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).
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:
Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. […] Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal “point” to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this “point” contain?
Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150-300 words.
Looking at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazareand observing the way the different elements conduct the eye through the image and back, I would say that the pivotal point resides in the shades reflected on the water: the semi-circular figures, the railway and the blurred reflection of the man against the white surface. The top 2/3 of the image seem irrelevant, bringing little or no attention to it when I look at the photograph.
Reflecting on Rinko Kawauchi’s image of an overexposed flower and comparing it with Bresson’s photograph, I can see why we are invited to analyse them together. As opposed as what it’s mentioned in the course materials about what “information” means in Photography and it’s connection with correct exposure (the better the image is exposed, the greater the information that is captured in the frame), it is interesting to note that in both images the component of engagement is represented by the less defined areas.
In Kawauchi’s image for instance, the overexposed areas of the flower are an invitation to observe it more carefully, trying to unveil the information that hides behind the brighter areas. Since the object is a common one (I would assume it is a rose), the eye almost fills in the gaps using the information preconceived by our understanding of how a flower looks like. Also, hiding the real information on how this particular subject looks like (which could have been easily captured and delivered to the viewer with a perfect exposure and detail) is what stablished a dialogue with the audience and draws interest on to a simple object.
[…] You may already have taken some homage photography where you’ve not tried to hide the original inspiration but rather celebrated it. Refer back to your personal archive and add one or two to your learning log together with a short caption to provide a context for the shot.
Before I started this course I considered that drawing inspiration from other artists was a “bad thing”. I was scared of being accused of plagiarism if only my mind would register something from someone else’s work that would condition or add to my own photography.
I see things differently now and since I am continuously looking for inspiring art to reflect and learn from I have become aware of how paying homage to an artists or work that you feel specially excited about is nothing wrong but a good opportunity to learn.
I can’t recall of any image shot with this intention apart from the initial submission for A3, were homage to some of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s images was the base of the project to challenge the Decisive Moment:
Overall I am happy with the comments and the impression that the images have caused. I am in the process of re-editing some of them and will be shooting in an urban setting next week, trying to include some people on the frame and hopefully getting a variety of colours to add some visual impact.
My tutor has given me a few tasks to take the assignment further and this is the part I enjoy the most from the report. So far, I have been researching the artists mentioned and found them inspiring. Rolf Sachs’ landscapes taken from a train combine the movement captured by using long exposures with interesting distortions produced by the landscape itself: as the train approaches a curve the angle and the motion create an unexpected distortion that makes it difficult to guess how the images are taken. Naoya Hatakeyama’s series called “Slow Glass” depict night scenes seen through a wet glass, accentuating the lines and shapes created by artificial light. The simplicity of the scenes invites to guess what hides behind the “slow glass”, enhancing the interaction between the viewer and the images.
As suggested, I have taken some night photographs using the same technique as for Assignment 4 (with the lemon saver container attached to my 50mm lens). I am extremely surprised with the results so far. I have selected some of the shots and enhanced or altered the original colours to add even more vibrance and dynamism.
There is an image I took in response of one of Naoya Hatakeyama’s photograph of a McDonalds store, as part of Exercise 5.2 (I will develop this further on the appropriate blog post). This is the image:
Although I am not planning to include any of these night scenes in the re-worked submission for Assignment 4, I am certainly interested in continuing with the project and add some more images regularly. I somehow feel the style of the images is far from what I usually shoot, specially in the use of colour, but I have found something stimulating that I enjoy doing. The abstraction of the images leaves some room to interpretation although some of them may look like something different. Most of the images were taken by pointing directly to the light source, which brought interesting geometric distortions. However, at the end of the experiment I started shooting pointing away from the light, increasing the exposures to capture a more atmospheric scene (as in the case of the fourth image of a sign on the pavement). This is something I have to try again next time, as I think it is more in the line of my work. I am really excited about this discovery and I can not be more grateful for having a tutor that pushes me to try new things. This assignment has opened my eyes even more to what can be achieved with an open mind. After practising with longer exposures I would also introduce some camera movement to see where this takes me.
I am also looking forward to shoot with a pinhole camera. I believe the idea may resonate with what I am looking to achieve in my photography or it seems adequate at least from theory. I have never tried this technique and I will be hands on it as soon as I move house after the festive period. For now, I have read about the authors suggested by my tutor. Both Alex Yates and Tom Hunter use a pinhole camera to produce some of their images. The way this technique allows Yates to represent natural elements such as fog, lakes and clouds is what I feel attracted to when I see his images. In the same way, the blurred edges and softness achieved by Hunter on his “Prayer Places” series capture my attention and curiosity. The colour quality of these last ones feels precious and the general atmospheric scene wraps you inside it.
We have also discussed the pointers for the next assignment, which has a rather general brief (this makes it even more difficult to choose a subject). I have some ideas in mind and I have welcomed both sources of inspiration suggested by my tutor. First, the blog Plenty of Colour is a good one to keep looking at from time to time. The images and projects presented show striking colour combinations and held a strong visual impact. Again, I am not sure how much I like colour or how could this reflect on my practice, but I have certainly a strange relationship with it. I am synesthetic in a way that words, numbers, shapes, times and other elements have “colour” in my head so I can be easily annoyed by certain colour combinations or the combination of an object with certain shape and certain colour altogether. I do systematically avoid colour in many aspects of my live (clothing, objects I buy, gadgets, decorative elements etc) or stay within a particular colour range in order to don’t feel “disturbed” by this condition (which is a great condition, I would say, I don’t complain!). This is one of the reasons why I feel a bit surprised with the experiment above and the colourful night scenes. The association my brain makes between colours and anything else in the environment make me perceive certain combinations as right or wrong, so the way I read an image has an extra dimension that comes to me spontaneously. I guess I could potentially be using this for an assignment or project one day, but the task of making others understand the feelings synesthesia bring and the way the brain processes these feelings seems a difficult one. There are other aspects of my synesthetic perceptions that could perhaps be easier to explain or represent, such as the shape of certain smells or names.
Another task derived from my research for Assignment 4 is exploring the way Laura Plageman creates her modified landscapes and try to apply a similar technique onto my work. I have started experimenting with this, although it is still early stages but I will be writing about my findings and sharing the results in a separate blog post.
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.
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.
Sophie Calle (Paris, 1953) is a conceptual artist who´s complex process in producing work has caught my attention not merely because of the quality of it but also because of the way she presents it. Combining photography and text (the written part being the most substancial part overall, I would say), Calle´s illustrates stories that go beyond what would be considered politically correct, exploring her subjects with a mixture of scientific data gathering and romantic delusions that are not as such; giving both the impression of self detachment and deep implication on the matter.
I first came across Sophie Calle´s work called L´Hôtel(The Hotel, 1981) where the artist (who started working as a chambermaid in a hotel only with the purpose of creating this piece) documented with notes and photographs the belongings of the guests. She would record what and where certain objects were found in the room, take pictures of the beds, read through personal diaries and creating a portrait of the owners through her findings. As I discovered later, this was not the only occasion when Calle created a portrait where the sitter is absent.
The story behind L´Hôtel started earlier in 1979, when she returned to Paris after seven years and began following strangers as her way to decide where to go. Like this, she followed a man who she later was introduced by an acquaintance, and heard about his imminent trip to Venice where she followed him over the course of 2 weeks and documented his movements. Once again, there is a strong relationship between the images she took of the man (who she refers at as Henri B.) and the diary like entries she recorded on her notes. In Suite Venitienne (1980) Calle spends long hours waiting for Henri B outside his hotel as well as interviewing the people he encounters (shop assistants, waiters…) and gets to fantasize with the idea of breaking into his room. Despite how wrong these thoughts might sound, she points out that little they have to do with romantic love, but with the obsession created by the rules she imposed herself in her assignment of following him. A year later, she got a job as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel.
Soon after L´Hôtel, Sophie decided to reverse the roles and made her mum hire a private detective who would follow her to “provide photographic evidence of my existence” (Sophie Calle, 1981). The final piece, called La Filature (The Shadow, 1981) includes the detective´s report with images and annotations on Sophie´s activities beside her own recording of what she was doing. Even though Sophie did not exactly know when the detective would follow her, she claims she “was not trying to do weird things” but she “just did everything in an intense way” (Sophie Calle, 1993). The truth reflected in her diary notes is that she performed for the detective, visiting some meaningful places and getting the detective somehow involved in activities of her choosing. As she did in Suite Venitienne, it could be said that Calle documents and directs social interaction by setting up the rules of a game where she is the only one who acknowledges them, but also giving herself permission to blindly follow whatever the experience brings.
As I mentioned earlier, Sophie plays with the way she portrays her subjects, who are often not aware of being part of her art processes. L´Homme au Carnet (The Address Book, 1983) is probably the more controversial of her works and the one that the artist regrets. While working as a columnist for the French newspaper Libération, she started writing about a man who’s address book she found on the street and copied. She then contacted the people in the book and interviewed them, gathering information such as the man´s habits, likes and dislikes, places he enjoyed visiting or eating out, his personality etc, and published them as a serial. Needless to say, the man was not particularly happy about this once he found out. It is morally questionable whether the need justifies the means here but what Sophie Calle did in L´Homme au Carnet is a very clever and creative exercise of portraiture without even knowing the subject.
These are only some of her series, which are many. Her later pieces are a lot more introspective, exploring herself in an intimate way through life experiences and in the same way she did before with others but maintaining that distance and detached style of previous works. Integrating image (photography or video) with text remains an important feature of her work and in some of her publications such as “True Stories”, the written word seems to conduct most of the narrative, making the reader questioning the authenticity of some of the images, even of some of her stories. Other works that I love are “The Birthday Ceremony” and “Anatoli” but I would reserve these ones for future entries and after doing some more planned reading on her oeuvre as there is so much to explore behind Sophie Calle. On the book “The Reader” various authors comment on her work, including also some interviews that provide a good insight of the apparent complexity of her work (and her personality).
– Baudrillard, J. (2009). Sophie Calle: The reader. 1st ed. London [England]: Whitechapel Gallery.
– Calle, S. (2016). True stories. Arles: Actes Sud.
– Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
– PALMER, D., 2014. Photography as Social Encounter: Three Works by Micky Allan, Sophie Calle and Simryn Gill. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 14(2), pp. 199-213,231.
Francesca Woodman was a prolific American photographer who died at the early age of 22. Despite this her work is extensive, with over 800 photographs, postcards and notes. Her images, shot in black and white film, are most of the time self-portraits were Woodman explored her body in relation with the frame and the environment. Not interested in represent herself but only using her naked body as a way of expression and as an available subject, her portraits show certain sense of displacement.
It is very characteristic of her images the use of the interior of abandoned houses or the decadent look of her own studio. There is a strong interest in exploring light (available light, a small ray of light coming through a window, a reflexion on a wall, a mirror…) and movement (her body is moving in many if not most of her self-portraits, specially from her early years).
After her death by suicide in 1981, her photographs have been exhibited widely. There is still a debate about whether her death could somehow be anticipated by looking at her work, as the way her blurred body disguises with the environment may suggest some degree of disappearance. When looking at her latest work (the images she took during her studies in Italy in 1977-1978) there is certain refinement that makes her previous images look more experimental. I particularly like the way she poses her hands in some of the photographs she took during these years in Rome, as they seem so expressive. Woodman´s photographs certainly changed in this time but it is difficult to say how this could be read in terms of her autobiography. The references to angels and the darkness that can be perceived in some of the images could be easily connect with her death. This contrasts though with her strong concept of herself as an artist and the fact that she went back to New York in 1978 to pursue a career in the photography industry.
True or not, Woodman found through very innovative imagery and technique the way to impress beyond her time.