Following my tutor’s feedback, this is the definite sequence of images for Assignment 5:
As advised, the two images that needed rework are “Buena suerte, mi princesa” (third) and “Goodnight, grandad” (last). For the image of the clovers, I have agreed with my tutor that the file IMG_0052 could be replaced by IMG_0079. This image is more dynamic and I did like it better than the one chosen but thought the first one fitted better with the overall rhythm of the series. I am satisfied with the change as I find the image a lot more interesting. There is a feeling of myself leaving the frame when the reality is that I was holding that position during the exposure, with the inevitable and involuntary movement of my body getting mistaken by real action. Also the composition is more appealing, with a viewpoint slightly higher and tilted towards the paper.
The last image of the series was found confusing. The similarity with the twin towers and the fact that it represented the dead of my grandad (which occurred on 11/09/11) when the first intention was to create an 11 with the glasses was certainly problematic. My tutor mentioned keeping the element of the milk and have a thought about how it could be better represented, more in the line of the eighth image (“Cena frugal”). I wanted to keep the milk and the 11 so chose a vase with a flower to complete the number together with one single glass of milk.
I finally decided to include myself on the frame to contribute to the meaning. Like this, the glass and vase create the number 11 while the flower points away from me, since I was far away from Spain when my grandad passed away. At the same time, the hand entering the scene and approaching the vase pretends to show that I cared and wanted to be there. Apart from my grandad’s work at a dairy factory, a glass of milk is a distinctive symbol of getting ready for bed, hence it goes well with the title (Goodnight, grandad) and it is a way to wish him rest. I have chosen the flower as a substitute of the second glass of milk since flowers are so linked to dead and funerals, but still hold a positive feeling which I wanted this series to have; rather than picturing grief after someone’s dead I wanted to record the memories and good feelings experienced beside this person.
I am really satisfied with the results of this assignment and so am I with the feedback received. There is always room for improvement so I have taken my tutor’s advice and replaced IMG_0052 with IMG_0079, which is a more dynamic image. The last of the ten photographs from the series was a struggle from the beginning: I felt myself a little drained creatively and the pressure of getting a good result to end the series caught me somehow. I agree that the representation with the two glasses is confusing; the reference to the Twin Towers would have worked if there would be a connection between that event and my grandad’s death other than the date. As I have explained on the reworked assignment blog post, I have kept the symbolism of the glass of milk and created the “11” with a vase, so there is still a reference to the date he left. I have also tried to create a darker image that would integrate the previous shot (“Junto a la ventana”) a bit more in the series and also to accentuate the progression in brightness and meaning through the last four images, which are clearly more “moody”.
Following with the feedback, I have started to work on the presentation options for this series. I like the idea of creating a small hole in the middle of a black card and get the assessors to look through it to see the printed images. I have tested the effect on the screen with a couple of friends and it is interesting how the brain fills in the gaps to create a sharper image, but I also find the act of looking through the hole as if looking into someones intimate life. Since the images are about distant memories from childhood, it could add an element of play and discovery. My task now is to find the way to make a perfect hole and how to prompt the assessors to engage with the “game”. I have thought of a thin clamp box where the photographs could be kept standing while keeping the black card in front of them, but also thought of creating the whole on the actual box, so the container of the image could be used as the tool to can see them. This second option is the risky one, as I would have to be very precise in getting the hole right at (ideally) the first attempt.
I am not planning major changes on the learning log apart from the suggested by my tutor (changing the font size for the menu, which I have already done). What I have in mind is learning from the experience with this first module and be more organised and clear when creating the entries for future courses. I have found that creating the blog posts at the beginning of each part of the module and complete them as I go works better for me, since it gives me a better idea of the workload and also allows me to make the most from those small breaks I get sometimes and add some thoughts here and there. This method has a downside: the dates are not really accurate since a number of blogs are created on the same day but not completed until weeks later, but I do not mind (and hope the assessors won’t either). I am thinking of creating a new category next time that would only include sketches and scribbles, only to encourage myself to actually post that content that otherwise would stay in my notebooks and journals. It can also be very valuable to have all in one place, since I find myself gathering the information quite often and not being sometimes sure of where did I write it down.
Another addition to the learning log following the feedback has been a further research post on pinhole photography, that can be found here.
As usual, I got a good range of artists/work to research and reflect on. This time from quite different styles, which I like. These are:
His series on woven portraits are a delight to see. Stern cuts up two different portraits of the same person and weaves them together, creating a textured image that represents two views of the same subject at once.
I found it difficult to see the technique used until I read about it (I somehow thought the grid formed on the background of some images was an empty, transparent layer on Photoshop!!). The final result is engaging: the interest fluctuates between the composition created -the portrait- and the quality and texture of the photograph itself, as if there would be two separate dimensions in which the work could be admire.
I personally feel driven to his woven nudes, so beautiful.
His “combophotos” are so effective that regardless personal photographic preferences or interest, I don’t think anyone would not stop and enjoy his compositions. I do appreciate the fact that McMennamy is not cutting and pasting the elements from one picture onto another but making tow separate photographs work together. The way he has carefully chosen the background of each half of the images is so clever and it satisfying to see where each of those halves ends to five way to the second part. Not only the background but also the colour of each element represented has been taken into detailed consideration.
This surreal series are also very satisfying too the eye, not only because of the creative ideas but also the clean aesthetics of product photographic. I do find this kind of technically and visually perfect images a bit disturbing: that grade of perfection that involves such precise technical approach to the images take away most of the fun of actually making them (or thats my view on product photography). There is no “surprise” or happy coincidences here, and everything is precisely measured. The end result is so polished and perfect that seems odd. On the other hand, I do enjoy Henon’s fragrance images. The contrasted light and the aesthetics are exquisite, I really enjoy the work on his website.
Allchurch creates surreal scenes using composites of actual landscapes together with historic elements, paying homage to some well known artists and their oeuvre. Like this, London actual building industry and its impact on landscape is turned into a modern Tower of Babel, or images of ancient Roman sculptures and constructions get merged into the British capital iconic sites. The final result invites the viewer to have a good look at what is it that is represented. I could not resist but thinking of matte painting and HDR techniques when I first saw her gallery. It is not a kind of photographic work that I would feel attracted to but I appreciate the detail of including the signs and lettering (and rubbish!) on historical buildings, just as anyone would encounter on their own photographs after a touristic scape (and that can be also be very disturbing).
This has been a very emotional and liberating project which has helped me not only to discover the potential of pinhole photography but also the strength that photographs gain when taken from the perspective of own experiences, specially when these experiences hold an important personal connection with the photographer.
I have been very inspired by Terry Barrett’s words on Photographs and Contexts (1997) during the whole process of the series, specially by this quotation:
” The viewer who wants to understand and appreciate the photograph needs to see what fresh and significant relationship the photographer may have brought about and the means selected to make them manifest” ( Barrett, T., 1997).
In the end, what I can see on my series is that I am communicating a personal experience. It is up to the viewer to make their own interpretation on what those moments mean to me and how this affects their understanding of the whole project.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
The main technical challenge on this series was about composing the image with a restricted view through the viewfinder and the space restrictions. The impossibility to change the focal length made most shots difficult to frame but this has been resolved nicely in the end. I have been aware of the importance of the viewpoint and how it does help not only with the composition but also with the intention to communicate a certain idea or mood.
Visually, I find the images very engaging and I have received great feedback from other Photography students, which I appreciate. Sadly, most people only feel I am tacking out of focus images, but this is something I here so often from family and friends who do not have an inclination for art that I try not to take too seriously. The technique used is new to me and I do like the results. There is a softness that I haven’t seen before on a photograph and zooming in just makes the grain more beautiful and increases the perception of “memories”. Overall, I perceive an appealing colour palette and a set of images that includes enough variations to stand individually but connected together aesthetically.
Quality of outcome
I am satisfied with the feeling that the images give and how they represent the bond between me and my grandad. The viewer might not understand fully the meaning of each image but it will certainly stop and reflect on what is it that the images want to communicate, creating a dialogue between the photograph and the audience. In the end, the interpretations are infinite and each person would be influenced by their own experience as a child or as a grandparent. There is an evolution through the series, from the image of my grandad holding me as a baby till the last image that evokes his death.
Demonstration of creativity
I can not attribute to myself the idea of using pinhole photography for the project, since it was suggested by my tutor that I should try the technique. However, I think most images are unusual and creative. I have used symbols and multiple connections to interpret the story of my grandad, such as the two glasses of milk evoking the twin towers, since he passed away on the 11/09 or the crossword painted using the black squares tattooed on my arm as a linking element between the memory and something that actually defines me nowadays.
The brief for this last assignment was very open. Far from being an advantage, the freedom to choose a theme for the project became a task itself, which required to be analysed from very different perspectives, having to find a theme that would allow to produce at least 10 images that would be interesting by their own means at the time of revealing something new. I also wanted to find a subject that I could engage with and I was looking for that special connection. I do thing the criteria for context was met here, although the subject might not be “simple”, but the photographs certainly are.
Strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths: Overall I have come up with an effective and aesthetically appealing set of images that also contain a very strong emotional meaning. Not including text on the images but giving each off them a significant title was a good decision: keeps the project simple and gives some extra information for the viewer to reflect on. I see the sequence intense and imaginative. The surreal component engages the viewer, who has to analyse the elements on each image and also the work as a whole to reach their own interpretation. The quality achieved with the pinhole technique gives the images a memory like mood, which really suits the theme. The rhythm of the series is slow, which invites for reflection and contemplation, perhaps, of the own experiences.
Weaknesses: I had taken the risk of not presenting all the images orientated the same way. This is something I understood it shouldn’t be done since it does not contribute to the work as a whole. Despite this, I think it was the right decision and I start to disagree with this idea of continuation. Since I do mostly prefer shooting horizontal images, I have found that most of my projects have been shoot this way in order to follow this”rule”. However, I continue finding photography projects (published in the British Journal of Photography and Hotshoe magazine, for example) where images from a same project have different orientations (and it works, since there are so many other elements that contribute to continuation that it is almost irrelevant). I do agree however that it is important to keep the crop ratio homogenous throughout the series and this is the reason why I have not been inclined to use a 1:1 format. It just would not have worked with the way I picture the images. The idea of how I wanted to present this series had me worried about how well it would meet the brief. Although I have come up with ten very different images, the requirement of presenting a “clear sense of development through the sequence” had me thinking some might not see such progression. On the other hand, each image reveals a different aspect of the relationship between me and my grandad, adding to the portrait of a man that was unknown for most people. The final image resumes the portrait by picturing the man who he was, not only the person I remember.
How would I develop this project in the future
There are a couple of more images that I would have added and that I am preparing to shoot and add to the series. There is one in particular that could not be taken for this assignment since it involved using chicken feet which I have not managed to find, despite asking at many butchers and other shops. I do however know where to get them online so this is my next aim. There is also another photograph representing a story that my grandad used to tell me about a man who drown himself in an inch of water that I have still need to plan on how to create.
I am also planning to extend this series by adding images of places that are significant for me from the point of view of our relationship. Those places would have to be the “real” ones where the memories were formed and it is something that will take time since it involves travelling to different locations in Spain. This could be extended to the places of his childhood that he told me about till the river where his ashes rest or the chair where he used to sit to watch television. The continuation of the project would involve the gathering of information from other relatives about facts such as exact locations and dates also.
I don’t consider this could be of anyone’s interest, however it is significant for me. Some of the original items that inspired the images for Assignment 5 still exist and these could be photographed or scanned for their inclusion in the work.
Leaving aside the technical approach and images taken, this is an assignment that has taught me about my way of working and processing my ideas. Quentin Bajac mentions on his interview for Aperture Magazine (2013) that some photographers stick to their ideas and work towards getting that shot done while others work more freely and would shoot and reflect on their images afterwards, which seem to be the right way to get work done. I have also read this on the OCA forums. This does not relate to my way of working at all and I do not consider there is a right or wrong way to do it. As an artists, a lot of the ideas and visual work happens in my head and working on an assignment will take weeks of thinking after my research, purely letting my mind go from one idea to another and finding connections between what it is that I want to communicate, the resources, the technique chosen, the ability to actually make it happen, etc. It is true that after all the thinking and when shooting begins, things don’t normally go according to plan but I do not conceive working in a way that shooting comes first and the thinking comes after.
Since this is the last assignment of the EYV module, I am going to take this reflection into the next module and analyse whether or not my way of working changes or remains the same. I suppose everything depends on the kind of photography that you aim for; there is little to improvise in staged shots, while street photography or other genres might benefit for the freshness of free shooting. Let’s see what the future brings.
I was almost 30 when I saw him for the last time. I think I knew. I remember looking back for a second or two while leaving him behind at his table, sitting on his chair, the place were he was always meant to be. I made sure my eyes, my brain and all my senses recorded that image. Two months passed, I was far away. It was the 11/09/2011 when I said to a friend that my grandad was dying and I was right. Someone told me the next day, and his funeral was held on my 30th birthday.
“El Abuelo” never talked too much but despite the distance he somehow said goodbye so I could know he wasn’t here anymore. He also made sure I would never forget.
Exploring the relationship with my grandad is about portraying his role from the perspective of my childhood experiences beside him. It is a very personal view of a loved person, intimate till the point that the girl inside me would not exist without the influence of my grandad.
Each image is a reminder of our genuine connection. The sequence is shot through a pinhole camera, recreating the feeling of memories through its particular texture and aesthetic and acts as a reminder of what relationships are about and how memories are imprinted in everyday objects. It is an invitation to reflect on the special people who nurtured our childhood and the feelings and emotions that emerge when an object or situation brings us back to those early years.
This isn’t a collection of “mementos”, as each item is a representation of the original objects. Regardless, the imprint of the past and the strong bond created between “El Abuelo” and myself allows me to appreciate them as if they were in fact the items that once existed.
My tutor suggested me to look into more work from pinhole photographers to complement my research for Assignment 5. He invited me to read on Willie Anne Wright’s cibachrome technique. This method was unknown to me and I have been reading on its complexity and apparently great outcome. A Cibachrome (formally known as “Ilfochrome”) creates a direct positive (this is, an original film plate, making each of them a unique piece) that is then processed chemically. The paper used to create the positive has multiple raw silver layers that help achieving great detail and depth. The resulting print also proves very stable: the image won’t fade over time or under certain light conditions that would compromise traditional photo papers or printing processes. The downside of this technique is the complexity and laborious work involved in developing the image. I have found a very instructive video that explains the process and helped me understand it a bit better. The resulting images feel very tactile and “real” (I wonder what seeing a Cibachrome print feels like in real life).
In relation to Willie Anne Wright’s images, she uses this process combined with a pinhole camera. Her images have a distinctive distortion and a very realistic feel, almost as if the viewer would be looking at the scene through a distorted glass. The light is soft and delicate but holds a great level of contrast. I particularly appreciate the detail on the shadows and the cinematographic feel the vignetting gives to the scenes.
Searching for other pinhole photographers I found an interview with an artist called Steven Dempsey that I truly can relate to. Dempsey incorporates pinhole photography into a digital camera, just as I did for this assignment. Working in black and white to preserve the atemporal feel to the scenes, he often includes himself or other human figure to complement the narrative of his images. Reading through this interview, I have found many quotes that I feel resonate with how I have experienced using pinhole photography for the first time and how it perfectly works within the type of imagery I aim to create. He says ” A pretty picture by itself is just that but when I can find a way to give it soul, then that is truly a beautiful thing.” (S.Dempsey, 2016). this is a true statement I can relate to.
There are many elements that pinhole photography offers me to create the way I intend to (specifically in its digital form). Firstly, I the use of long exposures is something that I tend to work with, despite the technique chosen. There is something about the time the shutter stays open and the message that is transmitted that I can’t quite explain yet, but I have experienced that even in the absence of action, this method allows me to record the slightest movement. There is an instant correlation between time and life: none of them stay still and the camera is able to record it. It is also a great tool to create a narrative and all of this merged with self portraiture allows to communicate an intention and a feeling that I do not see in highly detailed, frozen captions. As it is shown in Sugimoto’s Theatre series, again, there is a photograph with thousands of moments being recorded in one single image. They are all there in front of our eyes and yet we still can not isolate them. It is like having a recipient full of an unknown substance that we can only imagine or guess its origin.
I am very keen on experimenting further with pinhole photography. It feels like the perfect medium right now. So far, I have found myself using the modified camera body cap beside this assignment. I still need more practice, specially outdoors. I have never enjoyed shooting with a tripod before and now I don’t think I could do anything without it. I want to post here a couple of images I shot in a recent trip to London; two of them are self-portraits in my hotel room (I find the act of taking these photographs was directly linked to the use of the pinhole: I knew how they would look like and what I wanted to communicate during the exposure and it would not have worked in any other way) and the other one shot outdoors is a view of St Paul’s Cathedral (8 seconds, handheld).
Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some “new information” rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.
In your assignment notes explore why you chose this particular subject by answering the question “What is it about?”. Write about 300 words. Your response to the question doesn’t have to be complicated; it might be quite simple (but if you can answer in one word then you will have to imaginatively interpret your photographs for the remaining 299!)
For this assignment it is important that you send a link (or scanned pages) to the contextual exercise (Exercise 5.2) for your tutor to comment on within their report.
First impressions, initial response to the brief and how my ideas developed.
To begin with this assignment, I started by making a list of “subjects” I considered I could create a 10 image series with and keep it interesting for the viewer (and fun for me to develop). The subjects on the list were: a colour, hair, beauty, women, symmetry and food (with hair and food as clear favourites).
While I was progressing through Project 5 I began to realise non of these subjects spoke to me strongly enough to engage with them. Exercise 5.1 made me realise that choosing a subject that resonates with your practise and interests is nowhere easy. I gave myself some time to reflect on this; the reason why I was unable to find my subject despite having the freedom to select any theme, and one day I had a hunch. The reason why none of the subjects spoke to me was that there was no personal feeling about them. This made me think of people and places that I have a special relationship with. It happens that my friends/relatives and significant places are abroad. The only person who isn’t there is my grandad, who passed away two months after I came to UK, back in 2011.
The idea of starting a project about him assaulted me long time agouti I had little knowledge on how I could develop it. My grandad was one of the most special family members to me and a very important figure during my childhood years. We both shared many moments no-one knows or remembers and he teaches me so much through his stories and the places he took me to that I am aware the vision I have of him is very personal and intimate.
So, the subject of my series is not just my grandad but my personal view of him, built up from memories that I carry with myself since I was a child and that together, compose a personal portrait of my grandad.
About the way the photographs would be taken, I thought of:
show the objects that I associate with my grandad as objects in an exhibition (on a stand or similar, to symbolise how significant the recalled memories they evoke are to me.)
show the objects while I hold them. Including myself on the image would imply proximity and connection with the subject.
use of long exposures, evoking the passing of time and old memories. Also because I like working with long exposures.
create a series of simple and clean still-lives, arranging the objects like a collection, again representing how precious these memories are in portraying my grandad as I remember him.
Inspiration and research.
When looking for inspiration, I came across the series “A State of Silence” by Lithuanian artist Indrė Šerpytytė. With very clean aesthetics, she questions the circumstances around the death of her father, a Head of Government Security. The silence around the real story that provoked the catastrophe is depicted through a series of still-lifes, aiming to raise her concerns over the bureaucratic system. I appreciate the personal connection between the photographer and the subject, which complements the visuals in addition to the criticism that the project aims to communicate.
Also, when reading through an old issue of Hotshoe Magazine, I came across the series “Skirts” from the photographer Clare Strand. It depicts a series of tables covered in pleated cloths, arranged individually in front of a background covered with curtains in a theatrical manner. The artist uses this continuous backdrop not only to give the images a staged aesthetic but also to provide continuity through the sequence. “Skirts” catches my attention for its simplicity and the visual pleasure that I experiment when looking at the vertical lines created by the pleats in both tables and curtain. It is remarkable that all the elements on the images are covered in fabric; there is not much evident information and we can only imagine how the tables look like (after assuming that these are tables) or what hides behind the curtain. I also tend to build my series as little “collections” (I am a collector in every aspect of my life) and the first thought when putting sequence together often incorporates this idea of continuity through identical backgrounds, viewpoint etc.
In relation to my grandad’s project, I could picture the objects I want to photograph laying on top of those tables. Detaching them from other visual distraction would direct the viewer to the objects themselves and draw their attention on what I want to show. Since my objects are significantly small, I need to think of a closer frame or they would get lost on the image. One possibility I can think of is setting up a stage and walk into the scene while the shutter is opened, lay the object on the surface and leave the scene, capturing my presence by using long exposures:
I would like to include some detail in the background that suggests the images are taken inside my home not in a studio setting, as opposed to the “A State of Silence” series. This would add a personal connection even I don’t use the idea above and don’t appear on the frame. The objects I have picked to evoke my memories are strongly linked to my experience beside my grandad so perhaps it is not necessary to overload the images with extra information (again, Photography is Simple, so my aim is to don’t overthink and keep it like that). I do however feel that including myself on the images would reinforce the idea of the connection between my grandad and me through the objects presented. This would be in the end another important decision to make.
Other presentation different from the staged idea above would be a series of images were the objects are shown individually from a variety of situations or perspectives, which could had more interest. I do however want to keep it simple so the compositions must be “easy” and clean overall.
For presentation purposes, I thought this is the perfect project to elaborate a bit further with a twist; something different from the simple printed image. It is something I would like to discuss with my tutor beforehand as I have doubts about whether it could be submitted for final assessment that way. I have a cigar box among the objects that I associate with my grandad and I have thought of rolling the printed images as if they would be cigars and send them inside the box, so the assessors would have to unroll them to can see them. It is a presentation that I think brings back memories of opening little tin boxes containing secret findings from the childhood (a stone picked up somewhere, a dried leaf or flower perhaps, football cards and so on). Again, another point to consider on a later stage.
Technical approach and planning.
So far, my plan for executing this sequence is:
try long exposures to 1) capture the atmosphere and 2) as a symbolism of memories.
Since I have been encouraged to try pinhole photography and my tutor kindly sent me a modified camera body cap I would like to use this technique for the project. During my research I have found the quality of the light and texture achieved using this technique very evocative and since my subject involves memories and experiences from the past, I am keen to use it as a way to communicate this mood.
Mount the camera on a tripod and use a remote trigger when necessary. Since I am expecting to use long exposures and potentially including myself on the frame, the use if a timer would be useful.
test exposure times with different light intensities, using both artificial and natural light, depending on the situation or object.
shoot the sequence indoors.
If not taking the pinhole route: once I find the light that I consider adequate, adjust aperture accordingly, aiming for narrower apertures in oder to capture the details of the setting. I am already considering the possibility that continuous light would work best as it will allow me to control exposure while maintaining the same quality throughout, so the only element of change is the object presented at each time.
Instead of picturing one element at a time, I am thinking of presenting a stage and add an object to the scene so as the sequence grows, the number of objects grows too. I thought this could be interesting as the final image would content all the objects together, show progression. Also the representation of my grandad as a whole rather than isolating the objects makes more sense to me. It is something I will have to try together with the other options and any other that may arise.
The first step would be gathering the objects I need to photograph. Some of them are back home in Spain and others don’t exist anymore, so my plan here is to acquire similar items to represent the idea of the originals. With the introduction of each object, a different memory will be evoked. I was unsure whether or not to include brief notes about the particular moment each object evokes, since there is a little story behind of them. But thinking of the title of the assignment I believe it would be best not to include any text. The absence of a written explanation could benefit the series, adding mystery and encouraging the viewer to reflect and imagine what is it behind the object.
Pinhole Photography and its difficulties
I have decided to use the pinhole camera cap in the end. The effect achieved connects well with the memories theme and works as an interpretation of how memories come to our mind. The slow process in taking each image (most exposures are between 20″ and 30″) has given me time to think about the moment represented. Emotionally, the subject chosen has proven hard and challenging. I used the time during each shot to think of the feelings and the picture that I hold about my grandad in my head, which lead to other many memories to come through. I did not want to create a series based on his dead but full of nostalgia and memories of nice experiences. Overall, it has been mentally draining before and during shooting, but I feel my relationship with my grandad is more solid now as the project has allowed me to recover many passed moments that I have never put together before.
It has also been hard physically, since holding certain positions for half a minute and the subsequent repetitions have left me with a sore body in the end. There was no intention of creating images in movement (and some have been discarded for this reason) but the shake of my body posing for extended periods. The intention of the body to remain still allows the mind to reflect on the memories represented and the movement that the camera catches is mainly provoked by the breathing and involuntary spasms of the muscles.
The modified body cap on the camera (above)
One thing from this technique that surprised me in a bad way was discovering how dirty my camera sensor is. The dust spots become very (very) visible and I have also spotted about 4 dead pixels (which can’t be helped but taking my sensor for a good clean is a must at the moment). I use a Canon EOS 7D but own an old 400D that never got cleaned for years and I wonder how the dust would show if swapping the body cap and taking a picture with it. This is something I should try if I am able to find the battery charger, specially to compare with the amount of dust on the 7D.
Overall, pinhole photography has brought some challenges different to other techniques. Firstly, the impossibility to get the image on focus and therefore, getting to see the smaller details. Secondly (and also deviated from the lack of glass), I have noticed that the tiniest change on the position of the camera or tripod has a bigger impact on the frame. This made correcting composition very tricky, together with the fact that for most of the images, I was unable to distinguish much of the scene through the viewfinder. This is why I have some shorter (and darker) images on the contact sheets, since I found that snapping a 5″ shot was giving me a better idea of the scene than the viewfinder itself. Having to position myself on the image with no external help made again the shooting very time consuming, which added to the length of the exposures meant that it took me almost two hours to achieve some of the images.
The images and their meaning
Since the images are staged, I could plan in advance but with room for improvising or making changes along the way. Shooting without a lens has proved challenging, specially when having small objects that almost disappeared with the long exposures and the out of focus quality. However, I do really like the texture on the resulting images, specially when seen augmented. It is a softness different from an out of focus photograph and the tone variations are very shuttle. I find interesting that, when opening some of the images on a screen, there is a second or two of waiting on the image to “load”, as if the blurriness would be associated to a slow device or software.
As I said, some of the images have come up almost as sketched while others needed several changes as the details were lost. These are some of the sketches I have done for them:
The 10 images that I planned are:
Egg and marker: this image represents the memory of my grandad taking me climbing. There is an region in La Rioja (Spain) with many caves and once we discovered an old wooden desk, with a marker pen and an egg. It is a very straight forward image where the main challenge was balancing the egg on the marker pen during the exposure time. The effect of balancing the egg reminds me to the climbing experience and the concentration required to not to fall over the cliffs.
Apple and bread: This is the meal my grandfather would have before bed every night. I remember being little and watching this display (the apple, the bread and the water) every evening. The quality of the light with this set up reminded me of an oil painting still life. As it can be seen on the contact sheets, there was room to improvise with the way I would include myself on the image. I selected one where I am participating on the scene but not actually eating or touching the items.
Parchis: My grandfather played this boardgame every afternoon with my grandmother and taught me and my eldest brother how to play. a few weeks before he died and after a CVA (stroke) he played with the peas from his meal and moved them around like tokens from the game. Since working with the pinhole camera cap, I have been observing the light (specially late afternoon light) very carefully and found a great aid to provide interest and contrast to the images. As my intention was to include myself on the images but not really showing my whole person (lets say face), I used the light coming from the window to blow up my features. The initial idea was to hide behind the board but allowing the light to “erase” part of the image has resulting in a much richer image.
Frame: This is the only image where both my grandad and I exist in the same way: together on a photograph when I was a baby. The blurred image doesn’t stop from guessing what the framed photograph shows: the fleshed coloured parts clearly represent the heads and hands and the brain completes the rest of the missing information. I wanted to include this image as a symbol of the role that photography plays in our memories, not only evoking past moments but also creating them (I was too little to remember that particular occasion but I do have a memory of the picture itself, since I particularly requested my mum to scan “the image where grandad is holding me as a baby, sitting on the beige coach”).
Crosswords: another big hobby of my grandad was getting the newspaper and completing the crossword after reading it. I was not allowed to do myself just as my dad didn’t allowed me to do his, but both taught me all the tricky words so I ended up being very good at them. The concept its there but the image I created is not so straight forward this time, which I like. I completed my three black squares tattoo with empty squares around, resembling a crossword grid. The detail got lost in most images but it still can be traced. I see it as an invitation to figure out what the image is about and will give it an appropriate title for the viewer to (hopefully) do so.
Clover: My grandad had one of those magnetic bracelets that were meant to alleviate joint pain. Once he gave me the little leaflet that came with it: it was a small rectangular book with black covers and the drawing of the bracelet in gold. In between the pages, he put five four-leaf clovers for me to keep. This is an image I struggled with. The initial idea of creating clover shapes with real three leaf clovers changed to paper clovers when I found out they don’t grow in this time of the year. Then the shoot failed, since the clovers weren’t big enough to can be appreciated. I reshoot this one with a new approach, having to create a different concept that would look simple but interesting.
Cigar box: Every day after lunch, my grandad would smoke a Farias cigar at the window. My grandmother used the empty boxes to keep small items such as buttons and threads. From time to time, my grandad would give me an empty box, where I would keep little findings and secrets. The smell of the cigars coming out of the box reminded me of him every time I opened it. The initial idea for this one was holding it open on my lap and make smoke come out of it. I secured an incense stick inside with play-dough and light it up and the smoke was quite thick, however, there was not enough light and the smoke didn’t show on the photograph due to the long exposures. I tried other options but the image sitting and holding the box, even without the smoke, feels very emotional to me. I could not get the original box so had to purchase one online as they are a collectors item nowadays.
Brambles: Summer was particularly exciting in my childhood as we used to spend it in a holiday house my parents owned in the countryside. Once day, my brother and I overheard the grownups talking about my grandad’s health. He used to smoke cigarettes on top of his after lunch cigar, and there seemed to be a concerned about this. We loved our grandad so much (and we were so innocent) that decided to steal his packet of cigarettes and hide it in a blackberry bush beside the bicycle path, so he would not smoke anymore. Proud of our good action, we went back to the house and discovered our angry mother stomping around, trying to find her packet of cigarets which went mysteriously missing. As with the clovers, I did not manage to find a blackberry bush that could actually be used for the image so I created a messy ball with branches and leaves from my garden. I had the most problems with the background in this one, since I could hardly see anything through the viewfinder and the place where the camera was placed on would constantly make it move.
Mushrooms: My grandad would take me mushroom picking in the early mornings. It is an activity that requires getting there before others do, and I enjoyed this greatly. We had our secret spots where good mushrooms grew and I found it exciting when people were around and we had to wait for them to go away before approaching those spots, pretending we were looking somewhere else. After picking them up, we would cover the spot with dead leaves so they wouldn’t be found. Initially planned this image with regular size mushrooms, but lesson learned, I bought Portobello mushrooms so they would have some presence on the image. I did not have much time for this one, since the sun was leaving that side of the house and my battery died half way. I charged it for a little while but the sun was gone and the mushrooms went to the pot.
Milk: My grandad worked in a milk factory that no longer exists in my hometown, although he has been retired since I’ve got memory. He passed away on the 11/09/11. I was only two months in UK when it happened and the experience didn’t seem real to me for a while. His funeral was celebrated on the same day I turned 30. This is the only image where I have not included myself, so I can reflect the physical distance between me and my grandad towards the end. I have observed the scene from behind the camera, just as I experienced it from abroad, far from home.
The contact sheets.
These are the selected images, after clearing the dust marks and some contrast and exposure corrections: