Assignment 4: Languages of light. Preparation for assignment.

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time. 
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you´ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your “process” (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you´ve developed the exercise in order to meet the description of the Creativity criteria. Write 500-1000 words.
  • Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor´s comments.

 

First impressions and introduction to the subject

I have chosen Exercise 4.2 (daylight) to be prepared for formal assignment. The reason for this is that after considering the three different exercises I found daylight the most revealing and complex, also the most difficult to control as it is in constant change.

After researching about photographers Sally Mann and Eugène Atget, I resolved to shoot some elements of nature (not necessarily landscape) as it is a subject that resonates with my practice. I have found inspiration on Atget´s botanical photographs to start with, as well as the atmospheric landscapes of Sally Mann. An element that came up from Exercise 4.2 was the reflection on the bottom of the frame, which I found interesting and something that could be introduced in the final images. I also wanted to connect the exercise and the assignment by choosing a similar subject.

First, I compared two images from Atget with two of a similar subject from my personal archive, and noted down the differences that I perceived make his images interesting as opposed as mine. This helped me see how the use of light in Atget´s photographs is not only enhancing the subject but also creating a layered background that contributes to a more dynamic image.

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Experimenting with refraction

I recently bought a set of defective optical glass prisms and a triangular prism to experiment with distortion and light refraction. I started exploring the different effects that could be achieved in camera by holding the prisms close to the lens and the results are quite interesting. The options are limitless, which appeals to me. This technique could introduce something new to the assignment in the way daylight can be manipulated, creating surreal images. I did some research on light refraction to understand how light travels and found the connection between the theory and Tacita Dean’s “green ray”, which I find it’s fascinating. In the sample images below, the reflection of the window on my sitter’s face evokes memories or thoughts, as if the camera would be reading into his mind and exposing the information.

 

Another curious fact about this is that the raw file shows the colours of the refracted light differently than the final images without manipulation. On screen preview of the RAW file, the light looks pink throughout and after opening the file and saving it as JPG there are different colours of the spectrum that can be seen. This still remains a mystery to me, as I haven’t found a reason for it. Below there are two screen grabs from images Flat prism 3 (on the right) and Flat prism 5. 

I am now looking at ways to integrate the effect of the prisms with my chosen subject (nature, trees, plants etc).

 

Escanear 55

 

Experimenting with daylight

  • Test images (part 1)

Escanear 54

To take my comparision on Atget´s photographs further, I took some snaps of interesting trees/bushes at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh (which is probably my favourite place on Earth) to get my thoughts going. I was after some “portraits” of natural elements to observe what light conditions cold bring to the image in terms of the overall look of the subject within the scene. It is difficult to isolate a tree from a background of trees and I found that the direction and quality of the light is key here. The images above were shot at midday so the light was falling flat on the trees that were completely exposed to it and the resulting image was not interesting enough and the subject did not stand out. However, when shooting a shrub that was shadowed by taller trees, the filtered light coming from the top was helping in revealing its shape and also creating a layered composition.

  • Test images (part 2)

On a second visit, I explored light in a different way, drawing from what I had observed on the first time. I used a compact camera on aperture priority mode. I shot the trees and bushes by pointing with the camera slightly down, pressing the shutter half way to focus and hold the metering and then recomposing by including a part of the sky on the frame. By doing this, I wanted to trick the meter and overexpose the image to “burn” the sky and create a more atmospheric scene. I also experimented shooting against the light but trying not to get it right in camera. As a result, some images have a faded flare on them, like a blue- ish reflection, which appeared mainly when direct sun light was filtered through the top branches of the trees. This flare gives a very mystic effect that feels almost like a “presence”.

Looking at the sky on some of these images I think of Sugimoto´s “Theaters” series and the overexposed screens. I find it fascinating how I can appreciate something like an overexposed photograph in some way now. Before, I would have seen this as a mistake and discard the shot straight away, without thinking of a possible meaning or use.


I am still unsure about which direction my assignment will take, since I need to experiment further. I somehow feel the urge to include a human element in this assignment as I would like to tell a story that works as an allegory to light from both the visual and conceptual points of view. I would like to use a strong natural light in my images and due to bad weather this will be impossible for a while, so I am still developing the ideas I have gathered in this post and I am hoping to find the right moment to continue testing a bit further before I decide on how to approach the assignment.

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Exercise 4.5

Make a Google Images search for “landscape”, “portrait”, or any ordinary subject such as “apple” or “sunset”. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images.

Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the “Creativity” criteria at the end of Part Four. Yo might like to make the subject appear “incidental”, for instance by sing juxtaposition, focus or framing. Or you might begin with the observation of Ernst Haas, or the “camera vision” of Bill Brandt.

Add a final image to your learning log, together with a election of preparatory shots. In your nose describe how your photograph differs from your Google Images source images of the same subject.

 


I looked on Google Images Search for the term “Portrait”. These are the first images that come up:

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 11.38.58 copy.jpg

 

There are some similarities between them even though the sitters are of different gender, age, and background. The ones that I have noted down are:

  • Framing: mainly headshots or closely framed crops.
  • Subjects: looking into the camera with neutral expressions.
  • Style: a majority of studio portraits with flash or bounced light.

There is a variety of colour/black and white shots. I found it surprising that most images are photographs, with little reference to painting/drawings.

Overall, the images from the search shot a very cliched concept of a photographic portrait. Thinking of how to add creativity to the term “portrait” I came up with the idea of creating a series of portraits of my husband through his absence, by photographing the everyday findings that evidence his existence even when he is not present.

These are the images I took:

 

 

I have selected the image of the empty bed as my final image:

IMG_8301
His side of the bed is empty

It differs from the Google Images Search in many ways: framing, expression of the subject and style of photographs, since the sitter is not even present. However, I feel my images talk more about the person behind them than most of the portraits from the search, which do not tell much about the personality of the subjects, their habits, environment, preferences or routines. I have chosen this particular image because of the relation between bed and intimacy. The empty bed brings up the feeling of an absence, even more when the bed is not been made as it recalls there was a person sleeping there not long before. The image shows only my husband’s side of the bed rather than the whole bed, which would have had a different interpretation. It is also the place where he spends 7-8 hours in every day so it retains his essence more than any other place.

Exercise 4.4

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and color to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object. Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form.

[…]

Add a sequence to your learning log. Draw a simple lightning diagram for each of your shots showing the position of the camera, the subject and the direction of the key light and fill. Don´t labour the diagrams; quick sketches with notes will be just as useful as perfect graphics. In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lightning and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.

 


For this exercise I have chosen to photograph some flowers and leaves, using a black table as a background by pointing down onto the subject and lighting it with a flash head with softbox. I also used a reflector and a sheet of white paper to bounce light, as well as a curtain on the left side of the image with I opened or closed to experiment with the effect on shape and volume.

I do get a bit carried away when using studio lights and forget to record all the changes I make, which are many. It happened also in this occasion but I did take notes  of certain shoots.

These are the contact sheets:

 

IMG_8167.jpg

8167 –  0″3, f/13 – With modeling light on. Due to long exposure, the camera caught both the modeling light and the flash light, affecting colour temperature and white balance metering (AW set on “flash”).

8169 –  0″3, f/13 – Flash on the right, white reflector on the bottom.

8170 –  0″3, f/13 – Flash on the right, no reflector.

8173 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, white reflector on the bottom left.

8174 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, white reflector on the bottom left + white curtain on the left.

8175 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, no reflector.

8182 and 8183 – Flash light from the top right, silver reflector on the bottom (tilted differently).

8184 – Flash light from top right, silver reflector on the left.

8185/6 – Flash light from top right, silver reflector on the left + white sheet of paper on the bottom right.

8208 – Flash on the right, no reflector.

8209 – Flash on the right, sheet of white paper on the bottom right.

8210 – Flash on the right, with silver reflector over head.


 

What I observe here is that the main light source is the responsible to define the form of the object, as its orientation in reference to it changes the way its volume is perceived. Direct light does not help revealing shape but it reveals the subject clearer. Side light shapes and contours the edges of the subject, bringing up the volume. By reflecting the side light from different angles we get a better sense of volume and the shadows on the opposite side of the main light become softer.

In studio there is a bigger sense of control and changes can be done and light set ups tested without worrying about how long this may take, ask lighting conditions can be maintained as opposed as when using ambient or natural light. However, there are elements in the environment that can act as aids to use ambient and artificial light as in studio. In daylight, an overcast sky filters the light, water reflects it and other elements can interfere with light (windows, buildings…). The light painting technique I tried on Exercise 4.3 could have been replaced by studio lights, achieving similar results and different exposure times could be tested in the same way as with studio flash.

Exercise 4.3

Capture “the beauty of artificial light” in a short sequence of shots (“beauty” is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important: this can get tricky – but interesting- if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your notes try to describe the difference in quality of light from the daylight shots in Exercise 4.2.


 

After reviewing the artists suggested in Project 3 I did not feel keen on working with artificial light as I did not find their work engaging. Night shots are not something that I find interesting or relevant and so I told my tutor about my struggle to find “the beauty of artificial light”. He suggested me to look into the work of Laura Stevens and her use of the “light painting” technique to light a scene. This is a use of artificial light that I find more tempted to explore rather than lampposts and neon signs, as I feel that the scene you create can still be something you stage yourself and have some control over it, yet with the advantage of getting a very different result with each shot.

With the camera mounted on a tripod and using a remote shutter release, I tried different ways to lighten up my subject in a pitch black room, using only the torch of my mobile phone.

This is the result:

Hoja de contacto-001.jpg

ISO:100, 10″, f/22, 30mm.

I used a different way of lighting the subject on each shot, with the most successful images resulting from lighting three or more areas from different angles. I prefer the ones where the glass pot is lit from the left, as it gives more context (other wise the pot is lost and the succulent seems to float on the background).

These are Image 8231 and Image 8234 after white balance and exposure correction:

In Image 8231 the subject was illuminated from three different angles: left, bottom left and back, which has resulted in a combination of light and shadows that helps reveal the volume of the succulent and the glass vase. For Image 8234, instead of having light coming from the left, the light lies on the subject from the top, resulting a more plain image. However, this brings the attention onto the succulent and separates it from the glass vase which is relegated to a secondary position.

It is a technique that it can be used anywhere and applied to different photographic genres. I am looking forward to use this on portrait and even though it is unlikely I would choose this exercise for further development in Assignment 4, I am already thinking how much I could benefit from taking this further for Assignment 5.

Project 3: The beauty of artificial light

These are some notes and research on some of the artists mentioned on Project 3:

Rut Blees Luxemburg is a German photographer who uses urban landscapes as her main subject. Shooting at night, she uses a large format camera combined with long exposures to capture empty public spaces glowing with artificial light. She looks for what it is generally overlooked and photographs buildings and reflections on the pavement from unusual viewpoints.

Sato Shintaro is another artist who’s work takes place mostly at night. His work Tokyo Twilight Zone shows the magnificence of Tokyo’s urban landscape at dusk, with a rich colour palette that includes both artificial and ambient light. In the series Night Lights he focuses on landscape at street level, depicting empty scenes where neon light and commercial signs overwhelms with fluorescent colours. There is a big contrast between the level of visual stimuli and the lack of people, giving the impression that even though the intention of the signs is catching the attention of the public, the message seems undelivered.

Brassai‘s photographic work us also influenced by the night. With a background in painting, Brassai understands the importance of combining composition and the ability of capturing the essence of life subjects. His book Paris de Nuit (1933) shows a city full of reflections, lunes and glowing lights, often including people in his photographs. This series remind me to Atget’s shots of the old city of Paris in the way that there is no intention of capturing the beauty and glamour of a city, but the mysterious forms and scenes that emerge at night.


Resources:

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970) | #ASX. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/08/interview-brassai-with-tony-ray-jones.html [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Bright, S. (n.d.). Art photography now. London : Thames & Hudson, 2006, pp.203-204.

Rutbleesluxemburg.com. (2017). Rut Blees Luxemburg. [online] Available at: http://www.rutbleesluxemburg.com [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Mint Magazine. (2017). An Interview With Photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg. [online] Available at: http://www.mintmagazine.co.uk/art/an-interview-with-photographer-rut-blees-luxemburg/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Sato-shintaro.com. (2017). Sato Shintaro Photo Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.sato-shintaro.com/index.html [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Tate. (2017). Rut Blees Luxemburg born 1967 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/rut-blees-luxemburg-3652 [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

The Guardian. (2017). Photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg explores the public spaces of cities. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/gallery/2009/mar/09/rut-blees-luxemburg-photography [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Project 2 “Layered, complex and mysterious…”

In this part of the unit, we are asked to research on artists who use natural light in different ways. From the authors given, I feel mostly attracted to the work of Sally Mann and Eugène Atget, who I also find have a similar approach to light in their landscape series.

Sally Mann (1951)

Despite coming up on the course materials as an example of the use of light in her Southern Landscapes series, Sally Mann´s best known work relates to her children´s childhood and the daily life of her and her husband. Series like “Immediate Family” and “At Twelve” are also very controversial and rise concern about the image and privacy of children seen outside a family setting.

I personally like her approach to family photography. The complicity shown between her kids and her, the freshness how they pose and act in front of a camera that does not intimidate them and the engagement and commitment in creating beautiful images as a family. The debate and critisism on her scenes of nudity makes me reflect on how much society feels ashamed of showing naked bodies, which it is a natural thing. It seems nudes are only socially accepted when shows bodies of a certain type and age, not too young, not too aged. I see perfectly normal that children enjoy their childhood without these preconceptions of what it is right or wrong to show of themselves and without feeling ashamed of theirs and others nudity. The decision of taking these images outside the family setting is brave and many may think the rights or privacy of the kids is broken or compromised by doing it so. However, the key point in Mann´s work lays on the fact that these kids were aware of their mum´s work and participated consciously, regarding their age. Richard Billingham´s “Ray´s a laugh” series could be seen in the same way, as his subjects didn’t seem to be in their best lucid moments when the pictures where taken and still there is not so much debate as they are adults and of course, there is no nudity (well, a little and it isn’t beautiful).

On her “Southern Landscapes” series, I like how the light filters through the foliage and creates a calm and moody atmosphere. Forests and trees appear ethereal and atemporal and the quality of the light is “layered, complex and mysterious” (S. Mann, 2010). It is difficult to locate the place which gives even more importance to the effect light has on it, since the artist uses the specific characteristics of the Southern light as the key element that shapes the landscape, connecting it also with the tittle of the series.

Some of her landscapes have strong vignetting and distortion on the edges and this is an element that I really feel attracted to and I want to introduce in my photography and experiment with. This image looks as it would have been shot through a glass or similar object, creating a blurred and distorted edge around the wall, framing it and drawing all the attention on it.

Eugène Atget (1857-1927)

Another photographer that I have researched is Eugène Atget. He was a very prolific documentary photographer pioneer, who dedicated his work to mainly botanical and arquitectural images. His series on Paris depict the city before it became the majestic metropolis when know. Atget photographed the empty streets of the Old Paris, with the light wrapping the distant buildings and their reflection on the pavement. He also paid particular attention to all the sculptural and arquitectural features on buildings, doors and parks, documenting them in detail.

Another big theme in Atget´s work is parks and gardens. Here, he uses light to create a more melancholic atmosphere. Once again, the scenes are detached from human presence. Instead, he portraits statues and plants in a very neat and efficient way, often using reflection of outer buildings on ponds and creating a layered landscape by shooting into the light, so the background fades into the light darkening the elements on the front and giving a great depth to the image. Sculptural ornaments as vases and benches are also a subject of his interest on this series.

As on Sally Mann´s landscapes, there is also a characteristic vignetting on some of Atget´s images. There are many elements that I feel attracted to from his work: empty places, botanical elements and French gardens.

 


Resources

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). 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 23 Sep. 2017].

Nga.gov. (2017). Atget: The Art of Documentary Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.nga.gov/feature/atget/work.shtm [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017].

Sallymann.com. (2017). Sally Mann. [online] Available at: http://sallymann.com/selected-works/southern-landscapes [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Eugène Atget | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/artists/229?=undefined&page=5&direction=fwd [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017].

 

 

Exercise 4.2

 

In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to “work into” your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of the light in each image.


After researching on the authors mentioned in Project 2, I decided I wanted to photograph some element from nature for this exercise. I always feel inspired by trees, gardens and forests so the closest thing I could find at home was the view from the rear garden. I love observing the way the light falls on the branches of trees and bushes, it is something that always drags my attention so I have enjoyed this exercise very much as my subject is a well known thuja hedge that separates our garden from the neighbors´. I have chosen a rainy, overcast day as I like the way the light shapes the leaves and brings up so many different shades of muted green, however, it became sunny half way through the day so the variation between the images amd colours is quite wide.

With the camera set on manual mode I chose a scene to frame and I started shooting  at 8:34, standing on the window sill and photographing it through the glass (there is some reflection on the bottom of the images that I actually like),  following with another shot at 9:30 and then every two hours till after 5pm, when I increased the frequency as the light was changing faster as the sun was going down.

These are the images:

As it shows on the first three images, the clouds are filtering the light, giving an even soft scene. Still the different between the three frames is evident: a duller light at first time feels more neutral and balanced while as the sun rises and the intensity of the light changes, the colours become brighter and more vivid. The transition to the fourth image is smooth; the sun is higher and the layer of clouds seems to be very thin now, with almost direct sun light in image 5. The sun started to descend in image 6, hiding behind the house and protecting its shadow on the hedge, which extends to the middle background on image 7. There is a more contrasted variety of colours and shades while the foreground get lit and more visible, almost catching all the attention as the tones change from gold to pink and dark blue. The only light that lights the hedge on the last three images is the residual light from the sunset as it is in shadow at this time. Still there is a variation in tones that makes it stand out from the background when compared with the first images, but there is less detail on the leaves and branches, revealing more of its overall shape.

The range of cold and warm tones shown on the last three images is impressive, specially because thy where taken within a little timeframe comparing with the length of the whole project. I find this later light more interesting and the one that could be worth experimenting with as it shows a richer quality. However, it is the light in the first image the one I personally like the most as I have a thing for filtered light and the way the clouds work here remind me of a giant soft box.

Since the brief of Assignment 4 is asking us to revisit one of the three exercises on light from this unit, I am already noting down some ideas on how I would take this exercise on day light further. I am looking at ways to reflect and manipulate natural light, which is something I feel attracted to and observing the different qualities of light throughout the day has given me an idea to use some techniques I have been wanting to explore. I will come back to this idea when approaching the assignment and after completing the exercises, since I might find other options later.

Exercise 4.1

 

  1. Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful “grey card”) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it´s not necessary to focus). Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.
  2. Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid-tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter cake with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations. 

 

For this exercise I have chosen to photograph a sheet of paper for the light-tone, a piece of cardboard for the mid-tone and the cover of a black photo album. I have tried other black surfaces for the dark-tone but all have proven quite shinny and i was not happy with any but I think it does not affect the aim of the exercise.

First, I set my camera on aperture priority mode, since the flash was popping up when using auto mode to shoot the dark-tone.

The histogram on three of them stays in the middle, being very similar for the mid and light-one and describing a subtle curve for the dark-tone.

Despite the white balance set in auto, it seems the colour is way off, specially on the light colour which was supposed to look white. I have changed the settings on Photoshop and set the white balance manually but no luck. As it can be seen on the third image, the dark-tone, which it was pure black originally, turns out grey as well. As an experiment and to make the histogram more simple, I desaturated the three images:

It is even harder to tell which is which here as all represent a mid-tone. By covering the whole frame with each of the surfaces, the camera reads the reflected light regardless of the real tone and makes adjustments so it gives a neutral tone. This is something I new in theory but it was quite enlightening experimenting it though this set of images.

 

For the second part, I set the camera in manual mode. The results are even more evident, with the three images closer to the mid-tone than with semi-auto mode.

 

As it can be seen below, the histograms are very similar

 

I guess it is quite common converting a beautiful colourful image to black and white and discover that it has lost its interest because it appears dull and grey all over. Understanding how the camera measures and exposes a scene is essential to can have absolute control when shooting in manual mode. It is also strongly linked to the way we observe light, specially when deciding where to position ourselves to create an interesting range of tones that would not give a bland image as a result, where all the tones are flat and even. Or to can achieve this effect if that is our aim.

Assignment 3: Reflection.

Check your work against assessment criteria for this course before you send it to your tutor. Make some notes in your learning log about how well you believe your work meets each criterion.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

The work presented has a strong compositional drive and the approach taken on the brief has an implied interest in producing a visual response in the viewer. The technique used (low shutter speed) has been explored during Part 3 through research of other artists and on the exercises, and it is a crucial element for the production of the final images. Observation prior to shooting has been essential, as the work emulates Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images to decompose the Decisive Moment.

Quality of outcome

The final images and conclusion show a broad understanding on the theory of the Decisive Moment and I have worked my way towards exploring the term as I was creating more images, reflecting widely on the purpose of each of them and their aim within the assignment.

Overall, I am satisfied with the outcome and how it communicates my idea of the Decisive Moment.

Demonstration of creativity

Having to change the initial plan of shooting with a model and turning the project into a self-portraiture series has pushed me to find the way to communicate my ideas in a creative manner while dealing with many difficulties in achieving the shot I wanted. Somehow, I feel that these images are a continuation of what I started in Assignment 2 (experimenting with movement and portrait) which it´s something that really intrigues me and would like to continue exploring in different ways. I have perceived a big change in how I approach photography since I started working on research before and during projects while also shooting subjects that I like. My aim is to develop my own voice as I progress through the module by merging my interests, new knowledge and influences. I think these are early days still and I have a long way to go yet in finding my voice but I can already see all the benefits this course is bringing to my thinking process.

Context

Since I had the last tutor feedback chat and read through the brief of Assignment 3, the thought of producing a good set of images while reflecting on the Decisive Moment has obsessed me a little. The aim was to challenge the theory but how? I spent a lot of time asking myself about its meaning and wondering what would work and how it could be somehow “fragmented”.

After finishing my work I am still a little concerned about how my reflection on the Decisive Moment would be understood as my writing skills are not so good and the meaning can be easily misinterpreted because of my poor grammar. However, I know my concepts and thinking are clear and I have reflected widely on the matter, specially through observation.

Perhaps I should work more on my Learning Log as I do research many artists that are not mentioned on the course materials, and find the time to include them on the blog. I have been considering scanning some pages of the many notebooks/sketchbooks where I normally write/reflect on. I do need paper and ink to organize my ideas but these notes are often messy, illegible and quite random so I feel a bit concerned about showing them. However, I think it could enhance my learning experience if I would compromise and include them on my log as this would encourage me to keep my annotations tidier.

This, together with finding someone to read proof my entries, could definitely help my work look more professional and better organized.


 

Strengths and weaknesses

Generally and reading through the first impressions on the brief I posted earlier, I have managed to overcome all foreseeable problems that I expected facing. The series works well and the prints follow a clear theme. I decided to keep the overall look neat by shooting black and white, horizontal images and focus in portraiture.

Despite this, I perceive a difference between the first three images and the three following. As I was progressing on the series and reflecting on the Decisive Moment, my approach was evolving. Like this, I feel the first three images are less meaningful to me while the concept was richer towards the end. This could be seen as something that did not work so well, however, I am happy I can identify it and judge my work in this way. It makes me aware that the deeper the understanding/experimentation on a subject, the better results can be obtained.

How could I develop this further in the future

It could be interesting observing the Decisive Moment through Street Photography. Trying to stage Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images was helpful for my practice even though I did not choose to replicate those photographs of him that are more immediately connected to the Decisive Moment. I consider Street Photography a difficult discipline as I like control and I tend to choose predictable subjects to work with so this would challenge me in many ways.

 

Assingment 3: The Decisive Moment. Final Images and Conclusion.

[Contact sheets and development of the assignment can be found here]

 


 

Here there are the six final images for Assignment 3 (with a little description of each shot) and a final conclusion about the project.

Image 1

foto1_web

Shutter speed: 3.2″ (just enough to catch an interesting movement on the book pages)

Aperture: f/29

ISO: 100

Focal length: 21mm


I chose to begin with this image of Martine Franck´s legs as I thought it would be the easiest to get started and achieve a successful composition. It is also an image where the concept of the Decisive Moment is clear in relation with the geometry and not so much with action, as it depicts a moment of relaxation where there is not much happening. The composition is not affected by the movement of the pages on the book as the main lines are drawn by the position of the legs and the shapes created on the background.

 

Image 2

foto2_web

Shutter speed: 3.2″

Aperture: f/10

ISO: 100

Focal length: 26mm


This image seems like the continuation of the previous one despite the years that separate the originals. It is another relaxed moment where body positioning and the horizontal lines of the background create a well balanced, informal portrait. I do feel more attracted to Cartier-Bresson´s portraits than to his street photography, and I have found many images that I did not see before while doing my research for the project, mainly of family and friends (most of them artists), and there is a great feeling of complicity, specially in the ones of his wife, Martine Franck.

In this image, I have tried to recreate the movement that I feel could have happened in that moment, so she drinks from her cup while staring at something, probably aware but not really concerned about the camera. Any of these little moments caught here with the long exposure would, in my opinion, have made a Decisive Moment. It gives me the impression that Cartier-Bresson saw the shot while observing his wife and felt the urge to frame it.

 

Image 3

foto3_web

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/11

ISO: 100

Focal length: 32mm


This photograph is composed from two different shots since it was very complicated to expose myself correctly in five different positions. I used a black backdrop and planed the movements to achieve a similar composition. I tried to focus on the white areas of the original image (faces, handkerchief, arms) and their proportions within the frame. Even though the white belt and the flag with the inscription are missing, I think the essence of the original image is there. With five (possibly more) people moving in front of him, there is no way Henri Cartier-Bresson could have predict how the final image would look like. He could only observe the scene and guess when to shoot.

I set my shutter speed to 6 seconds as the first part of the image required three movements and like this, I could count 2 seconds for each position and give enough exposure time to record myself neatly at each stage. As it can be noted on the contact sheets, there was a moment when the available light dropped and the camera calculated a lower aperture with a darker image as a result. I did not like the way the light turned out then, so I changed to manual mode and used the settings from the beginning and keeping the 6 seconds exposure. I kept the same settings for the second image to can merge both images without major adjustments.

 

Foto 4

tofo4_300_small

Shutter speed: 4″

Aperture: f/25

ISO: 100

Focal length: 24mm


I have chosen this image because I like Cartier-Bresson´s photographs where people are framed tightly. I tried to keep the lines and mood of the original, despite being shot indoors and from a slightly higher viewpoint. I could not use the shutter release cable so I set up a 10 seconds delay instead. It took a while to find the correct composition. Working on this image made me wonder what Cartier-Bresson captured here: wether the man was aware of his presence and covered his face to not be seen or if he was simply resting and protecting his eyes from the sun. It represents another moment where observation and body positioning created the Decisive Moment.

 

Image 5

foto5_web

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/18

ISO: 100

Focal length: 44mm


I had my doubts when selecting the final photograph from this sequence. There is another shot that I think replicates better the composition of the original image but I feel that the one above reflects better how I imagine that moment happened. I imagine Martine Franck looking at the camera at some point while enjoying a quiet moment at home. This was my approach in representing the movement (and hence the moment) here: I gave myself 6 seconds during which, using the position from the original image as a starting point, I would just act “normal”. So, I was experimenting with moving my eyes across the scene through the window on my right, turning my head to the camera and accommodating myself on the bed. I wanted to capture what I imagined she would have been doing.

The image I think has a better composition is the following:

IMG_7220_peke

I am still wondering if I should take the second option, as it seems to match better with the rest of the images on the serie. However, I find this shot feels more posed and less natural, which crashes with my idea of how the Decisive Moment is represented here. On the other hand, the first is maybe the one image of the project that will recreate an “Indecisive Moment” by showing how a slight change when composing an image (and therefore, a change in the overall shapes and geometry of the photograph) can potentially make the photographer “miss” that Decisive Moment.

At this point of the Assignment, I notice that the process of planning, creating and selecting the right image is getting more complex as I dig into the concepts and compare the different situations in which the original photographs were taken.

I have been wondering about the idea of what exactly makes the Decisive Moment. It seems to me that Henri Cartier-Bresson was exclusively thinking of the aesthetic aspect of the image and its composition. However, when looking at his portraits there seems to be something else. Does the subject or the relationship between the subject and the photographer matter in the Decisive Moment? As he mentions on the documentary L´amour tout court in 2001, part of his technique when photographing other artists in their environment is to talk about anything so they relax and forget about the shooting that is about to happen. Was he entertaining his subjects in a way they would become another element of the image allowing him to compose the shot without much interference? Till what extent was it important for him to capture the real self of the subject? Was it all about making them unaware of his camera to give that sense of relaxation and normality and how does this relate to the Decisive Moment within his body of work?

 

Image 6

foto6_web

 

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/32

ISO: 100

Focal length: 31mm


This is not an image I have planned to replicate from the beginning but it caught my attention while searching for inspiration. Both women seem to pose for the camera but still their posture is very loose and natural and reminds me of classic paintings. Their limbs create a composition that I feel attracted to and I also liked the way their shoulder touch and the positioning of their hands.  They don´t look impressed by the presence of the camera, which tells me that the photographer was not intimidating them or the women did not see him as an intruder. The composition achieved here by Cartier-Bresson is sublime, with both girls describing opposing triangles (did Cartier-Bresson staged this or did he “see” it happening and captured “the moment“?) and their bodies framed tighlty so all the attention falls on them and not even the busy background distracts from them.

I have tried many options to get this image done. Initially I thought of using a 10 seconds exposure so I would have time to move from one chair to another, but the image was a bit overexposed. The clear background did not help much with this issue, so I dimmed the light with a curtain and tried shooting with 6 and 8 seconds shutter speeds instead, which worked better. I particularly like the messy background: the backdrop visibly hanging from the stand, the edges of it poking on both sides. Even though these elements don´t appear in the original, I would like to keep them as a point of interest. The image quality of some areas on this photograph reminds me of film (the legs and arms of the figure on the left). Unfortunately, I could not replicate the direction of the lights from Cartier-Bresson´s image, as I had only one window on the left.


Conclusion

Exploring the Decisive Moment has made me reflect on what I learnt through the previous course materials: the constant changes in light, the importance of the viewpoint and perspective, the frame, the movement that can be perceived in a scene by close observation, the way our eye reads a photograph… All these factors are affecting the composition (shadows sharpen or disappear creating shapes or defining them, a new element appears in the frame, our attention can jump from one subject/area to another with the smallest change). While trying to emulate the Decisive Moment through Henri Cartier-Bresson´s photographs, I found these concepts played a big part in the planning and execution process. That makes me think of the Decisive Moment as the moment when all these key factors converge at once capturing a precise scene that is aesthetically  perfect yet, there is still something else to it that I can´t define. It is rather the subject or the particular instant that is caught on camera that makes every element work together. As Gerry Badger comments on the Decisive Moment, it can be better understood as “the moment when form and content come together to produce an image in which the formal, emotional, poetic and intellectual elements have substance” (G. Badger, 2007)

On the other hand, and specially looking at my final images, I would say that one same scenario could provide different moments that could be considered “decisive”: the only common element is that the main factors that make the photograph stay constant. Since time is recorded as movement and movement would potentially change the composition of the image, it can be said that the greatest the movement (or the length of time), the greatest the chance the Decisive Moment is missed if not shot as it happens.

In my opinion, the presence or absence of action affects the Decisive Moment from behind the camera. Since the only person who sees the shot from that specific point of view at that specific time is the photographer himself, the fact of missing the moment can only be attributed to the capacity of the photographer to observe and identify when to shoot. Failure in identifying “the moment” would not make him miss the shot as he never observed it so, did it ever happen? This makes me think of other two factors that are equally important in the Decisive Moment: the ability of the photographer to look and the luck of being in the right moment in the right place. Just as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, it is about learning how to look and being receptive.

I had the initial purpose of challenging the Decisive Moment through presenting lengthy exposures with subjects in movement, thinking that this could lead me to prove Cartier-Bresson´s vision wrong or at least not so true for every type of shot. It happens that the more I have been reflecting on the Decisive Moment, the more I believe that he was right. The difference here is that I can see now the concept with different eyes: now I understand it better. “I look, I look. It´s and obsession” (Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2001). He knew how much he could miss by not looking.

 

 


References

Badger, G. (2013). The genius of photography. London: Quadrille, p.104.

‘L’amour du court’ parts 1-5, 2001 YouTube video, added by Rangefindergeneral [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF(Accessed 08 September 2017).