Assignment 5 – self assesment

Looking at the end result of my fifth and final assignment submission, I summarise in the following table some personal notes in relation with the course’s assessment criteria:

Assessment criteria Personal views
Demonstration of technical and visual skills In general I believe the final selection of photographs continue to demonstrate reasonable levels of competency in terms of framing and composition. This assignment was a bit of a challenge technically as I was not too familiar with multiple exposure in camera and I did not knew what I was going to get out until the end, but I believe I have managed to ensure that the final pictures were sharp when needed and have the correct clarity and exposure.
Quality of outcome I feel generally satisfied with the connection between the various photographs in terms of their theme, and I believe it shows what I wanted to convey about the subject. The main challenge I faced here was to try to show something different on each picture while still maintaining the overall theme. I believe I have reasonably succedded at that, although there are pictures that come quite close in terms of similarity of information (eg pictures 4 and 8 both show greenery, although from different parts of the estate and on different perspectives)
Demostration of creativity The experimentation in this assignment came from the use of multiple exposure. I tried different approaches to this, combining different incongruent parts together (as in pictures 4 and 7), puting together elements that were next to each other (as in pictures 1, 3, 6 and 8) or simply moving the camera around the same scene (as in pictures 2, 5 and 9). I tried these approaches with several pictures and also experimented with the number of exposures for several scenes until I found the look that I wanted. It was refreshing to see something new and completelly different come out of familiar, sometimes uninspiring scenes.
Context The main source of research for the assignment was observations made in the subject of context by Terry Barrett, as I wanted to explore how the amount and fragmentation of information could affect our perception of meaning. I tried to achieve that by scrambling the internal context (ie what appears in the picture) and provide limited, deliveratelly confusing information about the original context via the title of each picture. I did not undertake any significant reseach on the Barbican itself because it was a subject I was familiar with, and I wanted that familiarity to guide me through the process in the interest of time. I did not do any research on the technique of multiple exposure either, other than reading my camera manual on it (2 pages), because I wanted the outcome to be experimental and unbound from any external aesthetic influences. Had I researcher more about the subject or the technique employed, the results would no doubt have been different, perhaps more elaborated, and undoubtly achieved on a more economical scale in terms of the number of pictures taken.

Assignment 5 – Final selection and presentation

Out of the 120 pictures taken, 21 were shortlisted from which 10 were selected, one for each of the number of exposures that were taken to produce them. The annotated contact sheet can be found here.

For the final selection, I tried to find photographs that showed different aspect of the Barbican, both in terms of the space itself, but also of the activities undertaken within it by its inhabitants as well as the numerous daily visitors. I tried in as much as possible not to repeat elements in the pictures and as a result, some pictures had to be re taken, at a different exposure overlap level in order to accommodate another picture that I felt stronger about. The final set was arranged in decreasing order of multiple exposures, and this is the way I envisage them being presented, with the amount of fragmented information included in each picture decreasing over time. Some of the final pictures are confusing in the information they present, and I wanted to add some additional context by making the title out of two items: the number of exposures and a single word related to the original context (ie, something to do with the process of taking the picture). Some of the words are not evidently related to what we see in the pictures, and as such I do not see this process as helping the viewer to discern what my intention was, but merely to experiment with the obfuscation created by too much fragmented information.

The final pictures, with a brief explanation of where the title comes from, are shown in the table below.

IMGP4204

1/400s at f8. ISO 320. 43mm. 10 exp.

10 – Window

The title comes from the area in the Barbican from where the picture was taken, a covered corridor with large openings, resembling window frames. The church and tower partly visible are from St Giles-without-Cripplegate, and date from the XIV and XVI century, respectively.

IMGP4162

1/100s at f8. ISO 400. 43mm. 9 exp.

9 – Lunch

Framed between two concrete pillars, this picture includes people having lunch in front of one of the artificial lakes, something that many city workers do here regularly when the weather is right.

IMGP4218

1/80s at f8. ISO 100. 43mm. 8 exp.

8 – Middle

The title comes again from the area of the Barbican from where this picture was taken, the covered corridor between (in the middle) of two block of flats.

IMGP4219

1/200s at f8. ISO 100. 43mm. 7 exp.

7 – Privilege

The Barbican has many inner gardens that are only open to residents. The title makes reference to the private areas of the estate, which are photographed here from the public walkways (like the one shown on the left hand side of the frame) which run above them.

IMGP4286

1/40s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 6 exp.

6 – Strip

The Barbican has many covered corridors and this one is one of my favourite ones, as it does look like a tunnel with no end. When I first saw this image coming out of the camera, the first thing that came to my mind is how much it looked like a strip of motion picture film. Hence the title.

IMGP4227

1/200s at f8. ISO 400. 43mm. 5 exp

5 – Parts

The many covered walkways in the Barbican have cuts in their walls to allow light in, and on certain times of the day this creates interesting strips of light on the floors. The title here simply makes reference to the fact that the strip shown here, which was about 10 meters long, had to be cut in various parts (ie exposures) before it could fit into the picture.

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1/30s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 4 exp

4 – Off

While it is common to see visitors having lunch in the common areas of the estate, residents are usually seen “switching off” from reality either by finding a hidden corner to read a book and have a smoke or just taking a nap on the grass. This picture’s title makes reference to these activities.

IMGP4351

1/320s at f8. ISO 400. 50mm. 3 exp

3 – Communal

Another interesting aspect of the residents life is that they have allotments (pictured here), something rarely seen in modern blocks of flats, but more common in suburban parts of London. This adds to the sense of community in the place, and hence the title.

IMGP4343

1/50s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 2 exp

2 – Enclave

This image is composed of one of the private playing grounds of the estate and the busy street just outside. The middle of the picture gives the impression of a wall separating the estate from the rest of the city. I always found the Barbican to be a space of calm away from the noise of cars and people that surround it. Hence the title.

IMGP4249

1/250s at f8. ISO 100. 35mm. 1 exp

1 – Obstructed

The title here comes from the fact the picture I wanted to take for the 1 exposure shot, including the estate towers, was obstructed by features or objects and then, frustrated by my lack of success, I took this shot from a location I had not though about in the first place. After correcting the verticals, I ended liking this picture very much, as I believe it summarises the architecture of the place very well.

I envisage the final shots being shown in a book, with one picture on one page and the title on its opposite page. As the order of the pictures is meant to be descending in terms of the number of exposures, from 10 to 1, I set the book to open from right to left rather than in the traditional way. A PDF version of the proposed book can be found here.

Assignment 5 – The shooting process

The assignment was shot over 5 days. In total 120 pictures were produced, but many of these were made with several exposures per image, so the total number of shutter actuations was much higher at 586.

The approach taken was to take the shots and combine them in camera. Three  prime lenses, all of them close to normal perspective, were used: a 35mm, a 43mm and a 50mm lens. They were all set to f8 (except one shot that was accidentally taken at f9) to ensure optimal sharpness. The camera used has three blending modes for multiple exposure, one of which is “average” (in which all exposures are even out to the same level), the second is “additive”, in which pictures are added up at the same exposure they were taken, and “bright”, which replaces the bright exposure areas of the first image. I used the “average” method for all pictures in which the elements were similar and there was no particular one that I wanted to emphasize, and then used the “additive” method whenever I wanted to have more control over which exposures to emphasize. The “bright” method was not used.

Pictures were taken combining between 2 and 10 exposures. The camera builds a final image with all the exposures and discards each of the intermediate pictures, for which it is not possible to replicate or tweak the end result in post processing by blending each exposure again separately. The camera here is faithful to the truth that it sees, and does not allow the photographer to reinterpret it. The only post-processing done was to correct exposure, lens distortions, to add vignetting when appropriate, and to crop.

Because I was not able to see the results before all the exposures were taken, the process was largely down to trial and error at first, with some of the images having to be retaken at different exposure and point of view levels before satisfactory results were attained. As I was approaching a final selection, some pictures were retaken and reinterpreted at different multiple exposure levels in order to get the final collection of images I wanted to show.

Assignment 5 – What is it about?

The final assignment is about the Barbican estate in the City of London. I have been photographing in the Barbican regularly for nearly 10 years now and wanted to revisit this subject with a fresh photographic approach for the final assignment, perhaps closing the circle opened by the first assignment, which was about an unfamiliar place photographed in a conventional way.

The Barbican is not particularly large (c.40 acres), but the fact that I have been taking pictures here for so long and always find something new is a testament to the interestingness of the place. It has striking architecture, with beautiful clean lines and rich textures from the raw concrete of its walls. It also has lots of hidden views and little corners that reveal new perspectives if you are careful to spot them. More importantly, to me the place is like a condensed version of aspects of today’s society, with a veneer of a sense of community and a subtle but firm segregation between the public and the private. In this series I wanted summarise all I liked and resented about this place to date, full knowing that this series would never be complete. Some of my favourite Barbican pictures from the past 10 years are shown below.

When I looked at the brief, my initial tests were based on a straight series of pictures on various elements of a selected subject, each picture building up on the ideas I wanted to convey. But following those initial explorations, I decided to opt for a technique I had just started to use, multiple exposures in camera, both to allow myself to see familiar subjects on a new light but also because I wanted to explore the ideas of context exposed by Terry Barrett (1) and how the amount of information could affect our perception of meaning.

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(1) Barrett, T. (1997). [online] Available at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/images/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

Assignment – Preliminary ideas

My first idea for this assignment came from a late evening shoot-out session in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I was staying in a country hotel for a work related event and decided to go out after dinner with the intention of finishing a roll of black and white film I had on my Nikon FM. My favorite resulting images are shown below:

FM00167_0010

10s at f4. 40mm Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0012

30s at f5.6. 28mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0018

1/60s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0020

1/30s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0032

1/60s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0038

1/60s at f2. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

The pictures were taken quite late at night, most of them after midnight and there was nearly no one on the streets. As I walked around the town taking pictures, I was feeling an inner sense of calm. At some point, street lights were switched off and I had to use my phone to illuminate the pavement briefly while my eyes adapted to the total darkness, yet somehow I did not feel scared of being in such remote place completely alone. It was at that point that it occurred to me I wanted to based my final assignment on suburban areas at night.

In the following nights I went out around my house to repeat the experience I had in St Albans, also late at night. This time equipped with a digital camera, I captured similar pictures (shown below) as well as other new ones that came to my mind as I walked, mostly alone.

DSC00027

1/40s at f2.8. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00033

1/5s at f2.8. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00040

1/20s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00051

1/6s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00057

1/60s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

As I looked at the requirements of the brief, I was not convinced I could build a successful series of pictures that I liked and that did not have elements in common or were sufficiently different from one another. There was also the issue that these pictures were also similar to the ones I took for my first assignment, which was also based on suburban life. In view of this, I decided to change track and put aside the project of suburbia at night for the time being and try a different subject for my final assignment.

——————– ooo ——————–

In parallel with the above, I started another project. This involved taking multiple exposures on a film camera, which I had never done before. The location I chose for my first test was the Barbican estate, in the City of London, a place I was familiar with and conveniently located near where I live. I divided my metered exposure by the number of exposures in each shot, but other than that did not make any adjustment. Some of my favorite shots are shown below.

FM00168_0001

10 exposures. 1/1000s at f22. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c.

FM00168_0022

2 exposures. 1/500s at f22. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c

FM00168_0031

5 exposures. 1/500s at f16. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c

FM00168_0007

4 exposures. 1/125s at f8. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c.

Some of the pictures were not correctly exposed and ended up giving very thin negatives. In other cases one exposure clearly dominated the rest. But I was pleased enough by the results I got to take this idea forward. It was at this point that I decided to base the final assignment on the Barbican estate, using multiple exposures as a way of constructing a new point of view on the place different from what I have done before.

Research notes – homage

Looking through my archive I have found some pictures that were taken after being inspired by other people’s photographs / art work or the particular way they took pictures. Here are some of my favorites:

The view from my window

Homage to Stieglitz. 1/125s at f8. ISO 200. 27mm (equiv 41mm)

Alfred Stieglitz spend the latter part of his career living in a high-rise hotel in New York City (the Shelton Hotel), and from his room windows he took a famous series of photographs of the city (see here and here, for instance). He also took similar photographs from the windows of An American Place, his gallery on the 17th floor of a building at 53rd street and Madison Avenue in NYC and the picture above was inspired by this one he took there. I was particularly drawn by the deep shadows and the crisp shapes of the original one, as well as by the perspective given by taking pictures from a high ground. My picture was taken from a hotel room on a 5th floor, on a sunny winter afternoon.

Close shave

Homage to Buñuel. 1/60s at f5.6. ISO 100. 28mm (equiv to 42mm)

I first looked at the eye cutting scene (still from the film here) in Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 surrealistic film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali in the early eighties, when I was about 9 years old, and have been haunted by these images and the fear of loosing sight since then. The picture above, titled “A close shave”, was inspired by elements of the scene and was a way for me to try to channel my fears into something more constructive. The picture was taken with a mirrorless camera and a manual lens was mounted on a tilt-shift adaptor, which was shifted to the maximum of 12 millimeters in order to prevent the camera being reflected in the mirror. A manual flash was set to fire from below.

Exercise 5.3

The following comments are in response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare by Henri Cartier-Bresson (link).

What attract me the most in this picture at first glance is the reflection on the pool of water. It is created by the man jumping, captured at the right time, but it could have equally been created by a static object, for what matters to me is the clean shape of the man’s reflection against the still water of the pool, almost mirror like. The photograph is unbalanced, with the action happening very close to the right hand side of the frame. The middle portion is quite cluttered and undefined, only saved by the figure of another person and his (less clear) reflection,  while the top  contains some nice recession of tones, but not much else. After surveying all that, my eyes keep returning to the dark silhouette in the front and his reflection. This for me represents the defining part of the image, and what is quite remarkable is that there is almost no information in that part of the image: it is just black or grey, with slightly blurred edges, but the visual contrast dominates the rest of the image and as an element remains imprinted in my mind, like the piece to be inserted in another puzzle. Looking through my old pictures, I managed to find many with reflections, but one of them resonated the most with this feeling:

5-3

1/50s at f5.6. ISO 64. 35mm full frame

Sometimes the dominating part of a picture is the one that contains less information, but also serves an ulterior purpose. As in the case of Sugimoto’s Theatres series (link), which are dominated by a large white space with no purpose other than to shed light on the beautiful interiors, to which my eyes are constantly moving, the black silhouette in HCB’s picture primarily serves the purpose of creating the perfect reflection, to which my eyes keep going back.