2017) was surprisingly reminiscent of an EEG (a tracing of brain waves) – an odd conjunction of patterns, the EEG describing life and thought while the image by Tillmans showing ‘the potential of the photographic processes……to be used as a form of self-expression’ (Tate Modern, 2017).  Other images I found fascinating were some of the portraits such as ‘Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2005’ and the images of a curled piece of photographic paper ‘paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse 2014’. The final room dealt with borders and their fluidity, especially the contrast between the simple border between sea and sky versus the shipwreck caused by refugees. In the present moment of shifting borders with Brexit and hardening borders in the USA this is an important political statement, and, of course, much of Tillmans’s work should be looked at in a political context.

In a review for The Guardian Laura Cumming says ‘Tillmans’s eye is empathetic, pensive and patient, but always determinedly indeterminate. He is as far from Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment as can be. He doesn’t go in for metaphor or simile; he doesn’t try to sum anything up, nail it down or catch it by the tail. He wonders at the beauty of a pear glowing in late afternoon sun as much as viscosity of the plastic bag from which it came. He homes in on the inner seams of discarded jeans. Even when photographing a momentous starry night he can’t help noticing the camera’s own distortions. Not every star in that sky is natural………. The inconsequential is made tangible, permanent.’ (Cumming, 2017) and in a further review by O’Hagen, Tillmans says “For a long time in Britain, “there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness” O’Hagen says ’his photography has been marked by its shifts in style and by his determination to avoid the traditional. His exhibitions can appear wilfully haphazard both in terms of their seemingly unrelated subject matter – portrait next to still life next to abstraction next to landscape – and his eschewal of the accepted norms of the gallery show’ (O’Hagen, 2017).

On Tillmans website http://tillmans.co.uk/book-downloads you can access several catalogues and books of his work that are less expansive and more focused, I found these more accessible, possibly I was suffering from overload in the exhibition.

Daido Moriyama

Moriyama’s images are on show at the Tate Modern as one of the Artists Room Collections, which are travelling collections jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. There are a relatively small number of images on display which concentrate on his monochrome photographs of the intense life occurring in cities shown as large panels.

Moriyama (born 1938) is famous for his street photography, which show bold and gritty details, often close-up. He has published many photobooks which are very detailed and intense, usually with full-bleed images, these are mainly monochrome however there are several colour images, tending to be cleaner, which punctuate the intensity of the flow. ‘Daido Moriyama’s art is a far, far cry from any formal academic quality…. blurred, blotched and saturated…. his photography becomes an autobiography, a means of expressing personal experiences’ (Remy and Moriyama, 2012). A recent one ‘Daido Tokyo’ focuses on Shinjuku. He says, ‘many pose the question “Why Shinjuku?” ….. I answered on impulse …… the truth is “because it was there” ….. light and shade, obverse and reverse, truth and falsehood: each accompanies the other’ (Moriyama, 2016).

Moriyama explained how he used photography to convey his subjective experience: “By taking photo after photo, I come closer to … the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time” ………. Moriyama’s approach included re-photographing images, working without a viewfinder and embracing printing errors. The resulting photographs are blurred, scratched and grainy. By pushing the medium to the limits of legibility Moriyama attempted to go “to the end of photography”. (Moriyama, 2012).

Phaidon’s publication Daido Moriyama gives a series of his images with accompanying explanatory text by Nishii. He quotes Moriyama as saying ‘one of photography’s essential qualities is its amateurism, and another its anonymity’ (Nishii, 2012). The text about each image describes where and when it was taken, and gives some thoughts about what might have been going though Moriyama’s mind, and how the image links in to the style of photography prevalent at the time the image was taken. While these side-notes are fascinating I found that they detracted from the impact of the images as I ended up looking at them from a technical and historical point of view rather than an emotional or aesthetic one. The mass effect of looking at the original photobooks is lost.

I was fascinated by this exhibition as I am interested in Japanese photographers and the marked differences in style from European and American photography although I suspect this is an over-generalisation. Unlike the Tillmans exhibition I found the images full of emotion, warm and sometimes amusing. It felt as though Moriyama was really engaged with his subject, involved rather than simply observing, that he knew the people, in reality as this is street photography, it is likely that many of the images were of strangers.

 

Comparing the work of two photographers there are multiple similarities: both have a huge oeuvre, both take images of almost anything, from close details of parts of people (I noted very similar images of the back of a man’s neck in the Tillmans exhibition and in Moriyama’s Remix) via more formal portraits to pictures of street rubbish and both produce photobooks as a primary way of showing their work. Tillmans concentrates mainly on colour and Moriyama on monochrome. However, when looking at the images on the same day, and then exploring a wider number of images several days afterward there is a very different feel. Tillmans images seem to be making ‘a point’, often political and usually fascinating while Moriyama’s are simply what he sees, telling an intimate story about a place.

References

Cumming, L. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017; Eduardo Paolozzi –  review from the chaos of time. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/19/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-review-tate-modern-eduardo-paolozzi-whitechapel-gallery [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama. [online] Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/media-networks/daido-moriyama [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2016). Daido Tokyo. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Nishii,K. (2012). Daido Moriyama. New York: Phaidon

O’Hagan, S. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation  – all I believed in was threatened’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/13/wolfgang-tillmans-photographer-interview-tate-modern [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Remy, P. and Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama – remix.: Edition Mennour.

Smyth, D. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 opens at London’s Tate Modern. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/02/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-opens-at-londons-tate-modern/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tate Modern (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans, 2017.

Tate. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/wolfgang-tillmans-2017 [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tillmans, W. (2017). home. [online] Tillmans.co.uk. Available at: http://tillmans.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

 

Exercise 3.1

Brief: Using fast shutter speeds isolate a frozen moment in time.

When I thought about this exercise I came up with several options such as capturing an animals’ movement e.g. a dog in mid leap or a bird in flight.

Leaping Dog

I then thought further and decided to have my own go at emulating the ‘milk drop’ photographs. I found this technically quite challenging. I set the camera to 1/8000 sec, and focused on the surface of water in a bowl. Initially I left the camera to set the aperture, which came out with the largest possible, but I found this cut down the depth of field too much so was not getting the images I was visualising, so changed to a fully manual mode with an aperture of f/9. I used my flash and a tripod to hold the image position stable. My assistant (my son) then slowly dipped water into a bowl while I tried to capture it landing. We had many failed attempts:

  • I mistimed the shot so just caught a ripple or just water
  • Using a white bowl was not very successful, as there was too much reflection from the flash and many of the images were burnt out completely
  • My flash takes longer than I realised to recharge, and needed to be watched to avoid a completely underexposed (black) frame.
  • There was reflection from a nearby window, so we had to move to a different room where I could cover the window

Eventually I got some images I was happy with. I have added contact sheets of a number of the images, marked with the ‘picks’, ‘top choices’ and the final preferred image.

The final image that I chose was:

Frozen Moment

I felt the colours and pattern were interesting. I am aware that the higher drop is not totally sharp but felt it leads the eye to the drop that is just about to land. This was a fascinating exercise to carry out.

Assignment 2

Final Selection:

Contact Sheets of Pre-selection Images:

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

Reflection

Where I am now.

Self-Check Against Assignment Criteria:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

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

Quality of Outcome:

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

Demonstration of Creativity:

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

Context:

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

Thoughts for the Future

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

Examples would be:

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

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

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

What do I almost never photograph – people, why?

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

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

Things needed

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

Present problems

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

Plan 2 – May Update

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

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

To be reviewed monthly to keep a check on progress.